In The News

This site, as well as the author, have been featured on television and in newspapers. Each appearance does represent a different time for me, as such, some of those opinions have indeed changed. One, from 1993, documents one of my earliest attempts at “advocacy”, where I asked for a bus stop to be placed. That stop was placed not long after and still exists today. Additionally, an early source of frustration can be seen in some of the articles – the incorrect site address. It was partly these errors that pushed me to purchase my own domain back in 2001.

Here is a listing of those articles and appearances:


Newspaper:

Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

BEHIND THE WHEEL (California Section B)

Road Scholars Driven to Go the Extra Mile

A small but dedicated band of buffs spends free time studying and, yes, traveling the state’s highways and byways.

By LISA LEFF, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES – Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Some people in California–perhaps the majority of them–see highways as a necessary nuisance, something to complain about on the way to and from work, maybe, but certainly not worth contemplating during their free time.

Then there are people like Mike Ballard.

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He once spent three vacation days voluntarily organizing old records at Caltrans’ Sacramento headquarters, where the librarian knows him by name. He owns 40 years’ worth of Chevron gas station maps, and a set of concrete road markers adorns his front yard. He has adopted a two-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Kern County so he’ll have an excuse for legally parking on the freeway, getting out of his car and poking around. In other words, roads are Ballard’s hobby, one he devotes himself to with the same enthusiasm others reserve for bird-watching or collecting vintage glassware. A sometime college student and Santa Clarita native, he may be the only person ever to set a goal of driving the entire California highway system–all 16,622.16 miles of it. It only seems fair to ask: Why?

“I ask myself that often, and I’m not totally sure,” laughs Ballard, 23. “I chalk it up to my curiosity. I’m just always wondering what places once looked like.”

Although Ballard’s obsession might seem a little offbeat, he is not the only native son with a serious road trip. He is part of a small but dedicated group of highway enthusiasts who spend their leisure hours thinking about, studying and, yes, driving the state’s roads, making a serious pastime of something most folks take for granted.

Where the average motorist observes only a uniform blur of green and white whizzing past the windshield, for example, Joel Windmiller of Sacramento finds human foible in freeway signs and scours every one for misspellings and other bureaucratic bloopers. And while other drivers probably give little thought to the nonsequential numbers identifying state highways, Daniel Faigin, an aerospace engineer from North Hills, sees them as pieces of an intriguing puzzle.

After researching the history behind every highway naming and numbering, Faigin, 42, published his route-by-route findings on a Web site, www.cahighways.org. The project led to other interests, and his site now includes pages on proposed transportation legislation, updates on actions of the California Transportation Commission, and the latest Caltrans news.

“When you start looking at the history of highways, it takes you into a lot of areas, like railroads, architecture and politics,” said Faigin, who attributes his own status as a self-described “road geek” to his “very geographic mind.”

Like Faigin and Ballard, Andy Field, 29, of San Diego has been fascinated with highways for as long as he can remember. During car rides with his family as a child, he would pore over maps and imagine what towns he’d never visit looked like.

“Getting a road atlas was like a major gift for me,” Field said. “I would write in them where I thought roads should be.”

He abandoned the pastime when he was in high school–“It wasn’t in vogue. No one wanted to go out and look at road signs with me”–only to rediscover it during college in Wyoming. “I went back to my atlas and plotted how I would renumber all the interstate and U.S. routes in the country,” he said. But it wasn’t until he returned to California and discovered a road-related Internet newsgroup that he felt comfortable identifying himself as a highway groupie.

According to Field, “disbelief and relief” were his reaction upon realizing, “Oh, my God! There are other people out there like me. Finally, I have someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

After meeting online, he and several other California-based highway buffs have become friends who accompany each other on field trips. Last spring, a group of seven people that included Field, Faigin and Casey Cooper, 28, a road enthusiast from Orange County, spent a day exploring bridges, new freeway construction and signage in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. (An account of their outing, complete with pictures, is available on Field’s Web site, www.aaroads.com.)

When they are not on the road, they indulge their hobby by reading. Windmiller, the Sacramento-based highway junkie, regularly visits Caltrans headquarters to scout out the latest reports for his friends. Cooper is the envy of his traveling companions because he owns a lot of back issues of “California Highways and Public Works,” a magazine published by Caltrans’ predecessor from 1911 until 1967.

“I read them all the time,” he said. “It’s fascinating to me because these are historical documents and they offer a lot of insight of how people thought back then. Whether they are talking about highway projects in terms of jobs during the Depression or building freeways to service the suburbs during the 1950s, ultimately, roads are a metaphor.”

Although their areas of interest overlap, each has a slightly different take on roads. Ballard and Cooper, for instance, are chiefly attracted to historic roads. Faigin is into the numbers. Field is a generalist who takes equal delight in studying interchange design, considering ways to improve the state’s signage standards, and taking the time to stop and smell the asphalt.

Of them all, though, none is so committed a highwayman as Mike Ballard. How committed is he? Suffice to say that he grows wistful while discussing the history of the Santa Clarita segment of Sierra Highway, which once served as part of the main highway linking Los Angeles to Lancaster.

The road, which was first posted as State Route 7, then U.S. Route 6 and finally State Route 14, lost its highway designation altogether after construction of the Antelope Valley Freeway in 1963. Ballard paid the company that makes Caltrans’ road markers $35 to make him a custom “U.S. 6” shield. He took it out there one afternoon so he could experience what the route looked like in its heyday.

“Once you go along the old roads, you start seeing old gas stations and old restaurants that don’t get much business anymore,” he said. “They were once part of the main road and now they’ve been delegated to some side road, and that’s if you’re lucky.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, Ballard fulfilled his ambition of traveling every highway mile in California. He made most of the journey in his 1965 Ford Ranchero. The leg that took the longest to complete, Route 271 south of Eureka, is also one of his favorites. “I ended up walking part of it where it was closed because of a landslide,” he said.

Although he spread his journey over a couple of years, he estimates it took him about three months of actual driving time. It would have taken longer if he hadn’t given himself credit for routes he’d already traveled.

You’d think he would be sick of pounding the pavement after so many miles, but if anything, his appreciation has deepened. He is writing a book about U.S. 99, the former Los Angeles-to-Bakersfield route that, to Ballard’s thinking, is just as significant as its more famous cousin, Route 66. And he still enjoys hitting the highway. He has been revisiting the roads he particularly liked on his travels, this time on a bicycle.

“With an old road, there are only two ways it’s best done: in a Model T, which I’ve yet to experience, or on a bike, so you are going slow enough to see everything and enjoy it more,” he said.

Los Angeles Daily News – Santa Clarita Edition

Panel gathers comments on umnet transit needs
Tuesday, March 16, 1993
by T.L. Stanley – Daily News Staff Writer

Harriet Nassaney would love to abandon her car for public transportation, but she doesn’t trust the local bus system to get her where she needs to go.

“I’m on the road every single day, and I’d like to take a break from that,” Nassaney, who lives in Scenic Hills in Newhall, said Monday. “I think a lot more people would take the bus if the service was better here.”

Nassaney was one of a handful of people who attended the first of two public hearings on unmet transit needs Monday afternoon at Santa Clarita City Hall. The meeting was organized by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, to root out the failings of public transit and help finds ways to spend money and correct the problems.

After a series of public meetings in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and on Santa Catalina Island – areas not covered by Rapid Transit District bus service – the commission will review the comments and decide how better to serve commuters.

Residents said they would like to see buses run on Sundays, make more frequent trips and operate later in the evening.

Mike Ballard, who lives in the Circle J Ranch community, said he things buses should stop closer to his home. “There’s no stop for 2 miles on each side,” he said.

Joan Adeeb, a Newhall resident, said she had to turn down a number of jobs because she could not count on public transportation to get her to and from her workplace. “If I take the job and then don’t show up for work, then my reputation is shot,” she said.

Adeeb, a native New Yorker, also said she thinks public transportation should be well-advertised so people know about it. “You really need to encourage people to take buses,” Adeeb said. “You have to go out and catch them like flies.”

J.B. Jones, who identified herself as a “transportation activist” said students who live near Sierra Highway and the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) need a bus stop close to their Canyon Country homes.

“As it is, kids have to walk a mile or more,” said Jones, who lives in the River Park neighborhood. “There are lots of families in that area, and we need to do something for them.”

She also said she thinks security guards should be stationed on buses, and she suggested that parents volunteer. She said she would be willing to volunteer her time to ride buses during peak school hours.

Ron Kilcoyne, city transportation manager, said the public transit system has improved over the past few years, with special attention given to Dial-A-Ride service for senior citizens, the poor, and handicapped.

The improvements came after public hearings last year.

Happy trails await Santa Clarita Valley cyclists
Monday, November 25, 1996
by Mike Ballard (submitted article with some editing/additions by the Daily News)

In the past five years, the city of Santa Clarita has constructed a network of Class 1, separate right of way bicycle trails. These trails are off the road and easy to access. They also follow major roads or rivers and allow travel without the interruption of traffic lights.

One trail, the Santa Clara River Trail, bypasses downtown Canyon Country, while still allowing access to Soledad Canyon Road. Cyclists, runners, and inline skaters use these trails daily for commuting and shopping as well as for recreation.

Each trail serves a different area of the city. The Bouquet Creek Trail runs through Saugus, the Commuter Rail Trail and Santa Clara River Trail through Canyon Country, and the South Fork Trail through Valencia and Newhall. These trails, when complete, will link near Bouquet Junction and create a network that has both recreational and commuting uses. The Santa Clara River Trail is a vital link in the system as this trail connects all of the other trails as well as both sides of the city.

Each trail is important in its own way. For example, the South Fork Trail connects Valencia and Saugus with Newhall. The South Fork Trail runs along the South Fork Santa Clara River from Newhall Avenue to McBean Parkway. At Valencia Boulevard, it links with the Santa Clara River Trail. Passing along the river south of Magic Mountain Parkway, it also connects to the paseo system in Valencia that links to Lyons Avenue. The Commuter Rail Trail is also important because it connects the Santa Clarita Metrolink station with the rest of the city. As one can see, these trails make shopping and commuting easier by bicycle.

On or around these trails, little to no information can be found about them. Future plans call for detailed signs showing mileage and locations of nearby stores with a map of that area. In addition to more signs, plans call for rest areas along the paths. Some of these rest areas have parking, such as the one in the South Fork Trail at Magic Mountain Parkway.

INFO ON LINE
Mike Ballard maintains an Internet Web site where residents can get information about the Santa Clarita area. The Santa Clarita Resources Park is at http://www.smartline.net/~mapmakr/biketrails.htm

Young geologist puts area on the Web
Sunday, January 19, 1997
By Amy Collins – Daily News Staff Writer

The on-line king of local geology doesn’t have much competition.

Mike Ballard, 18, has a page on the World Wide Web focusing on the geology and history of the Santa Clarita Valley, which features his self-made driving tours of the region.

“There was nothing locally, so I thought I’d do it myself,” said Ballard, a senior at Hart High School in Newhall.

Ballard is a one-man on-line show of local geology, earthquake reports and tour guides for drivers, cyclists and hang glider pilots interested in the region’s history above and below ground.

His home page is at http://www.smartlink.net/(tilde)mapmaker. He provides geology sections on Newhall, Canyon Country, Saugus, Valencia, Castaic and, soon to come, Agua Dulce and Vasquez Rocks (“sorry for the delay,” he says on the site.)

Ballard also takes you on two geological drives, instructing drivers where to get on and off freeways, using odometer readings as a guidepost to find famous places in earthquake history and interesting geological formations. His site includes more than 25 pictures.

Ballard began his project about 1 ½ years ago, just about a month after he got an online account, he said. Every few days he checks up on the site, spending hours at a time adding new information and answering queries that have come from as far off as Sweden.

His site averages 20 to 50 visits, or hits, a week, and about 1,850 hits since he started. Although his page gets visitors from all over the country, most visitors seem to be local, he said.

Through his Internet account, which costs a flat rate of $19.95 a month, he gets a free Web page with 10 megabytes of space. “I never thought I’d be using this much of it. I have half of it used already, and there’s more to come.”

He built the site himself from scratch, the only help coming from a neighbor who has helped him scan in some pictures, and from his Internet provider, which provided technical support for the clickable maps on his site.

Other than that, it’s all Ballard.
He’s gleaned the information for the site over the years from his interest in geology and history, and relies on his collection of books and maps as a resource.

Ballard said he plans to attend College of the Canyons and then the Colorado School of Mines to get a Ph.D. in structural geology. After that, he’ll likely wind up as a college professor in geology. But not in California.

Why not?
“I’m not one for real hot weather or earthquakes, especially after that one three years ago,” he said.

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The Signal – Santa Clarita

The Signal, the local newspaper in Santa Clarita, has had more a sordid history with myself and this site. On August 20, 1999, they issued a special section called “Welcome to the Santa Clarita Valley” which had lots of information on the area. Unfortunately, they also chose to use portions of my website and reprint them on page 118 of the special section, verbatim, without my permission or credit given. The pages used in question, from my Santa Clarita Bicycling pages, were original works and are still online today.

When I initially called to confront them about this issue, they didn’t believe me and called me a liar. Later calls involved speaking to the head editor of the newspaper, which at least resulted in a partial apology. The newspaper also offered to print an ad for my site with references to the article they plagiarized from my website. This, however, didn’t turn out to be that effective. They, The Signal, printed two ads on two separate days. The website address was incorrect in both of those ads, something that, to me, showed how little they cared about correcting their mistake.

After this incident, I added additional copyright information to the site as well as warnings about plagiarism. It was, and still is, the largest incident regarding plagiarism this site has had to deal with.


Television:

Local Access – Points of Interest with Phil Scorza – Old US Highway 99 with Mike Ballard

PBS – California Connected – Road Scholars – July 11, 2002, August 29, 2002, and September 16, 2004


Online:

SCVTalk.com

  • January 23, 2008
    To clarify, only a portion of the site was taken down. It was reorganized into the Los Angeles Rocks and Roads Page, the predecessor to the current Southern California Regional Rocks and Roads Page.

SCVResources.com to go dark on Jan 31
By Jeff on January 23rd, 2008

One of the first websites to chronicle life, living, and the special characteristics of the Santa Clarita Valley will shut down at the end of the month, SCVTalk has learned. SCVResources.com, Mike Ballard’s famed site, has served up geology info, pictures, commentary and bike maps on the Santa Clarita Valley since 1995, making it one of the oldest websites in town.
Ballard has continuously updated the website throughout the years but explains on his site that he’s “upset about what has gone on in Santa Clarita” over the last decade. He said he created the website to “educate people” about geology and rampant over-development, a topic he frequently railed against.
Ballard says the geology information and highway information pages will stay online, but his articles about bike maps, developers, local history, and several pages of photographs, will be taken offline.
Ballard has also used his website to chronicle bicycle tours across the state of California. It’s not clear if he’s lived in Santa Clarita recently; he says he’s currently a student at a San Diego college.
One of the more interesting pages on his site is titled “Dumb Developer Tricks.” Over the years, Ballard photographed developer billboards then mocked or corrected information on each sign.
Even if you don’t agree with Ballard’s position on development, the environment, or city matters, you owe it to yourself to visit his site before it goes offline. He’s got a lot of interesting SCV history and some great information on local geology, trails, and more.

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Your Resource For Highways, Geology, Railroads, History, Bicycling, And More Throughout Southern California Since 1995.

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