Category Archives: Highways

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 2 – Sunday, December 19

We decided on another early start for the day, planning to get to Monterey about dawn. We had a long day ahead, with lots of rain forecast. How much rain, we didn’t quite know. Our route was simple at first, taking US 101 to SR-156 over to Hwy 1. We took the old road through Del Monte, which still has old concrete exposed, then continued to Monterey via the freeway. It was still dark by the time we got to the old train station in Monterey, but we got photos anyway. Jake had wanted to test his new camera and see how well it did with longer exposure night shots. If it was just dark, it would have been easier. Winds and increasing rainfall made it much more difficult. Some of the gusts got up to the 30mph range, quite a lot for a camera on a tripod! We had a couple more stops to make before heading through Big Sur, fuel for the car and ourselves. We managed to take care of both in the same parking lot. After breakfast, we headed out, time for Big Sur.

Old Carmel River Bridge end cap, with date stamp.
Old Carmel River Bridge end cap, with date stamp.

Just as we crossed the Carmel River, I noticed what appeared to be a piece of bridge rail. We turned back around to get a closer view and it turned out to be a lot more. The end cap for the original Carmel River Bridge was preserved here in 1995. That bridge was washed out in March, and rapidly replaced with the current span. The end cap was placed here, along with a plaque, to commemorate the quick replacement of such an important bridge. Among others listed on the plaque, was a local businessman – Clint Eastwood. A couple miles south of the bridge, Big Sur begins. Well, maybe not officially, but for me it does – at the Curves Next 74 Miles sign.

Winds and waves just south of Carmel Highlands.
Winds and waves just south of Carmel Highlands.
Fog and stormy weather along Big Sur.
Fog and stormy weather along Big Sur.
McWay Falls.
McWay Falls.
We could see a long ways south, just not very high. Such a difference from my bicycle tour here in June!
We could see a long ways south, just not very high. Such a difference from my bicycle tour here in June!

Heading south into Big Sur, the weather was quite varied. It stayed pretty decent most of the time on the north end, but wasn’t as kind as we got further south. We stopped at a few bridges to take photos, one of them being the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. After stopping at the Ripplewood Resort to get snacks and take a break, I decided we should try to see Pfeiffer Beach. I hadn’t been there in quite some time and had wanted to visit. Now, being a very rainy day with creeks running high, you’d think heading down a narrow road in a canyon would be a bad idea. Well, it was. Aside from all the debris on the roadway, we were stopped by a creek crossing. It may not have been too deep, but I didn’t want to chance it. So, back up we went. I’ll return again when it isn’t quite as wet. At the top of the big grade after Big Sur, we hit fog. Normally, there would be a nice view of the coast from the top, this time all we saw was the road. After a rather quick descent, we got below the clouds, and could actually see a fair distance down the coast. We stopped again to see McWay Falls, which is always a beautiful sight, even in this weather. It didn’t rain the whole time we were there, but started as we left. At various times, the rain got really heavy, but didn’t bring down the rocks that I had thought it would. After Lucia, we went through a couple of sections of the highway that were being reconstructed. One section, at Rain Rocks and Pitkins Curve, a new bridge and rock shed are being built. That project is expected to be completed in 2012. From there, the highway wasn’t too bad, with the weather ranging from fog to dry. At Ragged Point, we just had to see how expensive fuel was there, and we weren’t let down – $4.799/gallon. Just remember, if you fill up here, it is by choice. Much cheaper stations exist in Monterey and Cambria.  A few miles further, about 74 miles north of the curves sign, the road hits a straightaway. With the Big Sur coast is behind us, the rest should be easy!

Elephant seals lounging. Some moving, most just laying about.
Elephant seals lounging. Some moving, most just laying about.
Some prefer to lay in the stream.
Some prefer to lay in the stream.
Very small pup, about two feet or so in length.
Very small pup, about two feet or so in length.
This was on the bike rack. Nice!
This was on the bike rack. Nice!

Near San Simeon, we stopped to see the elephant seals. It may have been raining rather steadily, but it was still worth the stop. At the south end, there was a new pup, very small compared to the adults lounging about.  I didn’t stop here in June on my bike trip. I was enjoying the tailwind too much. This time, it would have been a headwind, plus the rain. Continuing south, I noticed that all the creeks we passed over were flooding. It would be a sign of things to come, which we would find out soon enough. In Cambria, we looked for an old Auto Club parking sign, but to no avail, it wasn’t there. We did get some good cinnamon rolls at Lynn’s however.  We took the old highway through Cayucos, trying to follow more of old Hwy 1 when possible. At Morro Bay, we decided to skip the old road, but take another route around via Los Osos. Here we would encounter our first major flooding. The creek that runs into Morro Bay here, Chorro Creek was nearly up to the bridge. Just to the south of the bridge, it was lapping against the roadway. Yikes! Just a bit more and even this road would be underwater. Still, we kept on going, taking Turri Road instead of Los Osos Valley Road, which is a much more scenic alternative. I took the same route on my tour in June.  Jake certainly enjoyed it, comparing various spots to Colorado and even Norway.

Underpass just north of Guadalupe, where the SP Coast Line passes over Hwy 1.
Underpass just north of Guadalupe, where the SP Coast Line passes over Hwy 1.
Closer view, note the car under the bridge.
Closer view, note the car under the bridge.
UP Track Inspection Car, sorry about the blurry photo.
UP Track Inspection Car, sorry about the blurry photo.

South of San Luis Obispo, we left the freeway for a while, or so was the plan. Ontario Road, old US 101 north of Avila Beach, was closed at San Luis Obispo Creek. The whole valley floor was underwater, much to the chagrin of the cows we saw standing in a flooded field.  So, back onto the freeway we went. Even that bridge had only a few feet before it too would get inundated. After we crossed the creek on 101, we got back onto the old highway. The roadway to Avila Beach was also closed, and we could tell why. Half of the roadway was underwater here. We could only imagine how it was further down.  Things seemed to be ok as we headed south, but that would soon change. Just south of Pismo Beach on Hwy 1, we were greeted with another closure. This one was passable, barely. Most of the cars ahead were going through, so we did too. Not the best idea, but we could see how deep it was at least. The adjacent campgrounds were well underwater here. After heading a bit further south, we found another closure. This time, we’d have to detour. I knew some of the ways through Grover Beach, where this closure was located, but needed help. For the first time in a long time, I called the Caltrans Highway Information number (800-427-7623). They listed five closures for Hwy 1, five! None of them for Big Sur much to my surprise, all of them in this area. So, with that knowledge, we found our way back to Hwy 1, and to yet another detour. The grade past Halcyon Road was closed, so we took El Campo Road around the closure, back again to Hwy 1. The next known closure was just a few miles ahead, at the railroad underpass. We went over to see how bad the flooding was, and found a car with water up to the top of the doors underneath. I guess the detour was just too long for them to take! From there, we headed south to Guadalupe, where we spotted a Union Pacific Track Inspection car. I hadn’t seen one before, so it was neat to find. The next closure was south of 166, so we headed east toward Santa Maria, taking some other roads bypassing most of town. At Hwy 135, we headed south, rejoining Hwy 1 for a bit south of Orcutt. Jake hadn’t taken the old Harris Grade before, so we took that instead of the main road. It was a bit steeper and rockier than the current Hwy 1, and for the first time in a while, we were on the hill side of the roadway. So, now we had to deal with rocks on the road. Not many, thankfully. Light traffic on the grade also helped.

At Lompoc, we continued south on Hwy 1, through fairly steady rain, but no more flooding. The trip south from Gaviota on Hwy 101 was also uneventful, with the exception of the ever increasing traffic and the larger potholes developing through Goleta. Overall, the trip was a success, except for the flooding, road closures, and heavy rain. I was glad to get back home, and it was good timing that we did when we did. I checked the Caltrans and CHP site for more information, found that a few of the roads we had taken were now closed. Floodwaters did indeed rise above the roadway around Morro Bay, and Hwy 1 had yet more closures. Still, what a trip! I enjoy a bit of adversity on a journey such as this. Taking those detours allowed for greater knowledge of the area and to see different areas. Some of the roads weren’t ones I had any plans to take, but now know where they go, and if they are useful to me in the future. Each trip is different. Perhaps the next time, the roads won’t be so flooded.

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 1 – Saturday, December 18

My friend Jake and I left San Diego rather early, about 4:30 am. Our goal was to get up to the San Luis Obispo area as early as we could, so that we could take our time north of there to the Gilroy / Hollister area. It seemed to have worked. As we were making pretty good time, we decided to check out some old alignments of US 101 a bit earlier.  We followed some alignments near Gaviota and Buellton, both of which had good sections of old concrete. After that, we didn’t make any major stops until north of San Luis Obispo.

1930 Bradley Bridge.
1930 Bradley Bridge.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.

At Bradley, we stopped at the large bridge over the Salinas River at the north end of town. It was built in 1931, replacing a multiple through-truss span built in the 1910’s. Much to our surprise and enjoyment, we got a much needed break from the rain here. The break was just long enough to walk the span and take many photos. I hadn’t had the opportunity to really view the bridge, so this was quite welcome. Once we left the bridge, we took the old alignment of 101 south back to the freeway, taking a slight detour onto an even older alignment, bypassed in 1939. Most of it was still fairly well paved, complete with sections of double white striping. One spot, however, proved to be a bit trickier. Some years in the past, a small landslide took out a portion of the roadway. A short dirt bypass was made, which was rather muddy after all the rains. I got of the car to scout the roadway ahead, to see if it was passable. I decided it was, and the car was able to make it. It did slide a bit down the slope, but not to worry, it wasn’t a problem. By the time we got back to the main road, the tires had acquired a thick ring of mud, almost a new tire in itself. Hey, it’s a rental car right?

Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
an Lucas Bridge - from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.
an Lucas Bridge – from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.

Getting back to current US 101, we continued north to San Ardo, where the old highway crossed the river again. The bridge here is very similar to the North Bradley Bridge, built in 1929, but without the old railing. In 2001, the span was seismically retrofitted and the old railing was removed. One thing that was not removed, and only discovered by us on this trip, was a 1929 FAP sign, complete with a CSAA yellow diamond. These are rare to find out in the field, so it was quite something to see. This section of the road, from San Ardo up to San Lucas, was the last section of two-lane highway on US 101 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was bypassed in 1971. It still makes a nice detour from the main highway, with little traffic to deal with. At the north end in San Lucas, there is another old bridge nearby, crossing the Salinas River on Lockwood-San Lucas Road. That bridge, from 1915, is a through-truss span. Some of the girders had Carnegie Steel stamped on them.

Still heading north, we arrived at Gonzales, where we diverged from US 101 to see another old bridge over the Salinas River. I first found this bridge in 2001 on my first bicycle tour. I wasn’t planning to take that route at the time, but had to make the detour as there was no other route available. The bridge, a 1930 through-girder span, reminded me of another bridge that was near where I used to live. Through-girder spans are rare, usually used by railroads not highways. Instead of returning to US 101, we decided to change course, and follow the River Road on the west side of the valley. I hadn’t been there before, and it took us north. So, why not take a different path?

We crossed back over the river near Chualar, and went back to US 101. We stayed on it until the south end of Salinas, where we exited onto Abbot St, the old alignment and business route. The southern end of Salinas had the distinction of still having old US highway shields in place until the early 2000’s. The signs are gone, but the porcelain business banners remain. We found two of them, one northbound and one southbound. Heading through Salinas started off alright, but as we got closer to the center of town, things went downhill – fast (or was it slow). Traffic increased, roads turned in confusing directions and we didn’t have a map. Still, we managed to get through town and onto the road we wanted – San Juan Grade.

Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.
Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.

San Juan Grade Road is the original alignment of US 101 from Salinas to San Juan Bautista. Having been bypassed in 1932, the roadway still retains most of its old feel. It wasn’t widened, and much of the original 15’ concrete is still visible. A few of the curves were straightened, but even that appears to have been done long ago. A lot of the old wooden guard railing is still in place, mostly on the north side of the summit. South of the summit, a few bridges with pipe railing are still intact. Rain and fog prevented a lot of good photos from being taken, but we still got a few. On the north side, in San Benito County, more of the old concrete was preserved. It was good to see such an old highway in as good a shape as this was. At the north end, where it met old SR-156, there was an old white directional sign from 1959 which was on our list of things to see. Having taken care of that, we headed east to Hollister. It was time for some geological tourism.

Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
Nice old sign from 1959.
Nice old sign from 1959.

Hollister, not the town from which the clothing comes from, is a growing suburb in the southern Bay Area. It still has a lot of farms surrounding it, and still retains a lot of its old downtown. It also is well known to geologists. The Calaveras Fault, a branch of the San Andreas Fault, runs right through town. This particular segment of the fault creeps. Most fault move in large jolts, known as earthquakes. This moves along like a conveyor belt, but much slower. The results can still be quite dramatic. Along many streets in the northwestern end of Hollister, there are offset curbs and sidewalks. A portion of an old fault scarp is also visible, usually as an abrupt rise in the street. All the roadways crossing the fault have fractures, bumps, and lots of patching. The earth waits for no one, and is more than willing to show its power. Sometimes structures lie atop the fault, and they too have been made a bit askew. Some are just cracked, while others are twisted out of shape.  I noticed one such structure, on Suiter St, that was so badly cracked, I wondered how much longer it would stay up. It was certainly proof positive why the Alquist-Priolo Zoning Act was created.

Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Offset here is about a foot.
Offset here is about a foot.
Once straight, now bent.
Once straight, now bent.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.

After seeing all we could see of the Calaveras Fault, we headed out of town, first following the new alignment of Hwy 25. The new bypass runs to the east of town, connecting two places that 25 used to turn at. From there, it was on to Gilroy, where we stayed for the evening. Another adventure awaited us the next day – the Big Sur Coast!

Making Tracks for the Westside

In 2011, the newest Metro Rail line in Los Angeles will open. Running from downtown Los Angeles at 7th St/Metro Center station, to Culver City at Venice Blvd / Robertson Blvd, it will be the first new line to open since the Metro Gold Line in 2003. This bike ride was to follow that from Culver City to Santa Monica Blvd. I wanted to see what was left of the old Pacific Electric line, and photograph it. It also made for a nice bike ride. The Metro Expo Line (no color for it yet) was set to open this year, but numerous delays changed that.

The line west of Culver City, however, has been a bit more of a challenge. The section from Culver City to Sepulveda Blvd has been the most contentious of them all. A small group of people in the Cheviot Hills, where the rail line will run, have fought the construction of the line for so many reasons. None are valid reasons, as they are just plain silly from the start. One of their biggest complaints, as seen in the sign pictured, is that kids and trains don’t mix. Now… to that I agree. They don’t. Kids shouldn’t be playing on active tracks, much for the same reasons they shouldn’t on any one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It should be simple, teach the kids to not play in front of trains, but to hold up a major rail line for it? They take the stance of “build it right, or don’t build at all”. All or nothing is a rather poor way of doing things. Kind of sad really, but hey, the line will get built despite them.  Yeah!

Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
They don't mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.
They don’t mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.

Now, back to the bike ride! So, after doing a bit of research using Google Maps and Street View, I found free parking right near the old Helms Bakery. Perfect, right near where I wanted to start. After parking and getting the bike ready, it was time to go. The weather was fairly decent, though a bit on the cooler side near the beach. I started off heading to Venice Blvd, then onto Exposition Blvd. Just before National Blvd, I saw the first tracks of the day. The first thing I noticed was the bonds between the rail segments. These were original Pacific Electric tracks from the 1920’s. I took some photos, and moved on. Heading west from here, I went under the 10, then headed west through the Cheviot Hills area – remember them?  Well, ignoring them and their silly signs, this is the best section of the whole line, certainly the most scenic. About halfway through the big cut here, there is a pedestrian bridge. It makes a great place to get photos, and will be a good place to watch the trains in 2015.

West towards National Blvd.
West towards National Blvd.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920's.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920’s.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.

After that, the next major hurdle was Overland Ave. There were some remains of a crossing signal there, so I got some photos. The rails were cut at the crossing, but were still there on both sides. After Westwood Blvd, I got a different idea. There was plenty of dirt between the rails, and no plants. As railroad tracks usually have lots of thorns around them, I was a bit leery of doing this. I still did it anyway. After all, it is a cross bike, gotta ride dirt at some point! It was pretty smooth overall, with some muddy spots. Just beyond Military Ave, the tracks ended, for a while. The east switch for Home Junction still remained, but after that, no more tracks. At Sepulveda Blvd, only the guard rail for a crossing arm remained. From here west, there wasn’t as much to see. I was surprised to see the tracks still in place, along with the remains of the west switch for Home Junction, at the edge of a parking lot west of Sawtelle Blvd. They just paved right up to the north rail.

At Westwood Blvd.
At Westwood Blvd.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
Crossing at Military Ave.
Crossing at Military Ave.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.

After Pico Blvd, Exposition Blvd picked up again. This time, even less remained of the tracks. From what I could tell, they had been pulled up long ago. No trace remained at the road crossings, only the occasional crossing signal or pole remained. At Centinela Ave, it was time to go over to Olympic Blvd. This ride isn’t about the PE after all! Olympic Blvd is an old State Highway, former Route 26. West of Centinela, the roadway turns into a four lane divided roadway, complete with concrete. I had only driven the roadway before, so this would be a good opportunity to find a date stamp on the concrete.

1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.
1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.

Just after Cloverfield Blvd, I found two things I had been looking for. The rail line crossed Olympic here, with the rails still in place, and there was a date stamp in the concrete. The stamp was from 1948, a bit earlier than I had thought, as I saw a 1958 stamp in a curb just before Cloverfield Blvd. I continued down Olympic Blvd as far as Lincoln Ave. Why that far? Well, that intersection, or at least the modern equivalent (the 10 freeway has modified things around there), was the west end of US 66. US 66, the Mother Road, ending at such a bland location? Yes. It never ended at Ocean, never mind what the signs may say.  It always ended at the intersection of Lincoln Ave and Olympic Blvd. This intersection was formerly the junction of US 101A, SR-26, and US 66. The last two ended here, the first continued north to Malibu and Oxnard. After making some zigs and zags through central Santa Monica, I made it to Ocean Ave. Finally, the coast! It was a good place to take a break, enjoy the view from the cliffs, and figure out my next move.

At Barrington Ave.
At Barrington Ave.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
My bike at the Palisades.
My bike at the Palisades.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.

I decided it was time to take some photos. There was a plaque for Will Rogers, and a sign stating it ended here. As stated before, it didn’t. Once I had taken my photos of the Will Rogers Highway plaque, I headed on south.  It was time to hit Venice and see what remnants of the Pacific Electric I could find.  I followed Ocean Blvd down until I could connect to the beach path. It wasn’t a busy beach day, so taking the path wasn’t a bad idea. Before I got to the beach, I found some reminders of why I like to ride there – SURFERS! Yes, it is always a good day for a ride here.  The trouble with the path is sand. Lots of sand. It is a beach path after all! It wouldn’t be so much trouble, if it weren’t for the very sharp curvy nature of too many sections of the beach path. Seems to go out of its way to put curves in places there should be none. Just gotta take it slow. After I got as far south as central Venice, I left the path. As it turned out, I was right at Venice Blvd.

Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!

I took Pacific Avenue for a while, looking for traces of the PE. I found some, a building that had loops for hanging the overhead wire.  After a while, I moved over to Main St, and followed it to the south end of Santa Monica. I was searching for a train station, but did not find it. Next time perhaps, when I remember to bring the address! No matter, I headed back south, following 2nd St this time, which eventually turns into Electric Avenue (yes, I did rock down to…. Electric Avenue, but I didn’t take it higher.) This follows another PE line, with some tracks still extant. There were two small sections of track, at Broadway St and Westminster St. I got my photos, and headed onto Abbott Kinney Blvd, which has sharrows. I took it just for that reason.

After roaming through Venice, it was time to get back to the car. No rush, but I decided to take the shortest route – Venice Blvd. The roadway is wide, with overall decent paving, and bike lanes both directions. Winds, the seemingly slight downhill, and my energy at that point in the ride seemed to meet. I kept a decent pace down the road, averaging about 26 mph, sometimes up to 30 mph. Not bad, I thought, as I noticed I was keeping up with traffic. With that, the ride took less time than I had thought it might, and I got back to the car just shy of two hours later than I started. Overall, a fun ride. I saw most of what I set out to see, with few problems.  The future of Los Angeles, it seems, lies in its past. Where there were trains before, there will be again. Instead of building a city as they did, they’ll keep it moving.