Winter Guide to Traversing Mission Valley Roadways

San Diego’s Mission Valley can be quite a challenge during the winter. Most of the crossings of the San Diego River are low and not bridged. As a result, when it rains these crossings can be closed rather quickly. This greatly affects the ability to transect the valley along these roadways.  The freeways, I-5, State 163, I-805, and I-15 are built with bridges and high enough to not flood. This is a guide to what is normally closed during storms.

From west to east:

Pacific Highway – Bridge – not closed

Morena Blvd – Bridge – not closed

Fashion Valley Road – closed more often than not during storms. This crossing has been rebuilt several times as well.

Avenida Del Rio – closed regularly during storms.

Mission Center Road – low crossing built a little higher than average. Still floods during major storms but is strong enough to avoid being damaged as a result.

Camino Del Este – Still low but built strong. Closes during major storms.

Qualcomm Way – Closes during very large storms. Built a little higher to help keep it open during major storms.

Ward Road – very low crossing and subject to closure during storms.

San Diego Mission Road – low crossing and subject to closure.

Friars Road (east) – Bridge – does not close.

Now, in the event all of these low-level crossings are closed, it is probably best to simply avoid Mission Valley in general. If you have to be there, I would suggest taking the 163 or 15 to cross the San Diego River. It may be a convoluted and circuitous route to use, but it is your only choice. Mission Valley circulation wasn’t designed with the river to flood in mind, unfortunately. Some developments, such as Fashion Valley Mall, was at least partly designed for flooding. The southern parking structure was built with the lower floor to be flooded and still allow for use of the rest of the structure. Even MTS built the San Diego Trolley Green Line with the floods in mind. Most of it is elevated through the valley.

Storm Damage Updates – Tejon Pass Area

This weekend, I had the opportunity to survey the damage from the recent storms in the Tejon Pass / Grapevine area. I took my motorcycle, as I expected to need extra clearance on some of the roadways I was going to take. The results of the survey were better than expected, mostly.

My 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650 and the Ridge Route near Martins.
My 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650 and the Ridge Route near Martins.

Ridge Route:

While I was only able to inspect the Ridge Route from State 138 south to the Tumble Inn, I was pleased to see how little damage was done to the roadway. As it has also been a while since I have been able to travel this section, I had to go by what I had heard and knew of the pre-existing damage. The bulk of the roadway was seemingly untouched by the recent storms. Only two sections, one with an existing problem, were a problem. One of those sections in particular, just south of Liebre Summit, is nearly impassable by a standard clearance automobile.

Grapevine Canyon:

Deadmans Curve with slide damage visible behind it and on the slopes above.
Deadmans Curve with slide damage visible behind it and on the slopes above.
Rills in the slopes from the mudslides. Note the bare slopes which didn't help matters at all.
Rills in the slopes from the mudslides. Note the bare slopes which didn’t help matters at all.

Mudslides, due to a locally heavy rainfall, closed Interstate 5 through this canyon for some time. Mudslide damage is still very apparent from near Ft Tejon north to near the lower escape ramp. Most of the slides affected the northbound lanes. These slides buried a significant section of former US 99 paving, especially between PM 5.5 and 6.0. While a more detailed inspection will be done later, it appeared that most of the exposed Ridge Route concrete along the northbound side was intact, with the later US 99 concrete being buried. The southbound lanes were also hit, though most of the old highway sections were still intact and relatively untouched.

Overall, the damage from these storms was very localized. As we approach a possibly strong El Nino winter, it is my hope that this storm was not a preview of things to come. As this winter progresses, this site will try to document the changes to our historic roadways throughout Southern California.

Image of the Week – 3/9/15

St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.
St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.

March 12, 2015 will mark the 87th anniversary of the collapse of the St Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, Los Angeles County, California. The collapse occurred just before midnight on March 12, 1928. It is still California’s second largest disaster in terms of lives lost. Approximately 500 people died in the ensuing flood which flowed to the ocean near Oxnard, CA along the Santa Clara River Valley. Only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire exceeds the number.

Road Building in San Gabriel Canyon

In the 1930’s, Los Angeles County began construction of an additional roadway over the San Gabriel Mountains via the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. About half of the roadway, complete with with four larger bridges and a tunnel, was constructed. Work had progressed as far as “The Narrows” by 1938. However, the March 2-3, 1938 storms caused much of the roadway to be washed out. The project was then abandoned, leaving a large arch bridge stranded many miles upriver. The tunnel still exists as well, just north of the “Bridge to Nowhere”, though it has been sealed at both ends.

P4260073
1936 arch bridge – The Bridge to Nowhere
1936 stamp on the arch bridge.
1936 stamp on the arch bridge.
Looking over the arch bridge to the tunnel site.
Looking over the arch bridge to the tunnel site.
Abandoned and partly destroyed bridge over the river.
Abandoned and partly destroyed bridge over the river.
Bridge over Cattle Canyon on the East Fork Road. This is similar to what the removed bridges north of here would have looked like.
Bridge over Cattle Canyon on the East Fork Road. This is similar to what the removed bridges north of here would have looked like.
1934 USGS Camp Bonita map showing the roadway completed to about 1 mile south of the “Bridge to Nowhere” site.
1940 USGS Camp Bonita map showing the now stranded bridge location.

In the 1955,  a new road building project commenced in the canyon. This new alignment would stay high above the canyon floor until it got nearer to the “Bridge to Nowhere”, allowing that earlier work to come to some use. Progress on this roadway was slow, mostly due to poor funding. Convict labor was used for most of the project, similar to many other road building efforts at the time in Los Angeles County. Two tunnels were constructed as well. These still exist and are mostly intact. This project too was cancelled in the late 1960’s, leaving another large scar in the canyon. This road is presently known as Shoemaker Canyon Road.

Stone railing along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Stone railing along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Looking toward the higher peaks of the San Gabriels along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
End of the pavement and open section of Shoemaker Canyon Road.
End of the pavement and open section of Shoemaker Canyon Road.
1961 and 1964 tunnels in view.
Partly graded roadway and tunnel along the "Road to Nowhere".
Partly graded roadway and tunnel along the “Road to Nowhere”.
Date stamp on the first tunnel.
Inside the longest tunnel, from 1961.
Grading along the "Road to Nowhere".
Grading along the “Road to Nowhere”.
Northern tunnel from 1964.
Northern tunnel from 1964.
1966 USGS Glendora map showing the “Shoemaker Canyon” roadway under construction.

Today, the canyon is protected from future development through the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. Even without this protection, the geology of the canyon makes for a very expensive project. Maintenance would also be costly, as seen with State 39 through San Gabriel Canyon and above Crystal Lake. In time, all these structures and cuts will wash away, leaving the canyon with only bits of concrete and asphalt to show what was once here.

Remnants of paving in the canyon.
Remnants of paving in the canyon.

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 2 – Sunday, December 19, 2010

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 30 mph 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 would be useful to me in the future. Each trip is different. Perhaps the next time, the roads won’t be so flooded.