All posts by Michael Ballard

I have been the author and host of the Southern California Regional Rocks and Roads website - http://socalregion.com - since 1995. I study geology and highway history.

La Jolla Shores Beach Trip – May 2, 2013

I took a trip out to the beach today (May 2). It has been a while since I’ve gone and I wanted to test out my new zipperless wetsuit. I decided on the beach between La Jolla Shores and Black’s Beach. The scenery is great and the beach is far less crowded. So, I put on my wetsuit, grabbed my bag, and headed out on the motorcycle to La Jolla. Parking is so much easier there when you don’t have to worry about a car. It seems every time I go out there I am left wondering why I don’t go more often.

Scripps Pier
Scripps Pier
Small Sea Arch with muscles
Small Sea Arch with muscles
Tide Pools
Tide Pools
One of the Starfish I found.
One of the Starfish I found.
A Sea Slug? This little creature was quite colorful too.
A Sea Slug? This little creature was quite colorful too.
Another Starfish, this one out of water.
Another Starfish, this one out of water.

The tide was out when I got there, allowing for a very exposed and wide beach. The waves were pretty decent in spots, with the surfers getting plenty of use out of them. Just north of Scripps Pier, there is a rocky area with some tide pools. I stopped by and checked them out on my way. Today was about exploring and having fun, so why not? I found a small sea arch with quite a few muscles clinging to it. I also found a few starfish and some sort of sea slug. Once past the rocks, it was time to find a spot to go swimming. I’ve been wanting to get in the water with my new wetsuit. I’ve heard that zipperless suits are warmer in the water. This style of wetsuit is quite popular with the surfers around here as well. I found a spot to leave my gear, and I headed out to the water. Initially cold, it ended up being quite comfortable in my suit. I didn’t get the cold rush of water into the suit through the rear zipper, this one not having a rear zipper. It felt great to be out in the water. The ocean is cold here, but fairly clear. I think next time I’ll bring my fins and play around some more in the water.

My swim spot. A very wide, yet nearly empty beach in San Diego... this is the life!
My swim spot. A very wide, yet nearly empty beach in San Diego… this is the life!
Heading north along the cliffs.
Heading north along the cliffs.

After my swim, I wanted to explore the beach some more. I headed a bit further north until I reached a canyon that had running water coming from it. I stopped to check out the stream and ended up seeing some surfers with their boards coming out of the canyon. Upon closer investigation, I saw they were using a rope to climb the steep entrance from the beach into the canyon. I decided to explore this canyon a bit. Heading into it was pretty easy, though muddy in places. I was glad to be wearing my wetsuit booties. Much easier to walk in than bare feet. The trail was fairly well worn, though very narrow in places. About 100 yards into the canyon, there was a sizable waterfall. I wondered how I would get past it until I saw a surfer with a long board make it through rather easily. It turns out there was a very well worn series of “steps” in a narrow passage through the sandstone. Once I made my way up these, I got a better view of the upper reaches of the canyon. I decided to head back down, not wanting to end my beach time just yet. Heading down was a little easier than going up.

Surfer on his way down the trail.
Surfer on his way down the trail.
Inside the canyon, deep and narrow.
Inside the canyon, deep and narrow.
A seemingly impenetrable sandstone wall.
A seemingly impenetrable sandstone wall.
"Surfers Steps". Somehow they manage this carrying their boards.
“Surfers Steps”. Somehow they manage this carrying their boards.
Almost back to the beach.
Almost back to the beach.

At the bottom of the canyon, I headed back toward the motorcycle. I stopped for another swim at the same spot I did heading up. I just needed another soak in the ocean. After my swim, I headed over to the rocks where I saw the tide pools earlier. The tide was already coming up, so the outer reaches were flooded. As I got closer to the pier, the beach was a lot busier. It seems like the rocky area is a barrier to some. It sure didn’t stop me today. Overall, it was an enjoyable swim, a fun hike, and I definitely will return sooner. As I live in San Diego, I should at least take advantage of the beautiful beaches we have here in “America’s Finest City”. On my way home I stopped for a burger at the In-n-Out in Mission Valley, where the guy at the counter was rather inquisitive as to why I was wearing a wetsuit. He definitely enjoyed seeing me in my wetsuit. After getting home and doing a bit more research, the canyon I walked up ends at the parking area for the Torrey Pines Glider Port.

US 99 in Lake Shasta – October 2008

In October 2008, Lake Shasta was dropping to near historic lows. I took a trip up there to hike many of the exposed alignments. I also got out in the water in my wetsuit when I needed to. The whole trip was a lot of fun. Here are the photos from that trip.

Salt Creek Inlet and Lakehead Area:

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Pit River Area:

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Where US 99 goes into the lake on the south bank near the Pit River Bridge.
Where US 99 goes into the lake on the south bank near the Pit River Bridge.

Exploring old highways

One of my interests is old highways. I’ve followed old US 99 and US 6 in Southern California for many years. A trip on the old “Ridge Route” between Castaic and Gorman was always a treat. I got be curious about how they looked when they were new, why they were built, and who built them. The journey that has taken me along has greatly increased my knowledge and understanding of both the history of the highways and of Southern California. It has become something much greater to me as a result. I understand why the cities and highways are laid out as they are.

However, in searching for some of the old highways, things can get tough. Realignments can sometimes take a roadway far from its original alignment, making the original harder to find. Sometimes its very obvious where the old road went. In Southern California, a massive megalopolis exists where there was once farmland. Old alignments may be ripped up and replaced with shopping centers. Using various tools available to me, including the Internet, old maps, highway logs, and topographical maps, I’ve been able to track down quite a few alignments that you’d never know were anything special today.

You just never know when you’ll find something! Exploring old highways and byways can be a great adventure. Come join me!

Swimming to a 1901 Southern Pacific Railroad bridge and tunnel in Lake Shasta near Lakehead. October 2008.
Swimming to a 1901 Southern Pacific Railroad bridge and tunnel in Lake Shasta near Lakehead. October 2008.
Swimming old US 99 in 2005 at Salt Creek in Lake Shasta.
Swimming old US 99 in 2005 at Salt Creek in Lake Shasta.
Out on old US 395 in the June Lake area in March 2009.
Out on old US 395 in the June Lake area in March 2009.

Ride to Campo

On Sunday, February 24, 2012, I went out for a ride to Campo on my motorcycle. I wanted to take some photos of the old sections of Hwy 94 and the weather was great for a ride. Starting out, it was a quick freeway ride to Campo Junction, where the two lane portion of Hwy 94 starts. That is where the fun begins. It was also where the first stop was, at the 1929 Sweetwater River bridge.

1929 Sweetwater River Bridge

After I left the bridge, my next stop was at a section of old concrete I had discovered on a previous ride. With a camera in hand, it was time to get photos and explore some more. I didn’t find any date stamps, but I did find lots of old striping. Still pretty cool.

1920’s concrete near Jamul

After Jamul, there was an old creek crossing with concrete I had found recently. It appears to be an Arizona type crossing instead of a culvert. The new crossing is now a culvert. I’m not sure its age, but I’m going to guess it is from the 1930’s. Also in the area is a neat bridge crossing Dulzura Creek at Otay Lakes Road. It was built in 1947 and has a nice sleek look.

Original low-water crossing on Hwy 94
1947 Dulzura Creek Bridge

In Dulzura, I stopped at a 1930 bridge which had bridge abutments near it from an even older span. I couldn’t quite tell what sort of a  bridge the original one was, but was most likely wooden.

1930 Dulzura Creek Bridge at Dulzura

Further up the road at Cottonwood Creek, there are a few items of interest. The “new” Cottonwood Creek bridge from 1954 bypassed both the original bridge and large section of the alignment. Barrett Smith Road follows the old alignment up the steep grade out of Barrett Junction.

Cottonwood Creek crossing on Hwy 94 at Barrett Junction

At Dogpatch, Hwy 94 crosses the San Diego and Arizona Railroad for the first time under a 1915 bridge. Just after that bridge, there is another 1947 bridge. Adjacent to the 1947 span, there are abutments to an earlier bridge.

1947 bridge at Dogpatch
1915 Doigpatch UP where the San Diego and Arizona Railroad crosses

My last stop was Campo. I needed to fuel up and get photos of the bridge at Campo Creek. It is the last bridge with wooden railing on Hwy 94. After I stopped here, I headed back to town on Hwy 94. I enjoyed the ride and the scenery. It was the first time in a long time that I had stopped so many times on 94. The last few trips have been just riding or driving.

1930’s bridge at Campo, since replaced

Short motorcycle ride out east

I went for a motorcycle ride today (2/7/2013) out in the eastern end of San Diego County. I bought a new leather suit and wanted to try it out on a ride. On my way out of town, I spotted a Historic Route 94 sign on current Hwy 94 near Campo Junction. I seem to remember some legislation a while back that designated Hwy 94 as a historic route. I guess this was the result of that effort. Further down the road I spotted an old alignment with concrete, one of the three sections still visible from Campo Junction to Jamul. I’ll try and get photos next time. My suit was too tight to fit a camera and I didn’t take any with my phone.

Historic Route 94 signage on Current Hwy 94
Historic Route 94 signage on Current Hwy 94

A ride in the San Gabriel Mountains

On my way home from a friends in Los Angeles on January 8, 2013, I decided to take the long way home. It was a beautiful day and I had plenty of daylight left. So, I took a turn into the mountains. It was the first time in a long time I had taken Hwy 39 – San Gabriel Canyon Road – and it was time to ride it on my motorcycle. I wanted to see where it was gated, it seems to change often how far up you can go. This time it was open through to Crystal Lake, which was good to see. I had a great time, even chatted with another motorcyclist at the gate for a while.

Gate just above Crystal Lake
Gate just above Crystal Lake
Toward Crystal Lake and Mt Hawkins
Toward Crystal Lake and Mt Hawkins
Down the mountain and into the canyon.
Down the mountain and into the canyon.

Once I headed back down the mountain, I headed over to the Glendora Ridge Road to meet the valley in Upland instead of Azusa. I wanted to see something different. Glendora Ridge Road is quite a lot of fun on a motorcycle, at some point I do want to bicycle it though. I saw quite a few cyclists (motor and pedal) that day, more people on two wheels than four. The snow on Mt San Antonio was a grand sight to see riding along the ridge. Winter in the San Gabriels is always a favorite of mine.

On Glendora Ridge Road with Mt San Antonio in the distance
On Glendora Ridge Road with Mt San Antonio in the distance
Fun section with lots of curves
Fun section with lots of curves

Mesa Grande – WPA Bridge

I know it has been a while since I’ve posted anything. Many things have happened. I’ve done a lot of traveling, some by train, some by car, some by bicycle, and now a new addition. Travel by motorcycle. I never saw myself on a motorcycle. I could easily talk myself out of one. I don’t own a car anymore, not since August 2011. I’ve been riding a motorcycle since November 2012 and I’ve put many miles on it so far. My motorcycle is a 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 500R. Now, before you all think I’m some crazy sportbiker… mine is a bit different. It has a more upright riding position and hooks for a cargo net. It does go fast… its name is “Leonardo”. The bike is a lot of fun and is great to travel with.

Skipping a lot of travel… though I will try to post more photos from my trips as I can… I recently was on Mesa Grande Road near Lake Henshaw in northern San Diego County on my motorcycle. It was there I found this neat WPA bridge with brass letters still in place. Adjacent to it was the original bridge, or what was left of it. I figure it was from the 1910’s or earlier by its construction.

Original bridge. It looks like it was just wooden beams laid across.
Original bridge. It looks like it was just wooden beams laid across.
Real nice WPA brass lettering still intact. A rare sight indeed.
Real nice WPA brass lettering still intact. A rare sight indeed.
Stonework along the side of the WPA bridge/culvert.
Stonework along the side of the WPA bridge/culvert.
My motorcycle... a 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 500R.
My motorcycle… a 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 500R.

Coast Starlight to Seattle, WA

I know it has been a long time since I’ve updated. Well, been a while since I’ve gone on something really worthy of writing about. The past few days, have been worthy.

On Thursday, November 3, 2011, I set out on a new great adventure. My goal for the first segment of the trip was Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. My method of travel was Amtrak. Starting at 6:10am out of San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot, I took the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles Union Station. There, I waited in the TRAXX Lounge, which is just for sleeping car passengers of train #14. Train 14, the Coast Starlight. The Starlight is the premier Amtrak train in the West. Every time I’ve taken the train, the service has been splendid. This time, it was even better. Using Amtrak Guest Rewards (something I highly recommend joining), I obtained a deluxe bedroom on the train, which is quite decent for one person.

Views from the train were, as always, quite spectacular. The California coast just can’t be beat. Near Gaviota, I saw two of pods of dolphins. While on the train, I met people from all over. Wisconsin, Vancouver, Minnesota, even San Diego numbered among the places. We had our first wine tasting of the trip just north of San Luis Obipso, consisting of California wines, some from the local area. These are always a lot of fun, as I get to interact with more of the people on the train. I tend to talk about some of the geology and history along the way, like a tour guide.

After the wine tasting, we made our way through the Salinas Valley, where I spent some of my time in the Parlour Car. Slowly getting more tired, I went back to my room for a while. I chatted a bit online with some of my friends, listened to music, and then went off to dinner in the Dining Car. I had the BBQ ribs, which were quite good. A few people came by and said that it looked good as well. I saw others having lasagna, which was my other choice.

After dinner, I went back to my room to listen to some music before the movie began. In the Parlour Car, there is a movie theater downstairs. I watched “Limitless” which I hadn’t heard of before. It was pretty good, and took up the time from near San Juan Bautista all the way to near Hayward.

Once the movie was over, it was time to get some sleep. I went back to my room, after the bed had been set up. It was quite a nice bed too. Not that thick a mattress, but comfy enough. I laid down for a while, finally getting to sleep just past Martinez. The next thing I knew, we were north of Dunsmuir! Again, I slept through the Sacramento River Canyon. Oh well, perhaps I’ll see it on the way south. I finally got up near Mt Hebron Summit, where there was quite a bit of fresh snow on the ground. By the time we got to Klamath Falls, the snow was gone. While there was no snow, it was still really cold. I think it was in the 30’s outside. I still stepped out of the train. I had finally reached Oregon. Only one more state to go.

After Klamath Falls, we made our way over the Willammette Pass. The higher we climbed, the more snow we saw. It wasn’t quite enough snow to hide the fairly deep pumice layer capping most of the cuts along the railroad. It looked to be about three feet deep toward the summit. I suspect the pumice was from the Mt Mazama – Crater Lake eruption, about 6.6 kya. The section of the tracks over the pass was fun as always. Other passengers told their train stories as I pointed out various features along the way. My favorite stretches of track is located a few miles below the summit, where the train passes through a tunnel, then a curved trestle, and then back into another tunnel. The snow and the fog made the crossing of the Cascades a whole lot more entertaining. As we got lower in elevation, the fall colors came back. It was a bit past peak color, but still quite spectacular.

Our next wine tasting was just north of Eugene, where I had quite an interesting conversation with another passenger. I talked a bit about the history of US 99 and the railroad line through the Willamette Valley, where he talked about the Civil War and how the railroads played into the various battles. It was quite entertaining. I learned a fair bit, and he did too.

By Portland, I had wanted to get out and stroll about the station grounds. Portland Union Station is quite a large station and very nice. As we had a longer layover, I decided to get up to the Broadway Bridge and take some photos. I saw quite a few cyclists on my short walk, most with fenders on their bikes. Some of them were in full gear (tights and long sleeve), others just in street clothes. Most of them looked like they were commuters. After my walk, I made my way back to the train, and it was time to depart. Almost to Seattle!

For dinner, I decided to go with the Parlour Car. The menu is smaller, but usually good food. It was pretty good. After dinner, I went back to my room, enjoying it for the last time. As we approached Seattle, it got darker, and sightseeing was getting tougher. I still managed to see the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the skyline of Seattle as we approached.

Finally, Seattle! After gathering my gear, I got off the train and headed out to my hostel. It was only two blocks from the station, which made things easier. I had just two bags, but they were quite heavy. After getting quickly settled at the hostel, I headed out. I had wanted to go to the Space Needle, and knew the way to get there. After making my way over, I found out… it was closed! Bummer! Well, I decided, what the heck, gotta do something else then. So I looked up various gay bars in town, decided to head over to the Seattle Eagle. It was a bit of a walk from the Monorail station, but not too bad. I felt a bit bad, normally I go out in full gear, but this time, only had my leather combat boots on. It would have been too much to go back to the room and change into either a military uniform, or my leather outfit. But hey, I still wanted to go. So, I found the place, got a drink, and hung out for a while. It was still fun. I found out it was leather night there… DOH! Hey, there is always another time. Once I was done with my drink, and had talked with some people there, I headed back to my room. I had to get up early the next morning to catch the train to Vancouver, and didn’t want to stay up too late. I walked the whole way back, and ended up stopping by Columbia and 1st to visit the last remaining original US 99 shield in Washington. Another day of adventure was ahead. This time, to Canada!

San Luis Obispo to Santa Clarita Double Century – May 29, 2011

My first double century ride would go from San Luis Obispo to Santa Clarita. It would be the longest ride I had ever set out to do, breaking my distance record by at least 46 miles. The plan was simple. I would follow the same route as I took in May last year from San Luis Obispo to Ventura, but adding the segment to Santa Clarita.  For those wanting more details of my route, I went the following way:
From San Luis Obispo:
Hwy 227, Price Canyon, Hwy 1, Hwy 135, Hwy 101, “Coast Route” signed bike route from Goleta to Carpinteria, Hwy 101, Hwy 1, Telegraph Rd, Hwy 126, Santa Clara River Trail, Sierra Highway
So, on May 29, I set out from San Luis Obispo at 5:30am, and began the longest ride of my life. The weather was cool at first, and a bit cloudy. Once past Guadalupe, the wet and muddy roadway shoulders I had been dealing with north of town had finally dried up. The winds I had been hoping for also finally materialized south of town. Not only were they consistent in speed, but they were nearly directly behind me – a perfect tailwind. It helped pass the miles and keep me going. I was getting hungry! So, in Los Alamos, I stopped for breakfast at the Twin Oaks Restaurant. I stopped there on my last ride through here, and had a decent and quick breakfast. As I was in full cycling gear (skinsuit, leg and arm warmers, shoe covers), I always seem to get questions about the ride like “Where are you riding from?” – “San Luis Obispo”, “Where are you riding to?” – “Santa Clarita”… yes, a long ways down the road. Still, 150 miles to go! My pace was pretty fast so far, keeping a 20 mph average for the first 50 miles.
After getting back out on the road, I got onto US 101, the first real busy roadway of the trip. Ahh… US 101 in the Central Coast area. It is my favorite section. A very pastoral scene, rolling hills, oaks, cows, and yes… lots of vehicles on the expressway. After topping the summit, I glided down to Buellton. One more hill down, just one major climb ahead. Being a holiday weekend, heavier traffic wasn’t surprising. One thing I did see that caught my eye though was the high number of antique cars heading southbound. I never did see where they were going, but I lost count after at least 20 passed me.
I stopped in Buellton to refill my drinks, and headed on south. Onwards and upwards to the last major climb of the ride, though with many more miles still to go. The last hill, Nojoqui Canyon and Summit, isn’t that much a climb. The summit itself is lower than the one north of Buellton, but not by much. The last part of the climb is steep, but still not bad. After topping this last summit, it would be downhill to Gaviota. Downhill and downwind… not always a good thing. Winds slowly increased in speed as I got closer to the bottom of the grade. This became a problem when I got up to about 35 mph and was getting battered by sudden crosswinds. I slowed down real fast and kept it slower until I got through the area. Crashing at high speed isn’t pleasant at any location or time and I didn’t want to start now. The next 25 or so miles would be very beautiful and fun. It would be my last rural section until after Ventura. I was able to keep a pretty decent pace, tailwinds and my own energy helping greatly.
At Goleta, I finally reached the halfway point. 100 miles! I hit that mark at 11:20am, with a 20.3 mph average, with a 4:51 rolling time. Not bad… my best century ride yet. It didn’t really hit me until after I was eating my lunch in Goleta that I had gone 100 miles and wasn’t really thinking so much about it. Most rides END around that distance, and here I was only in the middle. So, after having a short lunch, it was again onward. I took an easy course through the Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria area. I highly recommend following the signed “Coast Route” through town. Most major streets are avoided making the route quite pleasant.
My next big stop was in Ventura, where I met up with a friend of mine. He brought me snacks and drinks to refuel and refill with. It was good talking with him and his partner. He was going on a big ride the next day, and invited me to go. I declined, figuring I’d be a bit tired after today. I wanted to talk for a while longer, but he prodded me to continue. It was true. I still had 50 more miles to go. So, we parted ways and I worked my way out of town. After Ventura, I was greeted with many miles of orange and avocado groves. They smelled wonderful and gave me a bit of a lift when I began to encounter some headwinds. The distance between the towns in the Santa Clara River Valley isn’t big, which made it feel like I was going faster than I was.
 By the time I reached Fillmore, I needed a break. I stopped at a gas station at Hwy 23. I picked a good one, they had Mexican Coke there… just what I was looking for. So, I stepped out, sat in a chair out front, and had my Coke. While I was relaxing, another cyclist showed up, and went into the store. After he came back out with his drink, he walked over my way, and we started talking. “Where are you riding today?”, “Is that a cyclocross bike?” The fun part was when I said where I had been riding today. When I told him I started in San Luis Obispo, his first response was “Where is that?” “Well, it is about 100 miles past Santa Barbara”, I replied. His response was amusing. “So… wait… it is 100 miles PAST Santa Barbara and you rode here, WOW! That is a long ride”. It is the best response I’ve received on a ride yet.
The last miles of the ride were the worst. I encountered steadily stronger headwinds, and was getting much more tired. I wondered at times if I was going to be able to make it. The winds had gone from a nice northwest direction to more a northeast direction. This would not be good, especially the last 10 miles. After fighting these winds for about 15 miles I reached Castaic Junction. One look to the north gave me hope. I saw clouds in the Tejon Pass area. Clouds in the pass mean northwest winds, a tailwind again at last! Crossing the Santa Clarita Valley, the last 10 or so miles of my ride, felt quite different to me. My first long distance ride was doing the same thing, crossing Santa Clarita. As I made my way across town I began to have doubts of the mileage. It was looking like I’d come up short. I hadn’t gone this far to not get 200 miles on the odometer. So, I made a couple of small loops in Canyon Country, and still had to go past my destination just to get the mileage. Still, 200 miles was achieved. I accomplished my goal, and did something that only a couple of years ago I thought was impossible. I also found my upper limit for a one-day ride. That limit looks to be 225 to 250 miles, depending on many variables.
And for my next big ride? So many possibilities, so many places to go. I look forward to the next great adventure. Who knows where it will take me?