August 12, 2017 Cajon Pass Highway Tour – Updated

South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.

On August 12, 2017, I will be hosting this websites first highway tour in the Cajon Pass area. This tour will cover the roadway from Verdemont to Cajon Summit. Some portions will have to be skipped, unfortunately, due to fire-related closures. The start of the tour has changed from the initial announcement. It will now begin at Devore, in front of Tony’s Diner at 18291 Cajon Blvd, San Bernardino, CA 92407 at 8 am. Please do not park in their parking lot. There is plenty of on-street and off-street parking in the area.

[wpgmza id=”1″]

After a brief introduction, we plan to leave at about 8:30 am. The tour will stop at the following locations:

  • Verdemont (backtrack)
  • Cajon Blvd (at the freeway)
  • Kenwood Ave
  • Keenbrook
  • Blue Cut
  • Debris Cone Creek
  • Cajon Junction
  • Cajon Summit

Additional stops may be added if needed. I strongly recommend bringing water and snacks as there are few water/food stops along the route. Please RSVP if you plan to attend this tour. Again, we will be leaving the starting point no later than 8:30 am. Please RSVP no later than August 11 so that I can get a rough number of how many will attend. I look forward to seeing you out there!

Poll results and the first tour

Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.

After taking a small poll on this site regarding possible highway tours, the results are in. It would seem that the Cajon Pass area was the most popular. As such, it will be the first tour given. Unless conditions warrant otherwise, the first tour will be on August 12, 2017. It will begin at the San Bernardino Metrolink station at 10 am. While a more exact itinerary will be created in the near future, the tour will cover the highway as well as the geology from the train station to Cajon Summit. The tour will be in a caravan style with specific stopping points. There may be some short hikes as well to see old pavement, alignments, or bridges. There will also be no cost for the tour. Please RSVP as soon as you can so I can get an idea of how many may show. It should be a lot of fun and I hope to see you out there!

A tunnel on US 80?

In the late 1940’s, plans were being drawn for improvements to US 80 in San Diego County. The highway, as it was then, had changed little since its last upgrade between 1928 and 1932. While much of the highway was on a better alignment than before, the section between Alpine and Descanso still needed more work done. This part of the roadway still had sharp curves and steep grades. The combination of these conditions, including increasing traffic, made it rather treacherous at times.

Portion of the highway plans showing the realignment between Willows and Ellis.

In 1950, the first phase of improvements were made to this segment of highway. Beginning near the present-day West Willows interchange, a new alignment was constructed. This new alignment had a shallower grade than the original alignment. It was also a lot straighter. It followed eastbound I-8 until near East Willows. At the present-day East Willows interchange, the alignments met again. From there, the old alignment was straightened quite a bit. Portions of this new alignment are still in use as the westbound lanes of I-8.

Detail view of the tunnel location. West portal is located at the arrow.
Aerial photo of Deadman’s Curve near Viejas, CA. Note the provisions built for the tunnel on the west (left) side of the large curve.

At the large curve, known as “Dead Man’s Curve”, the 1950 improvements ended. It was at that curve, however, that a tunnel was planned to be constructed. The tunnel was a part of an additional phase of improvements that were never constructed. It would have been about 800 feet long and two lanes wide. I have not found any drawings of what the tunnel may have looked like. Most likely, however, it would have had a stone-faced portal, similar to other tunnels constructed around that time. Grading for the tunnel was partially done on the west side, though nothing was done on the east end.

Plans for the Sweetwater River Bridge near Los Terrinitos. Note the proposed alignments on either side of the bridge.

East of the tunnel, the alignment would have taken a different course. Instead of following the original alignment, a new one would be built, similar to the I-8 alignment, but rejoining US 80 near Los Terrinitos. There, a new bridge was constructed over the Sweetwater River bridge, bypassing the original 1917 bridge to the south. East of Descanso, another realignment was planned, though no provisions for this ever got past the planning stage. This bridge, along with the improvements to the west, were planned to be a part of an eventual US 80 expressway or freeway alignment. All of these plans were put on hold as other projects in the region.

When plans shifted from upgrading US 80 to the construction of a brand new freeway, the tunnel plan was scrapped. Instead of a tunnel, a deep cut would be dug into the mountain, allowing for a more even grade across the area. The alignment chosen also reduced the number of river crossings from three to one. The freeway alignment also bypassed the section of US 80 through Guatay. In doing so, it had to cross Pine Valley creek at a rather deep section. The valley was bridged using a new method called “Segmental Balanced Cantilever”, which resulted in the highest bridge on the Interstate system at 450 feet above the floor of the canyon.

Plans for I-8 between West Willows and State 79 (Descanso)
Detailed plans for the tunnel area showing the old alignment in relation to the present freeway.

Today, little remains of the tunnel’s planned location. Only vestiges of the old alignment can be seen around the large cut where the tunnel was planned. A vista point was constructed within the cut as well, at the edge of which a portion of the original alignment can be seen. I-8 also utilizes a portion of the 1950’s alignment. From near Viejas Creek to just west of East Willows, the two outermost lanes of I-8 eastbound mostly use the 1950’s concrete, with portions replaced and a new lane added to the left. From East Willows to near the Vista Point, westbound I-8 follows the 1950’s alignment, while not using the paving as it does to the west, it does follow the grade. You can see this in the road cuts as the style of cut is different between each side of the freeway.

Following US 80 and its history across the mountains east of San Diego is fascinating. As technology progressed, each alignment became better and easier to travel. Unlike many other highways in California, US 80 didn’t go through an expressway phase. It went from a two lane highway to a four lane freeway on a new alignment. In doing so, the brief period when the original alignment was to be upgraded brought some interesting ideas. The tunnel, as well as some of the extra bridges planned, were a part of those ideas. They would be lost to time if it weren’t for a few bits of information on roadway plans from that era. In time, I may uncover yet more mysteries and unbuilt sections of the highway still unknown.

New Ridge Route Video, sort of

After finally resolving some software issues, I have finally been able to start editing and posting videos again. My most recent one was taken in November 2015 along the Ridge Route from near Liebre Summit. It shows some of the issues the road is facing presently regarding erosion and a lack of maintenance.

Bicycle Path along I-15

In the course of doing research on old US 395 and I-15 in the Miramar area, I came upon a very interesting set of plans. In 1979, a bicycle path was constructed along what is now Kearny Villa Road from Harris Plant Road to Carroll Canyon Road. While there are some details about this path still missing, such as why it was built, who was able to use it (being in a military base), and when it was closed. In time I hope to find these things out. In the meantime, I have the plans for the path itself.

Cover sheet for the I-15 Bikeway. This shows where the bikeway was built on a new alignment from Harris Plant Road to Miramar Way.
Cover sheet for the I-15 Bikeway. This shows where the bikeway was built on a new alignment from Harris Plant Road to Miramar Way.

Starting at Harris Plant Road, bicyclists were directed from Kearny Villa Road, across the freeway, to Altair Road. About 1/4 mile north on Altair Road, the Class I bicycle path began. It followed Altair Road for a short distance, crossed under the freeway at San Clemente Canyon, and then followed the east side of the freeway. Once it joined with Ammo Road, it was basically a Class II bike lane. The lane followed the shoulder of I-15 from near Miramar Way all the way to Carroll Canyon Road, where it exited the freeway and terminated.

Gates at the main entrances of the Class I sections.
Gates at the main entrances of the Class I sections.
Signage posted at the bikeway gates. The lower sign seems to point toward a limited access to the path.
Signage posted at the bikeway gates. The lower sign seems to point toward a limited access to the path.

Much of the Class I sections of the path remain today, albeit closed off. I had seen the roadway many times before in aerial photography and from the ground while inspecting the old freeway. I never knew what it was, other than a rather narrow roadway. The path was the first instance of bicycle specific infrastructure in this area. It wouldn’t be the last, as the current Kearny Villa Road freeway still retains a buffered bike lane today. While it is not yet known what prompted this path to be built, it does show that Caltrans has at least been trying to help cyclists in this area for quite some time. I do find it rather interesting that the path was built just a few years before this section of freeway was bypassed. I suspect, though do not officially know, that the path was abandoned not long after the bypass in 1983. A bit more research is still necessary to determine that.

Detail of a portion of the path from Altair Road to the San Clemente Canyon bridge.
Detail of a portion of the path from Altair Road to the San Clemente Canyon bridge.
Remnant of the path near San Clemente Canyon.
Remnant of the path near San Clemente Canyon.
Closeup of the path, with a short section of yellow centerline striping visible near the top.
Closeup of the path, with a short section of yellow centerline striping visible near the top.

Blue Cut Fire Damage – Highways

On September 6, 2016, I finally got a chance to survey the damage to the roadways in Cajon Pass that were involved in the Blue Cut Fire. Portions of the area are still closed, specifically the area north of Cajon Junction, so I was unable to access the Alray UP or the abandoned expressway sections in that area.

I was, however, able to inspect State 138 east of I-15 and all of old US 66 / 91 / 395 south of Cajon Junction. I chose not to investigate State 138 west of I-15 as there was a lot of heavy construction in progress for a four-lane widening project.

I started my journey by taking the “new” Cajon Blvd alignment that bypasses Devore Junction (I-15 and I-215). Caltrans has recently completed reconstruction of this interchange and as part of that reconstruction, they have partly rebuilt Cajon Blvd through here. While much of it is a new alignment, it does follow the original alignment (pre-1937). As a result, I was able to get some nice photos of part of that alignment.

New section of Cajon Blvd adjacent of I-15, south of Kenwood Road.
New section of Cajon Blvd adjacent of I-15, south of Kenwood Road.
Looking southerly along Cajon Blvd toward I-15.
Looking southerly along Cajon Blvd toward I-15.
Pre-1937 alignment of US 66 / 395 running along the base of the cliff.
Pre-1937 alignment of US 66 / 395 running along the base of the cliff.

The burn area itself became very apparent after Kenwood Road. The fire in this area burned as far as Keenbrook, damaging many structures in that area. A few things didn’t get burned though. One, a lone sign that says “EAT” along with its accompanying structure, remained intact. At Blue Cut, the source of the fire, I was rather amazed at what didn’t burn. Most of the cottonwood and oak trees survived untouched as well as most of the guardrail in the median of the expressway.

Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.
Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.
South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.
South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.
Looking westerly at Blue Cut. The fire burned all around here, but left most of the trees intact.
Looking westerly at Blue Cut. The fire burned all around here, but left most of the trees intact.
At Blue Cut, looking easterly. Despite the name of the fire, it didn't do that much damage here.
At Blue Cut, looking easterly. Despite the name of the fire, it didn’t do that much damage here.

North of Blue Cut, the burn area stops mostly at the old highway, but not east of it. The wooden railing is still intact at Debris Cone Creek. Some structures were damaged near Cajon Junction, such as the Chevron gas station and the McDonalds restaurant.

Looking northerly from the Cleghorn Creek Bridge toward Cleghorn Road. Utility crews are visible in the distance.
Looking northerly from the Debris Cone Creek Bridge toward Cleghorn Road. Utility crews are visible in the distance.
1939 bridge over Debris Cone Creek. Concrete K-rail was added later to protect the wooden railing.
1939 bridge over Debris Cone Creek. Concrete K-rail was added later to protect the wooden railing.
Side view of the 1939 Debris Cone Creek Bridge with its 1952 counterpart. The cross beams in the railing were removed at some point in the past few years.
Side view of the 1939 Debris Cone Creek Bridge with its 1952 counterpart. The cross beams in the railing were removed at some point in the past few years. The fire burnt up to the edge of the 1952 span.
Old railing just south of Cajon Junction, just missed by the fire.
Old railing just south of Cajon Junction, just missed by the fire.

After Cajon Junction, I followed State 138 east toward Summit. The burn area covered the entire highway from Cajon Junction to Summit Valley Road. This section is scheduled to be realigned in the near future as well.

Hwy 138 and the Cajon Amphitheater from Summit.
Hwy 138 and the Cajon Amphitheater from Summit.

Overall, most of the old highways through the Cajon Pass remained intact. Some guardrail was damaged but most was only lightly burned. How this area will react during the next few major rain storms does remain to be seen. Hopefully, mudslides and debris flows don’t become the order of the day.