Out & About—Stand down. Local tourist

Out & About San Diego

Early in January I went on an exploratory driving tour of East San Diego County, specifically looking for remnants of old, abandoned sections of Old Highway 80 which was built from the 1910s to the 1960s. During the years after World War II, U.S. Highway 80 from San Diego to Yuma AZ was reported to be the most used transcontinental highway. U.S. 80 was removed from the Californnia highway numbering system in 1964 after Interstate 8 had become the major thoroughfare from San Diego to Yuma. By 1991, U.S. 80 had been removed from the highway numbering in Arizona, New Mexico, and the western part of Texas all the way to Dallas. In 2006, what was left of U.S. Highway 80 in San Diego and Imperial counties was designated by the State of California as Historic U.S. Route 80.

My journey:

Driving tour of East San Diego County via Old Highway 80

In the original highway system a two-digit number ending in a zero meant that the road was a cross-country road. Indeed, U.S. Highway 80 had its western terminus as far west as Point Loma in San Diego and its eastern terminus in Tybee Island, Georgia.

The road for automobiles from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona, was the Old Plank Road built from February to April 1915. There still is a section of the road in existence, near Yuma, and it is my intent to get over there soon to see it. Here’s a picture of it from Wikipedia:

Old Plank Road remnants near Yuma, Arizona

The 1915 road was replaced in 1916 by a more sophisticated prefabricated plank road. It was a struggle to maintain it, though, and by 1926 work was underway to construct a concrete/asphalt roadway. Many sections of the concrete/asphalt roadway still are in existence, some still being driven on and others being quite difficult to find or get to.

If we start west and drive east, the first section we come to was built in 1917. The earliest concrete highway is easy to determine because it has no center divider, which you’ll see in upcoming pictures, and appears to be at most about 1½ lanes wide. Here is a section visible on what is now the Viejas Indian Reservation in Alpine:

1917 abandoned section of U.S. Highway 80 on Viejas Indian Reservation in California

There is a cool bridge, the Los Terrinitos Road Bridge, also built in 1917, just a couple of miles from the reservation:

Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

I, being the indomitable Russel Ray, had to park and crawl under the bridge. Under-bridges often are more interesting than over-bridges.

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Once you drive over the bridge, you’re on Old Highway 80 built in 1931. You can see the center divider indicating that it’s the widened version constructed beginning in 1926.

Wildwood Glen

This section of Highway 80 now is called Wildwood Glen Lane. The Wildflower Resort was located here on the old highway. The main house from the resort is still used as a residence. The road goes for about a mile and ends at a gated turnaround. However, you can park your car and walk around the gate and explore another three miles or so of the old highway, overgrown with high desert sage and chaparral.

Gate on Old Highway 80. Park and walk from here.

The panorama below is beyond the gate; I had a lot of fun walking a couple of miles before turning around to stay on schedule.

Old Highway 80 panorama

Each section of highway that was completed each day was date-stamped at both ends. I was able to determine that they poured concrete at the rate of about a quarter mile each day.

Old Highway 80 date stamp

Date-stamped concrete, Old Highway 80

In the picture immediately above, the January 21, 1930 date stamp is wrong. Every other date stamp on this section of Highway 80 was 1931, including January 21, 1931, at the other end of this 1930-stamped section. Well, I guess they could have started this section on January 21, 1930, and finally completed it on January 21, 1931, but I’m thinking, uh, no.

In addition to finding beautiful scenery, I also discovered normally dry mountain streams that were running full of water.

Dead tree in the East San Diego County mountains

In the following picture, you can see Interstate 8 in the upper right. This was about two miles past the gate and where I turned around to go back to my car.

Old Highway 80 and Interstate 8

The next section that is visible is the Pine Creek bridge in Pine Valley, built in 1917. It still is in use as a private entrance to some horse stables.

Pine Creek Bridge, Pine Valley, California

Between Pine Valley and Jacumba Hot Springs are mostly abandoned building ruins. Quite interesting. There are so many abandoned ruins, especially in and around Jacumba Hot Springs, that I will cover them in a future blog post.

Although my tour book, dated 2013, said there were sections of Highway 80 visible or accessible, I was not able to find them in 2017. The next section I found was near Jacumba Hot Springs, a 1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge.

1931 U.S. Highway 80 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs, California

So, do you think I crawled under the bridge? Uh, der. That’s the only way you can see the remnants of the 1916 bridge!

1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge

I also found another 1931 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs. This one went over some abandoned railroad tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad, so I stopped to walk the tracks.

Old Highway 80 bridge over abandoned tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

That spot where I stopped to take that picture is about one hundred feet from the border fence with Mexico, which has a maintenance gate in it.

Border fence with Mexico

I walked over to the gate in the picture, and that’s when every Border Patrol and Homeland Security agent within 100 miles descended on me like flies on dung. I was sure that I was going to be deported….

After explaining what I was doing, they let me go but warned me that being in a new car with “paper plates,” it was likely that I would be stopped several more times this close to the border. They were right. Six times total during my 101-mile trip. While being warned by one officer, another was talking into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.”

The two pictures immediately above were taken on the side of the road nearest to the border. On the other side, while standing on the bridge, were sections of the 1916 road, shown in the following four pictures and easily discernible because there’s no center divider:

Old Highway 80, 1917 version

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Out at In-Ko-Pah where the Desert View Tower is (see my blog posts here), there are two long sections of Old Highway 80 right next to Interstate 8. The 1916 section, shown below, is abandoned.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

To the right in the above picture is the 1932 section which is still in use. It terminates at the Desert View Tower. In the picture below, in the center of the bridge, you can see the date 1932.

Old Highway 80, 1932 section, In-Ko-Pah

Once you leave the Desert View Tower (if you’re that close to it, stop and take a tour), you’ll get on Interstate 8 and head down into the desert where there are long stretches of both 1916 and 1932 sections of Old Highway 80, as well as track and trestles from the abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad.

1932 meets 1916. Interstate 8 in upper quarter, especially upper right.
Old Highway 80, 1932 meets 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

East of Ocotillo is a long stretch of a 1916 section of Highway 80. The 1932 version is at the left, which is what you drive on through here.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Here is a panorama showing the 1916 Highway 80 on the left and the 1932 Highway 80 on the right.

Old Highway 80, 1916 and 1932 sections, east of Ocotillo CA

The currently abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks are to the left of the 1916 Highway 80. They look like this:

San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks east of Ocotillo CA

Hope you enjoyed this driving tour of Old Highway 80 in East San Diego County. I’ll have more driving tours like this coming up in future posts. Stay tuned by following or subscribing.

This post approved by
This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

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