Long before the Isabella Reservoir was built in the 1950’s, State Highway 178 passed through the Kern River Valley on an alignment much different than it is today.
With the current drought, Lake Isabella is a puddle of what it used to be…but it’s amazing what the lake has hidden all these years. The lake has not been this low since 1977 and is the second lowest level since the dams were finished in 1953.
In April, I took two trips back to the areas near where the original towns of Isabella and Kernville stood before the lake covered them and their history. Unfortunately during my visit, the actual townsite of Isabella was still under several feet of water but the remains of the trees that use to shade the town are clearly visable sticking out of the lake in several photos.
Map to April 2014 photos
Thanks to Joel Windmiller for his assistance and historical photos of Old Isabella.
In the 1950’s, a section of what is now the 15 in San Diego was built. Known then as the Wabash Freeway, it ran from Harbor Blvd to 40th St in the City Heights area. Today, it is known as the 15 freeway and has been upgraded significantly. Access to the old freeway was a bit different than today. Nile Street in North Park used to have a direct connection with the freeway. Today, Nile Street ends in a park. A section of the old ramp still exists, however, as an access to the park.
Even in heavily built up Orange County, there can still be places where old highways can be seen. One of the best examples is located in Brea Canyon, where the Orange Freeway winds its way through open and undeveloped lands between Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Before the freeway, State 57 followed Brea Canyon Road. This two-lane roadway has changed little through here and has a few interesting features.
Northbound video from Lambert Road to Diamond Bar:
In July 2010, I was able to go to Baja California with a friend. Part of our route traversed Federal Highway 2 (Mexico), which suffered some damage from the April 2010 quake. Hwy 2 had been repaired but the adjacent old alignment had not been. I was rather amazed at the amount of offset from this earthquake. I observed about 2′ of horizontal and about 5′ of vertical offset at the highway crossing.
In the 1930’s, Los Angeles County began construction of an additional roadway over the San Gabriel Mountains via the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. About half of the roadway, complete with with four larger bridges and a tunnel, was constructed. Work had progressed as far as “The Narrows” by 1938. However, the March 2-3, 1938 storms caused much of the roadway to be washed out. The project was then abandoned, leaving a large arch bridge stranded many miles upriver. The tunnel still exists as well, just north of the “Bridge to Nowhere”, though it has been sealed at both ends.
In the 1955, a new road building project commenced in the canyon. This new alignment would stay high above the canyon floor until it got nearer to the “Bridge to Nowhere”, allowing that earlier work to come to some use. Progress on this roadway was slow, mostly due to poor funding. Convict labor was used for most of the project, similar to many other road building efforts at the time in Los Angeles County. Two tunnels were constructed as well. These still exist and are mostly intact. This project too was cancelled in the late 1960’s, leaving another large scar in the canyon. This road is presently known as Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Today, the canyon is protected from future development through the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. Even without this protection, the geology of the canyon makes for a very expensive project. Maintenance would also be costly, as seen with State 39 through San Gabriel Canyon and above Crystal Lake. In time, all these structures and cuts will wash away, leaving the canyon with only bits of concrete and asphalt to show what was once here.
I took a trip recently to the Corona area to check out some of the old alignments of US 91. I had been there before, but it has been a long time. Starting from the Green River exit off of the 91 Freeway, I headed east along the south side of the freeway. Here, the roadways named Green River Road and Palisades Drive cover the pre-freeway alignment of US 91. This section is also a portion of the 1939 Prado Dam Relocation. This realignment took the highway out of the riverbed to the north and pushed it closer to the hills. A significant portion remains today relatively intact.
Near the Green River Road interchange, an abandoned portion of the roadbed is revealed by a 1939 culvert. The pavement has long since been removed. A portion of the old median, complete with curb divots, remains to the east. The best portion, however, is on Palisades Drive. This section has a fairly continuous old median, old bridges, wooden railing, and even a mile marker from Route 91. This whole section was bypassed in the early 1970’s along with a change to the 91 / 71 interchange.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Out on a ride recently, I came upon a short stretch of original concrete from old Hwy 67. This roadway leads to San Vicente Dam and the townsite of Foster. I believe this concrete dates to the 1920’s, but I am uncertain. More research will reveal its age.
On Sunday, I went to the Redlands area to drop off a friend. I figured, why not see some old highway in the area and make the trip back more fun? So, after dropping him off, I headed over to Redlands Blvd. This is a section of old US 99 that still retains its concrete paving from the late 1940’s. I never really got any photos of it before, so it was good to see it still there. From Citrus Ave east, the roadway is more of an expressway, with a wide median and limited access.
After Redlands, the next section of old highway would prove a bit more interesting to get to. It was a short section of concrete paving, from the 1920’s most likely, and was located adjacent to the 10 freeway. I had to actually pull off the freeway shoulder to drive the short section. It was pretty neat, seeing as how this had been realigned so many times since that concrete was poured. I was hoping to return to the freeway by simply driving through. That idea was quickly thwarted when I found a tall curb at the shoulder. I had to back up and get on where I pulled off. So much for trying to be inconspicuous!
My next stop would be Robert Rd, near Cherry Valley Blvd. This section is threatened with removal or repaving as it is adjacent to a new large housing tract. So far, it is still intact. This nice concrete section dates to about 1928 and is one of the last sections of intact concrete around here. I took many photos here, hoping they wouldn’t be my last. The economic slowdown seems to have helped here, as the housing tract construction has slowed dramatically. At this point, I figured, I’ve gone this far… might as well go to the 60 junction and look around. So, I got back on the freeway, and took the San Timoteo Canyon Road exit. A frontage road heads east here, on the south side of the freeway. A portion of it is old US 99, complete with a 1939 bridge over San Timoteo Creek. Upon closer inspection of the bridge, I found that the eastbound I-10 bridge was also a part of old US 99. It was the original westbound bridge for the expressway, built in 1951. Now traffic is going the wrong way over it, from a historical context. One final stop was to be made, the old US 99 / US 60 / US 70 junction at the edge of Beaumont.
I’d seen what appeared to be bridge piers and concrete approaches to an old bridge just north of the current SR-60. It turns out, that is exactly what they were. In 1936, the current westbound bridge for SR-60 (old US 60), was built. It replaced an earlier bridge, the one that I had been seeing pieces of. Today was finally my chance to walk around and see the old pieces. I was rather amazed at how much was left, considering how long ago it was all torn out. A fair amount of the eastern approach to the bridge remained, most of it buried under a thin layer of dirt. There wasn’t anything left of the western approach. I also got some photos of the exit sign for the 60 West from the 10 East. The sign was from 1960, and was overlaid with a SR-60 sign. Yes, there is a US 60 shield under there… just hope the overlay panel falls off at some point! After hiking around, it was time to head back. The approaching storm was getting worse, and the winds were picking up. I had a long drive ahead, and didn’t really want to do it in heavy rain. Thankfully, all I had to deal with was heavy winds and dust at times. I finally got to see some sections of old US 99 that I either hadn’t seen before, or weren’t sure were still around. More trips will be made up this way, just not during summer.