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Old CA 195 and the Mojave Box Canyon (and CA 86 Supplemental)

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[This photoessay is presented with a 16:9 aspect ratio.] This entry is an expansion of our Mass Grave CA 195 exhibit. I've kept some of the older images there for comparison.
The former route of CA 195 is a little known, geographically dazzling jaunt through eastern Riverside county that not only shows some of the beautiful sunbaked geology of the region but also is a trip back through time on the old highway arterials of the southern Mojave.

CA 195's history traces itself back to as far as US 60/70/99, the ancestor highways of what is now the Interstate 10 freeway. Between Indio and the Arizona state line, US 60 (and later US 60/70, and for a few years I-10) travelled on the alignment of Legislative Route Number 64 until LRNs were abolished with the 1964 Great Renumbering. Modern local travelers are now doubt familiar with I-10's present-day route through eastern Riverside county, with its most notable landmark at Chiriaco Summit or what was then called Shaver Summit (the later name comes from Joe Chiriaco, an Alabama businessman who purchased the summit from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in 1925 and opened a service station at the site in 1933). This routing cuts through the Cottonwood Mountains between Indio and Desert Center, and was built as a modification to LRN 64 in 1933.

Prior to that, however, US 60 used a mountain pass to the south to enter the Cottonwood range, through what is called Box Canyon. (Although some sources also place US 70 on this routing, US 70 was not designated in California until 1935, at least two years after US 60 moved north.) Although Box Canyon was an easier route to build because of the favourable natural geography, the significant shortening provided by the later bypass made it the logical alignment for the future. The old alignment was vacated, but apparently remained state highway without a number.

In those days, the original CA 195 was a small local linkage to the great Legislative Route Number 26, what would later be signed US 99 and became CA 86 after the 1964 Great Renumbering, and is now simply Harrison Street as the CA 86 designation moved to the CA 86S expressway in December 2012. CA 195 proceeded from there on LRN 203 (1935) along Pierce Street to Avenue 66, and then along LRN 204 (1937) on Avenue 66 to the little town of Mecca where the route proper ended, though not state maintenance. The actual route number was not applied until 1940, when the Route 195 designation was vacated from what became California's segment of US 95.

[CA 195 in 1974.] [CA 195 in 1967.] After the Great Renumbering, CA 195 was extended to Interstate 10 along the old LRN 64/US 60 roadbed in Box Canyon (which had remained state highway without a sign route). This persisted until 1972, when CA 195 was legislatively cut back to Mecca at CA 111, the region's other major arterial, and the old road was relinquished to the County of Riverside. Postmiles still survive on this portion to mark the former alignment. In this incarnation, CA 195 served as a linkage from Mecca and the communities served by CA 111 to the former US 99 mainline, which had since become CA 86.

During the 1980s CA 86 and the old US 99 mainline became increasingly important as an alternative high speed corridor and later as the major portion of the proposed NAFTA Farm-to-Market Highway from the Calexico/Mexicali crossing to I-10. In 1989, an additional carriageway was built, and between 1998 and 2001 the CA 86 Supplemental project added additional expressway and access control up to the existing freeway stub between CA 86 and the Interstate. The intention was to move existing traffic from CA 111 and CA 86, both of which were not equipped for the increasing volumes, to the new expressway and make that CA 86 when fully operational.

Except for one small detail, this ought to have made CA 195 fully redundant and ripe for deletion; indeed, in 2001, the Pierce St alignment of CA 195 from old CA 86 up to the 86S was relinquished to the County and no longer remains state highway. However, CA 111 was still a continuous through route despite major portions of its alignment also having been relinquished to the County and the cities of Indio and Coachella, and still had an alignment of state maintained road signed as CA 111 up to the CA 195 junction in Mecca. CA 195 remains signed on this small brief connector between modern CA 86 and CA 111 as its last gasp, and may be absorbed into CA 111 in the future, as CA 111 is unlikely ever to be split due to its continuing use as the arterial for the north shore Salton Sea communities.

Photographs taken November 2012.


The eastern end of CA 195 terminated here, at what is now exit 168 on Interstate 10. (See the original button copy sign on the original Mass Grave entry.) It is signed for Mecca, though Mecca would have been better accessed eastbound from CA 86, some miles prior.

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It is also signed for Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park because the old Box Canyon Rd continues north of the Interstate as Cottonwood Springs Rd to become Pinto Basin Rd and then Utah Trail into 29 Palms where it intersects CA 62, the Twentynine Palms Highway. We will talk more about Joshua Tree in our future CA 62 exhibit.

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End of the off-ramp. The sign at right is erected by the County; Riverside County uses not-quite FHWA congruent font shapes and arrows on their older signage, something I've pointed out to Juan Perez to his surprise. It's sort of Series C with odd arcs, but I can't put my finger quite on where the differences are.

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Looking back at the junction.

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A sun-faded CA 195 postmile sits right on the bridge. This is PM R27.35, but you'd need to look at my 2005 picture to tell. The sun is vicious in summer.

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No thru trucks!

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Distance signage to 29 Palms. There are no services in the Park except the usual camping concessions and facilities. We turn around.

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Box Canyon Rd

Looking back one last time (again County signage).

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Distance signage leaving I-10. The County of Riverside actually changed this sign; it used to say "20 Mi" and the revision is a little clearer. There's nothing else on this road between the Interstate and the town.

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There is a small dirt turnoff here that connects to Pinto Rd, the old alignment of US 60/70 that runs parallel to I-10 (here south of the Interstate). I mark it for reference as it is discontinuous and not a good drive for passenger vehicles.

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But what's that in the bushes? Why, it's another postmile! Other than the route number and county, it is almost totally faded.

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Looking down the connector to Pinto Rd.

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This road is best traveled in winter, when the temperatures are mild and the weather is generally clear. During monsoonal moisture this road can flood out quickly.

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The arid scrub terrain.

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Another faded postmile.

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Approaching Box Canyon proper.

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The Canyon is not set very deep, but the walls are sheer and dramatic.

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You can see why flooding would be a problem.

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The rock layers are easily visible in the bare faces.

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There is also evidence of upheaval relatively recently (in geologic terms). That makes sense because the famous San Andreas Fault is nearby, and there have been numerous small and a few large earthquakes in the vicinity.

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The nearby region is part of the Mecca Hills Wilderness, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, with primitive camping facilities and trails. Interestingly, the BLM stil calls this road State Highway 195.

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These formations remind me a bit of the movie-famous Vasquez Rocks, along old US 6/modern CA 14 in Agua Dulce, north of Los Angeles.

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As we leave the Canyon, the northern edge of the Salton Sea is visible. The Salton Sea is a shallow, salty endorheic rift lake, primarily in Imperial county to the south with a small section in Riverside county. The Sink in which it lies was a result of nearby mountain rise and central subsidence, leaving a depression with a maximum depth of 278 feet below sea level. This was a natural place for the Colorado River to have its prehistoric delta. As a result, some form of the Salton Sea has existed periodically prior from various repeated cycles of flooding and drying out, but the current incarnation dates back to 1905 when diversion canals from the Colorado River failed and the River blasted through headgates to carry the entire volume of the river into the former Salton Sink for almost two years until it was finally halted. Two new rivers, the Alamo and the New River, were reconstituted out of ancient arroyos and continue to feed the Sea today. The panic over the flooding was one of the major reasons for building the Hoover Dam, which put an end to the cycle.

Since its formation the Sea served primarily for recreation and wildlife but also, after a 1928 act of Congress faciltiated it, increasingly as a convenient repository for agricultural drainage. As a result, while the lake would have ordinarily evapourated, it actually grew somewhat over the decades to a depth of around 30-50 feet and 376 square miles. However, remediating the Sea, now suffering from increased salinity from the New and Alamo River inflows as well as the agricultural runoff and frank pollution, has been a profound local issue. Relatively few fish species can inhabit the Salton Sea now, though other less hardy fish species can inhabit feeder canals, and the loss of the Sea by reducing irrigation drainage would increase dust levels carrying toxic substances left by evapouration. The overall effort will likely be complex and expensive.

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Curving around towards the eastern edge of Mecca.

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Crossing the Coachella Canal on a very stately (probably original US 60) old culvert-style bridge.

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The Coachella Canal, running 122 miles from the All-American Canal to move Colorado River water to the Coachella Valley north of the Salton Sea. Built in the 1930s and completed after World War II in 1949, it is currently operated by the Coachella Valley Water District. The origin of the name "Coachella" is unclear, but may be a corruption of the Spanish conchilla, or seashell, referring to the fossils from previous inland seas.

The Coachella Valley today is populated by 600,000 people and is the 13th largest metropolitan area in the United States with the City of Indio as its major hub. Agriculture remains a major local industry; we will mostly see its non-urban rural side along old 195. In highway history, due to the dangerous state of roads into Indio in the early 19-teens, local nurse and later physician June McCarroll pioneered the simple but revolutionary notion of lane striping to reduce traffic accidents. The first section was painted by her, herself, after local government turned down her idea. Popular response was so positive that the California Highway Commission adopted her recommendation in 1924, and a section of Interstate 10 in Indio is named in her honour.

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66th Avenue

At this junction, Box Canyon Rd becomes 66th Avenue and orchards and farming plots start appearing, bordering the Canal.

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Continuing through the agricultural region.

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Mecca, using the County's standard unincorporated community marker. The town dates back to at least 1912 when local farmers started a date grove nearby. The hot, dry climate suits the date palm well, and previous groves grew at least as prolifically; to this day dates are still a major local product. The subsequent settlement took its Near East-themed name from the famous city of Mecca in modern Saudi Arabia, and at one time was considered a "beach" community due to its proximity to the Salton Sea, even today barely a couple miles to the south along CA 111. Located at 180 feet below sea level, it has a population of 8,577 [2010].

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Entering the redeveloped area to the south.

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Curving about to become Hammond Rd and then 4th Street out of town. Avenue 66 largely avoids the residential blocks to the north and functions as a bypass. At the time these pictures were taken, the County was constructing a new traffic circle between 4th and Hammond.

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Junction CA 111. This is the end of the old LRN 64.

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The old 4th St culvert we crossed, dated 1948, probably built by the Division of Highways.

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Notice how the CA 111 trailblazer shield has its arrow pointing only left (and is clearly of different age). Technically CA 111 does continue to the right, and is a through road, but is in fact a relinquished alignment to the County in that segment. We turn left.

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CA 111

The view of the old junction from CA 111 south.

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Just at 4th St we almost immediately hit a JCT CA 195 trailblazer.

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Separation and the beginning of modern CA 195 proper.

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Modern CA 195

There is no END CA 195, just this trailblazer which also shows CA 111 only proceeding south, not north.

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However, there is a BEGIN CA 195, and here it is, with a stupidly small banner. This is the beginning of old LRN 204. There are no obvious postmiles on this very brief stretch.

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All the shields appear to be on this side. Notice that CA 195 (with a particularly poor job on the shield from the District 8 sign shop) is signed as SOUTH although in this stretch it is heading nearly due west. This is a historical holdover from the deleted alignment on Pierce yet to come.

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Advance signage for the 86S junction, which when these images were taken was still well-signed.

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And now the junction itself. Notice that CA 86S is using temporary shields; regular CA 86 shields are undoubtedly beneath them. Also notice that CA 111 is signed north along the expressway, as intended. One might even conceive of CA 111's former alignment being deleted between Mecca and Indio and rerouted over CA 86 and (the now superfluous) CA 195. Caltrans certainly seems to be encouraging this interpretation.

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Hwy 86S and Hwy 195 signage on the mastarms of the intersection. This is ostensibly the end of modern CA 195, but there is no END assembly.

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Detour: CA 86S

I threw some pictures of CA 86S in because there's no CA 86S anymore; most of the markings of the old Supplemental expressway are now gone and regular 86 shields replace them. (86S was 86'ed! Narf narf narf!) If we turn right onto the northbound expressway, the CA 111 illusion continues; here it is cosigned with CA 86S.

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Signage leaving the CA 195 junction.

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If we loop around and head back south, it's fun to compare the postmiles. Here is CA 86S's grade separated crossing with CA 111 on Grapefruit Blvd on its way to Mecca. The regular postmile says 86S (with PM 12.6), but the bridge postmile (PM 12.1) says 086 -- no S. However, the name of the crossing is indeed the 86 S [sic]/111 separation. These little inconsistencies have not been fully harmonized on the modern CA 86.

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CA 111 "separates" at the 66th Avenue exit, but notice that CA 195 is signed here too ... both directions!

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However, CA 195 is not signed here, only CA 111, and only in the southbound direction. We turn right to continue the old highway.

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66th Avenue Continuation

Looking back at the junction with CA 86S. We proceed west.

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A lone PM 6, flattened by a careless driver, is visible on the eastbound side.

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The street is still signed "SH 195" even though this is Riverside County signage.

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Continuing over the old box culverts that streak the low desert terrain.

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Pierce Street. This is the northern end of LRN 203. LRN 204 apparently continued west to intersect old US 99 on Harrison Street; that junction was the very oldest separation of US 60 and US 99 prior to US 60 moving north. We turn left.

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Pierce Street

This portion of Pierce Street is part of the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation, established in 1876 with a total area of 24,024 acres. They are a federally recognized tribe of the Cahuilla and Chemehuevi Indians and the population on-reservation numbers 4,146. The Torres-Martinez appelation comes from the nearby village of Toro and the Martinez Indian Agency that formerly operated here.

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Duroville, officially the Desert Mobile Home Park, one of the more notorious unpermitted mobile home parks on the reservation and named for owner and tribal elder Harvey Duro, Sr. For his part, Duro stated that the park was set up in 1999 for people displaced by the county closing other substandard parks, but Duro did not receive approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in 2009 the BIA, after multiple requests from the county, prevailed in court to have it placed under receivership. Already a shantytown by then, Duroville was flooded by a massive torrential rainstorm in September 2012 and conditions deteriorated further. After this picture was taken, residents were eventually able to find low-income housing and the last resident left in June 2013.

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Turnoff for the reservation which is mostly to the west of us.

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73rd Avenue, leaving the Reservation proper. Notice what's stenciled on the sign below.

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Date groves cluster to the left.

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I told you they grow well here.

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At the end of Pierce St, it takes a sudden jog back to the west ...

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... to hit Harrison St. This is old US 99, now old CA 86, and the end of LRN 203. The control city signage is Caltrans, left after the alignment was relinquished. More dates!

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Old button copy signage along Harrison St looking north. Los Angeles is a control city, both for US 99 and US 60, and later via I-10.

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Looking the other direction, there is a sign for the Mecca turnoff ... with a suspicious gap. Threshold gating shows the glue damage from the removed reflective strips and a ghostly CA 195 shield.

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There is a similar gap at the actual separation for Pierce St from Harrison St.

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Remnant distance signage heading back on northbound Pierce St, with signage to Mecca, and Desert Center and Blythe via I-10.

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