On a trip to Grapevine Canyon today, I saw quite a few poppies in bloom. Grapevine Canyon and the area around the California Poppy Reserve were quite spectacular, considering the dry winter. The recent rains, which have been well timed, seemed to have made the drought a little prettier to look at.
A new bypass highway was completed a couple years ago by Caltrans around Brawley. Signed as State 78 and State 111, it forms a northeast loop around town. It is an expressway, not a freeway. This distinction makes for some unusual signage where there is an interchange with State 111.
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.
I found out recently that the 91 Express Lanes, the toll lanes in the median of the 91 Freeway from the 55 to the Riverside County Line are free for motorcyclists. Now, as I love to travel all roads that are available to me, I ended up signing up for a transponder. It has offered me an interesting look at what goes into getting one and how they work. I shall be posting photos and videos about how these devices work in the near future.
In addition to the transponder, I also obtained a special bag to put the device in when I travel toll lanes that are free and don’t need a transponder. Eventually, I hope that all lanes are the same and won’t need such devices.
On Thursday, November 14, 2013, I had the opportunity to travel Jackrabbit Trail for this first time in many years. I took my new motorcycle, a 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650, which was well suited for the trip. Jackrabbit Trail is a roadway through the Badlands near Moreno Valley that has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1915 as a part of the Riverside to Beaumont Highway, later US 60/70. In 1923-24, the roadway was paved with asphalt. Some of this still exists today. In 1936, the roadway was bypassed by the current route of Hwy 60. However, in 1956, the roadway was rehabilitated for use as US 60 again, albeit temporarily, while the current route was being widened to a four lane expressway. Following this brief use, the old Jackrabbit Trail fell into disuse and eventually was abandoned. The County no longer maintains the road and just posts “Road Closed” signs at either end. It is, however, still a through route, with some landslide and washout problems.
My journey took me over the entire route in both directions, as the southern roadway was closed for reconstruction. I was rather amazed to see how much old railing still exists along the roadway, most of which is from the 1920’s. In many ways, this road is similar to the Ridge Route north of Los Angeles on old US 99. It was built around the same time and bypassed around the same time. The only major difference is that the Ridge Route was not reused by the highway department after it was bypassed. The roadway also offers some rather scenic views of the area. Mt San Gorgonio stays in view when heading north and the lake bed of Mystic Lake is quite visible to the south. I highly recommend this road as an alternative to SR-60 and is good for bicycling as well.
On Sunday, June 16, I went on a motorcycle ride out toward Palm Springs. On Hwy 74 just east of Hemet, I stopped to inspect an abandoned concrete arch bridge to the side of the current bridge. The “new” span, where Hwy 74 crosses today, was built in 1929. This makes the abandoned span most likely from the 1910’s. It appears to have been longer, though the rest is long since washed away. I originally saw this bridge on a previous motorcycle ride, having missed it on every driving trip through here. It just goes to show that you see more on two wheels – be they motorcycle or bicycle wheels.
After leaving the bridge, I headed east on Hwy 74 up into the mountains. The roadway was recently repaved, which was badly needed. The new pavement was quite fun to ride, even with the extra twisty passing areas. The tires seemed to grip the road better allowing me to ride faster than I did before. I didn’t originally plan to go all the way to Palm Springs, but somehow I decided “Why Not?” and did it anyway. It was rather hot while I was there, so I didn’t stay long. Leaving town was almost as difficult as dealing with the heat. Strong west winds, typical for the area, were blowing and made riding somewhat unnerving at times. The winds finally subsided once I got to the Beaumont area and temperatures decreased quite a bit as well.
On April 4, 2010, a 7.2 earthquake struck the northern Baja California and Southern California region. I was in Oceanside at a friends house at the time. Initially, I didn’t feel it and thought the others at the party were joking. We had been talking about the Northridge Earthquake earlier in the day. Once I stepped out onto the patio, I felt the ground moving. I knew it was large but farther away. My first thought was – What just happened to Los Angeles? Instead of Los Angeles, it was the Mexicali/Calexico area that got hit the worst as it was much closer to the epicenter.
Wanting to survey the damage to the roadways in that area and see if any of the old bridges were damaged, I headed out the following weekend. As it was also springtime, parts of the desert were in bloom. The ocotillo in particular had a beautiful display of flowers. To get out there, I followed Hwy 80 out to the Desert View Tower. After talking with Ben, the owner, I headed out to Calexico following Hwy 80 and Hwy 98. I was hoping to see cracks in Hwy 98 from any fault movement but did not find any.
In Calexico, many buildings were damaged with a large portion of the older downtown area closed off until the buildings could be stabilized. The biggest damage I saw was at a hotel in the northwestern end of downtown. Parts of the walls and roof had collapsed.
Returning from Calexico, I stopped at a few bridges to see the fill on each side had settled, causing some cracking in the pavement. Additional cracks were spotted at the New River crossing on old US 80. Overall, the highways were lightly damaged with some concrete broken at some bridges.
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:
Pit River Area:
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!