Tag Archives: jacumba hot springs

Out & About—The border fence & dead buildings

Out & About

I thought I would finish today with my driving tour of Old Highway 80 in the boondocks of east San Diego County.

Old Highway 80 takes you very close to the U.S. border with Mexico, and since San Diego County built its wall back in the 2000s, it’s already complete and ready for pictures.

United States-Mexico border fence east of San Diego

Border Patrol agents like to hide and watch you from afar through their binoculars. Several agents were hiding on the bluff with these structures….

Border Patrol lookout

….and descended upon me when I got too close to the border fence. I had parked my car just off the shoulder of the highway, got out, and climbed down under this 1931 bridge to get some pictures.

Old Highway 80 bridge built in 1931

I was between the bridge and the border fence, and that’s when the Border Patrol agents descended on me like vultures on road kill.

Once the Border Patrol agents were satisfied with my explanation for being out there in a brand new car with temporary license plates, the head honcho radioed his agents and told them, “Stand down. Local tourist.”

Once I left them and continued heading east, I discovered lots of dead buildings. I could find no history about the following dead building, but I thought it was quite beautiful in its death and thought I could make a nice piece of Photographic Art out of it.

Dead building near Jacumba Hot Springs, California

Dead building Photographic Art

Next stop is Jacumba Hot Springs where there are all sorts of dead buildings to explore, such as this dead building in front of the Jacumba Elementary School:

Dead building in front of Jacumba Elementary School

It’s a good thing there were no dead buildings in front of the elementary school I attended. I never would have been in school. Of course, the principal would have known exactly where I was after the first couple of truant days….

Also on the south side of the highway is a dead chimney from the long-gone Hotel Vaughn:

Dead chimney of the Hotel Vaughn in Jacumba Hot Springs, California

I found a picture postcard of the Hotel Vaughn that was sold on eBay back in 2013.

Hotel Vaughn, Jacumba Hot Springs, California

When you get into Jacumba, it almost seems like the whole town is full of dead buildings, the largest of which is the old Jacumba Hot Springs bath house:

Jacumba Hot Springs in Jacumba, California

Jacumba Hot Springs in Jacumba, California

Jacumba Hot Springs in Jacumba, California

The hot springs became a destination spot in the 1880s, and Jacumba became a happenin’ place, a premier destination, in the twenties and thirties because of the Jacumba Hot Springs bath house. It was even attracting Hollywood celebrities.

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—The San Diego & Arizona Railway

Out & About The World

On January 1, 2017, I decided to write a book that combined my love of writing, history, trains, and photography. With a tentative title of “On Time: A Timeline of Railroads in San Diego County,” I’m finding that it keeps me busy and I don’t seem to get bored.

New San Diego Central Library on February 2, 2013Right now it’s just a lot of reading and research. I started in the San Diego Central Library (left) because I found that they have microfilm of the new San Diego newspapers—Herald, Union, Tribune, Union-Tribune—all the way back to 1851, which was 18 years before the completion of the Union Pacific/Central Pacific transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

Those 18 years in the San Diego newspapers indicate that San Diego was hoping to be what San Francisco became. It never happened because, basically, no one could agree on a good route through the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Colorado Desert from Yuma AZ to San Diego.

Not that people weren’t trying. San Diego & Arizona RailwayEven after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, people kept trying to build a southern competitor. It looked like it might happen when John D. Spreckels, the owner of the San Diego Union, said that he would build it. And he did. The San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A). Also known as “The Impossible Railroad.”

The SD&A’s history is so convoluted (which is why I’m writing this book) that the only thing I can determine for sure at this point is that the SD&A was chartered on December 14, 1906; groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 7, 1907; and construction was completed on November 15, 1919. Final construction cost was $18 million, three times the original estimate of $6 million.

There are 129 miles. The 11-mile segment through Carrizo Gorge included 17 tunnels stretching 13,385 feet, and 2½ miles of bridges and trestles.

The SD&A was never profitable, mainly because tunnels kept collapsing and trestles were washed away from winter rains. Although there is, to this day, hope for re-opening the line, there are two main problems: First, the cost to repair the damaged tunnels and trestles is estimated at $5.5 million. Second, there are 44 miles of track in Mexico. Yep. Mexico. A hundred years ago there was no border wall and people easily moved back and forth between the two countries.

In today’s world with Twitler as the United States president, I think there is no way anyone anywhere is going to approve a train leaving San Diego, entering Mexico at Tijuana and re-entering the United States at Tecate, 44 miles away. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. That’s based on my early youth when I was hopping trains between Brigham City and Ogden UT, and Kingsville and Bishop TX.

So, while we’re waiting for Twitler to be impeached, we have to content ourselves with tourist rides on a 5-mile section of the old line courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.

Early in January 2017, I took a driving tour of the SD&A tracks all the way out to Plaster City, a distance of about 90 miles. A month later, a friend who owns a helicopter service took me on a 3-hour flight out to the Santa Rosa Mountains to check out the SD&A railroad from the air. Following are some pictures from both my adventures.

This first picture is near Jacumba Hot Springs and shows the SD&A tracks going under a bridge built in 1932 for old U.S. Highway 80.

SD&A tracks under Old Highway 80

The border wall with Mexico is about one hundred feet away, with a maintenance gate:

Border wall with gate

I walked over to the gate and had about a million Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents descend on me. After talking with me for a few minutes and looking at pictures on my camera, one officer said into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.” Another officer informed me that with a new car with “paper plates” (temporary plates), I’d probably be stopped several times. I was. Six times in 90 miles.

Note that San Diego County already has built its border wall with Mexico, and we had no help from anyone else, not even Mexico. Thus, we’re not going to help other counties build their walls.

This next picture is of a switch engine marked as Carrizo Gorge Railway 1465:

Carrizo Gorge Railway operated the SD&A tracks between Tecate and Plaster City from 1997 to 2012. This locomotive is tied up in court between Carrizo Gorge Railway and the engine’s owners, the East County Dirt Works. It sits at the old depot in downtown Jacumba where a lot of other rolling stock also sits, deteriorating in the hot desert sun.

Tierra Madre Railway

My goal on my driving tour was to make it to Plaster City CA, which is nothing but a gypsum plant for USG. However, USG operates that last remaining commercial narrow gauge railroad in the United States. Standard gauge tracks like you see every day are 4’8½” between the rails. Narrow gauge tracks can be anything narrower than that; the USG narrow gauge tracks are a mere 3′, making the rolling stock somewhat small compared to the big boys. As we flew over Plaster City in the helicopter, I got a picture of USG 112, a narrow gauge locomotive:

USG 112 at Plaster City CA

And the narrow gauge tracks leading from the gypsum quarry to Plaster City in the upper right:

Plaster City narrow gauge tracks

The flight over the Carrizo Gorge where all the tunnels and trestles are was pretty cool. The main sight in Carrizo Gorge is the Goat Canyon Trestle:

At about 180′ high and 630′ long, the Goat Canyon Trestle is the largest wooden trestle in the world. The trestle was built in 1932 when the tunnel, directly in the center behind the trestle, collapsed. At the left is an abandoned hopper car.

It’s pretty neat to see all the trestles from the air, indicating just how desolate and isolated this area is, and how difficult it is to maintain the tracks.

All along the route are abandoned railroad cars. In some cases it’s obvious why they are abandoned:

The Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo CA uses the old Campo Depot as its headquarters and has a lot of rolling stock that it is restoring. They offer rides on historic trains over about 5 miles of track, although the rains we have had this winter have, again, washed out some tracks, so those train rides are on hold. Here’s Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum from the air:

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad:

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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

Reminds me, something about a big wall

Out & About

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My expedition to the boondocks of East San Diego County was via Old Highway 80, which started as a wagon trail in the 1860s; morphed into a narrow, concrete 2-lane “highway” in 1917; expanded into a wider, concrete 2-lane highway in 1930-32; and then began its decline in the ’60s when Interstate 8 was built. Many of the cities along Highway 80 were tourist traps in their heyday. Now the main traffic bypasses them on Interstate 8, and the only people using Highway 80 are locals, and weird people like me out searching for history.

Out in Jacumba Hot Springs, 80 miles east of downtown San Diego, I found the Chinese Castle. Looked like this:

Chinese Castle in Jacumba Hot Springs CA

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Chinese Castle is located at the top of a street named Snob Hill. It is a private residence and was not accessible. My research indicates that it was built in the 1920s by Frank Battles, a “wealthy eccentric.” Some sources say that construction began in 1914 and was completed in the 1930s. The foundation of the castle sits on solid granite, creating natural granite floors inside, and has an indoor pool hacked out of the granite.

Battles lived in China for many years and brought back a “heroic size Buddha” as well as carved chests, embroided silk screens, oriental rugs, and teak bird statues. The statues were said to have previously resided in a Chinese potentate’s palace. The Buddha and bird statues can be seen in the 1937 movie “The Good Earth,” based on Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1931 novel.

The Castle was owned from 1963 to 1976 by Harry Lee, a British novelist, and his wife, Velma, “an eccentric school teacher with a history of nude photos, multiple marriages, and a penchant for wearing safety whistles in her later years.” They used the home as a vacation home and artist retreat, writing for Harry and painting for Velma.

The Castle is located in what some call the “American Sahara.” It can get excessively hot out there, so the kitchen is separated from the rest of the house, allowing one to cook without adding additional heat to the living area. Interesting.

Jacumba Hot Springs, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray PhotosThere seem to be many ghost stories and legends attached to the Chinese Castle—illegal gambling, murder. One of the most interesting, somewhat relevant to today’s anti-immigrant administration directing the United States government, is that there is a secret tunnel running from a trap door in the kitchen floor to the Mexico border which is just a few hundred feet away, a tunnel used to bring in illicit merchandise and Chinese laborers.

Hmmm. Tunnels. Reminds me, something about a big wall……

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat