Category Archives: Railroads

Angels Flight in Los Angeles

Angels Flight is a short funicular railway in downtown Los Angeles. It has been around since 1901, though not continuously. It used to run from Hill St and 3rd St west up Bunker Hill. It was moved about 1/2 block south about 15 years ago. I took this video of it in 2010.

Tracks remain on Park Blvd

Walking today, I saw that the former San Diego Electric Railway tracks in the median of Park Blvd seem to be staying put. Construction is underway for a “busway” which is tearing out most of the old track and poles. However, at Howard Ave, the tracks are being left in place and reburied beneath the new median. Why this is the case here and not anywhere else is something of a mystery. Hopefully it marks a trend to keep some of the old infrastructure in place instead of destroying it.

Section of rail removed at Howard Ave.
Section of rail removed at Howard Ave.
South of Howard Ave to near Polk Ave, the old rails remain.
South of Howard Ave to near Polk Ave, the old rails remain.

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.

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!

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.

A Streetcar Named Huh?

My day was going along fairly smoothly until after breakfast. I had bicycled over to Babbo Grande, to meet a couple of friends for breakfast. We stayed a while, talked, and eventually left around noon. I was going to head back home, but decided to extend the ride. I continued north on Park Blvd, into University Heights. It was fun, basically going slower and checking out the businesses. I found a few restaurants I’d heard about, and want to try sometime. When I got to Adams, I turned right. Now, this sort of ride, doesn’t have a real direction. I just start to wander and go wherever my next decision takes me, instead of going to a specific place. It was after I turned onto Adams that thing took a whole new direction.

Parked in the middle of the roadway, at Florida St, was an old truck and trailer, what was on the trailer was something quite extraordinary. It was a 1915 San Diego Electric Class 1 car, a streetcar. This street, Adams Avenue, hasn’t seen such a sight since 1949, though this car hasn’t been on the rails since 1939. I decided to follow it, see where they were taking it. Turns out, it was on a “publicity tour” of sorts. They drove west on Adams then south on Park. I figured, I was ready for to follow them anywhere, until a freeway. The truck was going quite slow, blowing their horn a few times to attract attention. It did. Lots of people were taking photos, traffic slowed both directions on all the roadways they took. I followed them on their little tour through Hillcrest, then back up to University Heights. After they finally stopped on Florida St at Adams Ave, I asked if they were going to be there a while. They said yes, good! I could go home and get my camera! So, I went home, got the camera, got back, and it was still there. I also got to speak with some of the people there, got a nice brochure on the project. Their project, San Diego Historic Streetcars, has a goal of running their cars, the last three of this type remaining, back on San Diego streets. I’d sure like to see that. Seeing it go down University Ave, sort of recreating the #11 car line, was pretty cool as it was. Having it run on its own doing the same thing would be much better.

This is what I saw on Adams Ave. Eye catching isn't it?
This is what I saw on Adams Ave. Eye catching isn’t it?
San Diego Electric Railway logo
San Diego Electric Railway logo
Side view, the "fencing" at the bottom is supposed to be there and is original.
Side view, the “fencing” at the bottom is supposed to be there and is original.
A streetcar, with Trolley Barn Park in the background.
A streetcar, with Trolley Barn Park in the background.

There is a lesson to be learned here, sometimes take it slow, and don’t just go home. Extend the bike ride, even if just a little. You never know what fun might be out there.

Explorations

I like to explore. I always have. I started as a kid by hiking around the hills above my neighborhood. I believe it was doing that, and my curious nature, that got me interested in geology. Now, I say I’ve been interested in it since I was five. Five? Quite young you say? Yet, that far back, I would pick up a rock, and not just think “What a pretty rock!” I’d want to know more about it. How did it get there? why does it look the way it does? The earliest ones I remember were small pieces of rhyolite from the Mint Canyon Formation. They were mostly flow-banded, and sometimes had small quartz crystals within them. In setting out to find their source, I learned much about the local geology. I eventually learned of the Mint Canyon Formation’s age and how it was formed. As it turned out, I would never have found the source, at least locally. The San Andreas Fault had offset the source area for the rhyolite by about 120 miles or so. The rocks came from what are now the Chocolate Mountains east of Indio. So through all that, I got more interested in geology. I look around at rock formations all the time, study them. I go on annual trips to Death Valley just to learn more about geology. As such, it all adds to my want to explore. When I go on bike rides, I always look at the road cuts to see what sort of rock I’m riding through. I look at the overall terrain, and try to piece together how it was formed. The same applies when I go for a drive, go hiking, or even take the train.

There is a line in a song by America – Horse With No Name. I hear it, and am always reminded of Death Valley and the pluvial lakes/rivers that existed in the Basin and Range province. The line “After three days in the desert fun I was looking at a river bed, and the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead” really strikes true with me. I look at the Amargosa River Bed or even the Mojave River Bed, they do tell their stories of when they flowed, and I do think it is sad to see them dry as they are now. I would like to have seen the western US during the Pleistocene. Think of all the lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and countless other features that existed then, that no longer do. Death Valley is one of those places, where Lake Manly once existed. With the exception of portage around waterfalls (Fossil Falls among others), a kayak trip from Mono Lake to Death Valley might have been possible. As you can see, my interest in geology goes deep.

So back to explorations, I used to have a mountain bike. I rode it everywhere. I even went on my first bike tour on it in 2001, knobby tires and all. It wasn’t until 2008 that I even got on a road bike, but wasn’t quite impressed. It was too bumpy a ride, too unnerving. It just didn’t sell me on getting one. I still felt I would find something though, as I wanted an easier ride for a bike tour I had planned for August of 2009. In October 2008, I went shopping. I ended up at the Performance Bike in Sorrento Valley. After looking at the bikes, and telling them what my plans were, they pointed me towards this road bike that had wider, somewhat knobby tires. I wasn’t quite sure about it. I wanted a road bike. I was led to believe this was a more robust road bike, capable of handling touring and anything else I might want to do. It certainly looked nice. It took some convincing to get me to buy it. They never told me what the bike was really capable of. I would find that out, in time.

That decision to buy that bicycle has changed my life in ways I didn’t expect. At first, I found I would go much faster than I used to. I seemed to zip around everywhere I went. I was putting the same energy into the bike as I was with the mountain bike, but getting much more out of it. I would go on longer rides, more road rides, than I had before. Eventually, I found I could take the bike off road. At first, dirt roads were all I took. Later, I would take singletrack trails, such as the upper portion of the Noble Canyon Trail or the Big Laguna Trail. With my abilities and confidence growing, I took my explorations to a whole new level. I would no longer look at road conditions or hills along the way. I would plan a route, and take it. If that meant riding a singletrack trail, then the shoulder of a freeway, so be it. I’ve found many non-standard routes for getting around as a result. It has really expanded my idea of freedom, in relation to travel. I feel like I have more freedom to travel as I can take just about any trail or roadway to get me somewhere. On the singletrack trails, I would get looks from the mountain bikers, wondering what I was doing there on a road bike. Nope, not a road bike, a cyclocross bike. The go anywhere bike. I’ve taken mine to Mammoth Mountain, had lots of fun there. The bike does have its limitations, but so do I. If I have to get off and walk it, no problem – even in cyclocross racing there are sections where you have to get off the bike.

My fitness level has greatly improved since I got the bike. I ride now more than I drive. In the past two years since purchasing the bike, I’ve ridden over 10,000 miles. I never figured that would happen. I’ve ridden to work for the past two and a half years. I’ve lost about 30 lbs, gained more muscle in my legs, and am in much better health. All these benefits because I like to go out and explore. The new bicycle has helped me in that quest. I’ve also set higher goals for myself. I plan to ride a double century in 2011. It won’t be an organized one, but one of my own planning. I’ve found the ride I plan myself to be much more fun. My routes aren’t the usual ones, I might even have some dirt trail to ride. Why ride 200 miles in a day? Is it the bragging rights? Is it to prove something? Nope. For me, it is only to expand my ability to go on the rides I like to. If I am able to ride 200 miles in a day, then I can ride any route that I set up for myself. It opens up possibilities for me that I wouldn’t have considered previously. Did I ever think I’d ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in a day? Or Monterey to San Simeon in a day? I didn’t think it was possible, until I went on a 151 mile ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in May 2010.

While I don’t suggest everyone go out and do what I’ve done, it is something that more are capable than they think. At one point, going around the block was a big deal, then across town, then across the county. Now, I’ve crossed counties and even a state. It just takes a vision and the ambition to go out there and do it. My ultimate goal is to see more out there exploring as I do, learning more about their local environment. So get out there – it is a big planet and has lots to see!