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Old Highway 395, Part 18: The Cajon Pass/Interstate 15 (Cajon Boulevard, Mojave Fwy) and Modern US Highway 395

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[The Cajon Pass in 1954, as shown in CHandPW 3/54.] At last we reach the end, or as every cliché goes, the beginning of something else: our final part of Old Highway 395 as we approach the beginning of modern US 395 in Hesperia. In this final Part, we look at the final leg of the old highway and take a little preview of the modern highway as an introduction to the main exhibit. (If you'd like to skip forward, you can jump to Part 1 now.)

The centrepiece of the final leg is US 66/US 91/US 395's ascent through the 4,190' (NB)/4,260' (SB) Cajon Pass, the major gateway between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains from Southern California into the Mojave Desert and points north. The pass gets its name from the Spanish word for box, aptly describing its relatively sharp boundaries and confining mountainous course. Not only is the Cajon Pass massively traveled daily today by truck and passenger car traffic, but it is also a primary transit point for both the Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad (for a brief history of these railroads in the Inland Empire, see Part 15). When the automotive age dawned, the Cajon Pass was rapidly incorporated into the nascent national highway system, first as part of US 66, then adding US 395 and finally US 91; this scene is shown on the March-April 1954 cover of the great California Highways and Public Works magazine, the former regular magazine of the Division of Highways. Now traversed by Interstate 15 as the Mojave Freeway/Barstow Freeway, this section having been built in 1969, it continues to maintain its preeminence for the hundreds of travelers it services daily just as it did for the historical travelers who discovered and traversed it. Since this portion of Old Highway 395 is without a doubt probably its most historically compelling, we will spend particular time in this exhibit talking about its history, its genesis, its discoverers and its evolution over time.

Geologically, the Cajon Pass was one more geographic consequence of California's infamous San Andreas Fault, discovered in 1895 and running 800 miles between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates from San Francisco to near the Salton Sea, near El Centro. In the southern Mojave segment, it passes through the Cajon Pass directly and then curves around to become the northern border to the San Gabriels north of Los Angeles. Owing to its height and location the Pass remains a frequent spot for turbulent winds and snowstorms which sometimes can even close the Interstate today. In its bottom runs the Cajon Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana River, which enters the main river in San Bernardino with what little water runs through it now.

In antiquity the Cajon Pass was known to and used by the Mojave Indians for points south, but little traversed by early white settlers and almost certainly only by accident. The Spaniards did not have a significant presence in the area until around 1772 when Governor Pedro Fages led a detachment through the Cajon Pass to modern Phelan and into the Antelope and San Joaquin Valleys in search of runaways, and use of the route expanded when Fr Francisco Garces used the Pass as a return route from what is now the Victor Valley from his 1776 missionary trek up along the Colorado River into the desert. The close proximity of the strange Mojave River made its location even more favourable to these early wanderers, and after Mexico achieved independence in 1821 the Pass was incorporated into the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe, NM to Los Angeles, routing the Trail far north into Utah to avoid Indian interference and using the Cajon Pass to re-enter southern California from the northern desert.

Even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ceded much of the southwest to the United States, a background American settler presence existed in what was then Alta California. It is widely believed that the first American to cross the Cajon Pass was the great mountainman Jedediah Smith in 1826, who learned the route from the Indians. Naturally he was promptly jailed by the Mexicans as soon as he was detected, but Smith was only the first of a wave of later American invaders. In 1834, Joseph Walker (more about him in the main exhibit, Part 9) brought the first immigrant wagon train into California using a previously undiscovered route and a critical pass somewhere in central California, and other explorers started looking at other ways in. In 1844 the famous explorer and surveyor John C. Fremont effused to his superiors that not only had he found Walker Pass, but that it was exceptionally wide and would be an excellent route for the railroad. Fremont was right that the pass he had stumbled onto would indeed be excellent for the railroad, but he was about a half-degree south of Walker Pass (which today is traversed by CA 178) and although his error makes it impossible to figure out exactly where he did go, some estimates do place him as far south as the Tehachapi Pass and the modern Cajon Pass. The width of the claimed pass, however, makes the Cajon Pass more likely in my estimation, and in fact Fremont didn't actually traverse the real Walker Pass until 1854 after Lt. Robert Williamson had correctly identified the major southern crossings in his own later railroad survey.

In 1851, a new type of settler emerged in the region. As part of the expansion into what they believed was their promised land, one group of Mormon pioneers left Salt Lake City, UT for the West and descended through the Cajon Pass to settle in the valley south of it. They were led by two church apostles, Amasa Mason Lyman and Charles Rich, who with Captains David Seely, Jefferson Hunt (who as part of the Mormon Batallion [Part 10 of the main exhibit] had guarded the entrance to the Cajon Pass during the Mexican-American War) and Andrew Lytle commanded nearly 500 settlers and some 150 wagons. Purchasing land from Don Antonio Maria Lugo, who received a land grant from the Governor in 1839 and retained ownership of Rancho San Bernardino after the Treaty, the Mormons built a fort at what is now the county courthouse and gradually expanded out into the valley and nearby Rancho Muscupiabe (a corruption of the Serrano Indian amuscupiabit "place of little pines"). The rest of the story of San Bernardino is in Part 15. As a marker of their trek, the Mormon Rocks in the Pass were named for them, which we will see from the Interstate.

[Cajon tollhouse at Blue Cut in 1870.] The Old Spanish Trail remained in major use for pack trains, but its use for wagons, Mormon immigration notwithstanding, was considered extremely difficult. In 1850, Phineas Banning and W. T. B. Sanford built a new wagon road about six miles west of the Trail, which was less rough but steeper and longer, and Sanford reduced the grade with a new summit even further west in 1855. Even this road was not enough, and contemporary travelers complained about the precipitous heights in some sections and grades that exceeded 30 percent, virtually mandating wagons be disassembled and lowered down treacherous sections such as the notorious eastern Narrows. With the gold rush in Holcomb Valley (Part 15), blacksmith Jed Van Dusen constructed a new road in 1861 from the Pass into Belleville, and the state authorized construction of a toll road through the Pass to a partnership led by John Brown the same year. The new turnpike started near Devore and went up the canyon through modern Blue Cut, where the toll house at right stood in 1870 (the rock face remains a well known landmark on old US 66/US 395 which we also will go past), to Crowder Canyon and down into the Victor Valley. The construction was expensive and the toll was as steep as the terrain -- $1 per wagon and team, and a quarter for a man and horse -- but the road was proven when Banning dragged a 4-ton boiler over the mountains to Holcomb Valley after the road was completed. Nevertheless, the road was often flooded out by heavy rains, the tollbooths were targets for Indian attack, and Brown was successfully sued in 1875 over how he positioned the booths and the general later disrepair of the route. In 1882, the charter for the turnpike expired, and the route became public.

By this time, the railroad was moving in. The Southern Pacific Railroad, then the de facto monopoly in California, had already started operations in the state using their newly constructed Tehachapi Loop (1876), the Tehachapi Pass, part of the western Cajon Pass and the San Gorgonio Pass to access Los Angeles. Their operation piggybacked on the failed Los Angeles and Independence Railroad (Independence is in the main exhibit, Part 5), which literally fought the SPRR off with gunfire on the western part of the Cajon until they went bankrupt and the SP bought them out. Other operations wanted in on the action, and after waging a "frog war" in Colton in 1883 to cross the SP tracks (Part 15), the California Southern Railroad and its backers in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe continued on and through the eastern Cajon Pass in 1885 to Barstow, where it connected to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.

With the dawn of the 20th century and the automobile, the Cajon Pass road continued to remain in service as now a macadam-surfaced road maintained and slowly improved by the county of San Bernardino. In 1915, the Cajon Pass was adopted as a state highway by the State Highway Commission and designating it as part of Legislative Route Number 31 after the Second Bond Act was approved by voters in 1916. The route was paved that same year, opening the Pass for general automotive traffic, and it was adopted as part of the new national US Highway 66, an original US highway, in 1926. The paved route was then expanded into a new two-lane Cajon Pass route in 1932 and was co-signed with the extended US Highway 395 after 1934 and US Highway 91 in 1947. The 1932 road persists today as the southbound lanes of northern Cajon Boulevard, the remnant of US 66/US 91/US 395 before the construction of the Mojave Fwy.

[Stages of US 395 construction in the Inland Empire, 1954, 99K.] By the late 1940s, traffic on the one-lane-per-direction highway was rapidly exceeding design capacity and operations started on an expansion to expressway status. Part of that plan is shown on the 1954 planning map at right, which you have seen in prior Parts and is reproduced here for your reference. In 1953 new northbound lanes were constructed from Devore up to the Gish Underpass parallel to the 1932 alignment, now repurposed as the southbound lanes, at a cost of $2.1 million. The Gish Underpass was a well-known point where the railroad tracks crossed the highway on a grade-separated overpass, which survives today east of the Interstate but with only dirt road beneath now, and I-15 uses the later Gish Overhead to cross the tracks today at PM 22.04. From 1954 to 1956 the expressway was extended north from the Gish up to Palmdale Rd, our old friend CA 18, in Victorville at a cost of $1.86 million, and with the designation of Interstate 15 in 1957 the expressway became US 66, US 91, US 395 and I-15 simultaneously.

After the 1964 Great Renumbering, US 66 and US 91 ceased to exist and only US 395 remained with Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass. In 1969, the entire stretch of the old Cajon Boulevard was bypassed by the new Mojave Freeway, constructed first between Devore and CA 138 and thence into Hesperia, and US 395 was truncated to its modern terminus north of the Pass. We will travel the Mojave Fwy/Barstow Fwy in this Part to connect up the pieces of old road obliterated by the Interstate in the present time. The Cajon Pass remains a truly historic and fascinating look at the progress of transportation within the state, and I find it a fitting end to our study of one of the state's similarly historic highways at its greatest length. Enjoy our last travail, and then come on along with me to Canada in the main exhibit.

Interstate 15

Merging onto Interstate 15 from Interstate 215 (the end of Part 17 and entering the San Bernardino National Forest, established out of the San Bernardino Forest Reserve in 1907, covering 671,686 acres from the Lytle Creek region to west of the Morongo Valley and another section near Idylwild.

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Our first exit is Kenwood Avenue, which we traveled from "downtown" Devore Heights in Part 16. This is our closest access to continue Cajon Boulevard, which was split by the I-15/I-215 (former I-15/CA 31) interchange, also in Part 16.

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Caltrans does a good job on signing exits to old US 66 from the Interstate, but I think I've already said my piece on my objection to it.

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Exiting the freeway. This is the intersection where we left Kenwood Ave in Part 16. We turn left, but we won't be on this road long.

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Kenwood Avenue

Coming down from the Interstate. Kenwood ends shortly ahead at a strangely configured road, blocked with a dirt berm on the left. This is the continuation of Cajon Boulevard, which we left at the end of Part 16 also.

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Cajon Boulevard

End of Kenwood Avenue.

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The old highway is blocked off to any kind of traffic, but here are the phone numbers if you need them.

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Looking at Cajon Blvd, the blocked off portion, stretching south back to the Interstate where it will terminate.

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At the turn to Kenwood and onto I-15 is this sign with a white TO and arrow. If this isn't just a local gaffe, the I-15 probably was preceded by a US 66 and US 395, since there would have been no need for it before the Mojave Freeway was constructed.

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[Northbound along the new expressway, 1953, 38K.] Northbound along Cajon Blvd. History being the circle that it is, Cajon Blvd is now once again a San Bernardino county road, just like the original route was after John Brown's toll road charter expired. For obvious reasons given its current traffic volume, maintaining the full expressway alignment would be expensive and unnecessary, and so the old southbound lanes were turned back into a one-lane-per-direction road. Wow, does this sound familiar. The routing is not strictly followed, however, as we will see along the way. Compare this intentional perspective with the expressway as it appeared in 1953 in the thumbnail at right (click for a 38K enlargement).

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More painted-on US 66 shields. So far we have seen white on asphalt and black on white squares (here). There is one more variation of the painted road shields yet to come, and I'm not sure why they alternate (probably just whoever did it at the time).

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Continuing NB Cajon Blvd/old US 66/old US 91/old US 395.

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Curving around towards Blue Cut.

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Some of the old guard walls along with a later guardrail "median."

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[Retaining H-columns at Blue Cut, 1953, 45K.] Blue Cut, named for the bluish colour of the exposed rock. From the very beginning Blue Cut had always been the bane of Cajon Pass travelers, from John Brown's toll collectors to the winter of 1931-2 when a rock slide blocked both the new and old roads and a makeshift temporary route had to be constructed through an old railroad cattlepass. The reason for its instability and frequent slides is that it is, in fact, the crossing of the main axis of the San Andreas Fault. In 1937, a retaining wall was constructed and in 1953 H-bars connected with chain link were driven in with concrete foundations to retard slides (click for a 45K enlargement).

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I did mention this was a County Road, right?

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[Looking SB north of Blue Cut, 1953, 32K.] North of Blue Cut, with the modern Interstate visible further up the hill. Compare this view with the south-facing look at the expressway in 1953 in the thumbnail at right, which shows the highway looking back north of Blue Cut (in the left background) with the newly installed truck scales (click for a 32K enlargement).

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Here the lanes cross and we drive, or in the case of the motorcyclists, ride, over the other carriageway for a bit.

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But not for very long.

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Looking at the San Gabriels (along with Mount Baldy in the distance), the electrical distribution lines and the railroad. Cajon Pass is a very popular spot for railfans.

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This double bridge, the upper one closed to traffic, is the Horsethief Canyon/Cleghorn Creek crossing and another landmark along the old route.

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It seems the upper bridge existed first, as the date stamp reads 1939.

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[Double bridges over Horse Thief Canyon, 1953, 45K.] Looking at the understructure. The archival image at right depicts the double bridges during the new alignment construction in 1953 (click for a 45K enlargement). Horse Thief Canyon gets its name from the Horsethief Trail, a material threat to the California dons who found their wild horse herds mysteriously thinned by bandits inhabiting the side canyons and using their eponymous route.

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And now shield type #3, an inexplicable black on white next to a more conventional white on black.

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As we near the end of the alignment, our dual carriageways "merge" -- in actuality, the second carriageway was obliterated by the southbound lanes of I-15, which as you have seen runs very tightly next to the old road.

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One of the original crossings from the 1932 road, still in use, dated 1930 and in good shape.

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Here we start to curl back to Interstate 15 and the Cleghorn Rd exit. This neutered shield was erected by the county, not Caltrans.

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Cajon Blvd continues on north while Cleghorn continues the curve to the Interstate interchange, but the old road doesn't get far.

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This unofficial but ominous sign used to stand here at the turn when I first did a survey in 2005. Notice the fog that morning.

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Today, however, the end looks like this, and the trains are definitely using the tracks regularly. We'll pick up the old route in a second, but to do that, ...

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... we have to go back to the Interstate.

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Interstate 15

Mojave Fwy signage north of Kenwood Avenue.

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The exit following Cleghorn Fire Road is this one, for CA 138. CA 138 is a major High Desert highway, linking Gorman to the San Bernardino Mountains via Lancaster, Palmdale, Pheland and Silverwood Lake. This was kind of a crazy angle to photograph from.

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A stub of Cajon Blvd emerges from "beneath" the railroad tracks at the south side of this exit.

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Amusingly, the remnant stub of this alignment was incorporated into the access road for this Caltrans depot, named, appropriately, Cajon. The Mormon Rocks are visible in the left background.

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An arresting on-ramp overhead (with Victorville as the control city for points north) at the I-15/CA 138 interchange.

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Continuing north on I-15 at PM 22.8. This is slightly north of the old Gish Underpass and is near Alray, one of the old railroad sidings. Here Interstate 15 splits into widely separated carriageways, with the southbound lanes of I-15 representing the entirety of the old 4-lane expressway. The old highway splits off a little further up but more about that momentarily.

[The Cajon Pass in 1968 from Mission: Impossible, 45K.] Compare this view with one last cut from Mission: Impossible "The Town" (Part 17 and US 395 In Popular Culture), this time looking north at the southbound lanes leaving the Pass at approximately this location. Notice the lack of full access control; this was taken in 1968, before the Mojave Freeway was constructed and when the old expressway was still in use. Click the thumbnail for a 45K enlargement.

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Beside us, in their full splendour, are the Mormon Rocks which were named for the 1851 Mormon wagon train.

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[Cajon Pass expressway looking south, early 1960s, 81K.] [Original 1932 route, shown in 1950 through the Pass, 57K.] Reaching the summit at PM 25. Although the original course approximately followed what are the southbound lanes now, we can still compare it with the two views at right, both looking south. The leftmost/bottom (for screen readers) image shows the original 1932 route as it was in 1950; click for a 57K enlargement. After the construction of the expressway but before the construction of the Mojave Freeway, it looked like the view from the postcard scan at far right/top (click for a 81K enlargement).

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[Gish Underpass and Summit, 1955, 96K.] Ascending the summit on the northbound side, where the northbound and southbound carriageways of I-15 converge again. Compare the modern Interstate's course with these four 1955 images, showing the original Gish Underpass and three views of the summit; click for a 96K enlargement. The bottom left image shows a blocked off road to the right of the original expressway, which would now be in the median of the Interstate today. Now we're going to find that road, which you can see on Google Maps.

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Leaving the San Bernardino National Forest.

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Our first exit past the summit is Oak Hill Road. We exit here, ...

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Mariposa Road

... and terminate at a small local road named Mariposa Rd. We turn right. By the way, it does snow in the High Desert.

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After a short jaunt (we'll show on the way back) we start seeing warning signs ...

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... and the paved road ends here in the shadow of Interstate 15 at the National Forest boundary. Notice that the trajectory leads us not into the northbound lanes, but across them. As we showed on the Google Maps satellite view, the orphaned road in the median continues down to the southbound lanes of I-15 where it ends finally under them, almost certainly in the historical picture above with the road blocked off just shy of the old expressway. This is very good evidence for Mariposa Rd being the old pre-expressway alignment, and we will travel it up to the modern US 395 terminus, which is literally just a few miles away.

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What is designated Mariposa Rd does continue, by the way, but it abruptly diverges east on a dirt forest road grade having nothing to do with old US 66/US 91/US 395, so we turn around here and head back north.

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Passing the National Forest sign we saw from the Interstate.

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Sharp-eyed US 66 fans will have seen a familiar red sign peeping out from the Oak Hill Rd a couple of pictures back. That sign belongs to the famous Summit Inn, a major Historic Route 66 landmark, and has been in operation since 1952. Besides the standard roadhouse fare, also check out the ostrich, buffalo and memorabilia. A vintage Texaco station, no longer offering gasoline, is visible on the left in this south-facing image.

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Oak Hill Rd, where we exited I-15 above. This time we continue north along the old highway. The old-style white pole probably had something else on it originally instead of Interstate livery.

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[US 66/US 91/US 395 through the southern Victor Valley, 1950.] Distance mileage along I-15, running parallel to the old route. With the exception of the freeway ruining the view, it looks very much like it did back in 1950, at the right.

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Advance signage for US 395 on the Interstate. I love these majestic large button copy shields, which of course Caltrans has since replaced.

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The control cities are Adelanto and Bishop this far south. We reach Adelanto in the main exhibit in Part 1 and Bishop in Part 5. The separation is in the background, but we don't reach it from here.

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Passing the US 395 overpass, now officially US 395.

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Instead, to get to US 395, we cross over on Joshua St. This is actually signed from southbound I-15 as "Joshua St TO US 395 NORTH."

Just before we get to modern US 395, there is a small road to the left signed "Outpost Rd." This is the old pre-Interstate branch of US 395 coming off from what was then US 66 and US 91. After the Interstate was built, this fork was replaced by the modern grade-separated junction and now deadends at the southbound lanes, complete with its period-typical old white centreline striping. We'll get a distant view of it in a moment.

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And here we are, I-15 south to the left, US 395 to the right.

Mariposa Rd isn't finished, by the way. It will continue to hug I-15, this time as the old alignment of US 66/US 91, all the way into Victorville where it becomes 7th St at CA 18/Palmdale Rd. This is well known as US 66's downtown drag in Victorville and is additional evidence for this unassuming local road's heritage.

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Modern US Highway 395

Having connected our old road with the new road, we'll now rewind to the present-day official terminus of our great hometown highway, this interchange in Hesperia built in 1964. We will see very little of the city as Hesperia was early on bypassed by the Arrowhead Trail, the ancestor of US 66 in this segment and the then-future US 91, and long before US 395 was signed upon it in this section. Named for Hesperus, the Greek god of the west, it was originally touted by boosters of the Santa Fe Railroad as the future "Chicago of the West" at the close of the 19th century, but the city remained a small desert town until it was transformed into a suburb in the 1970s. The population today is 62,582 [2000].

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The first postmile on modern US 395 starts at ... mile 4. There is a reason for this apparent anomaly. Do you remember, back in Part 17, how I pointed out PM 4.0 on Interstate 215? Recall that in 1964, I-15 started at Interstate 10 in Colton-San Bernardino, running along where I-215 runs now. Given this knowledge and the understanding that the Great Renumbering restricted allocating mileage along co-signed routes to only one legislative highway, I-15 would have owned the mileage from I-10 to the US 395 exit, leaving only the miles from the San Bernardino county line to I-10 as solely US 395, and those miles stopped at PM 4. Since this was the continuation of US 395, the postmiles started counting up again from 4 as if there were no gap, and they still do even though US 395 doesn't exist any further south anymore.

The old road (above) branching off from the now obliterated pre-Interstate junction can be seen faintly in this photograph next to the KB Home billboard.

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Distance signage leaving our southern terminus into Victorville. Myself, I would like to see Laurier, WA on this sign. It's only 1305 miles or so.

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State Hwy 395? State Highway 395?!?!? (In Victorville.)

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Turning around north of Adelanto to end this preview (or perhaps you would like to continue on?). Notice that San Diego is still posted here on this older style sign that uses miles and kilometres back when Caltrans was flirting with communism the metric system. In fact, San Diego is posted as a control city on US 395 well into Mono county. We head back south to I-15. This nice old sign was recently vandalized by some low forehead schmuck, so I'm using an older 2005 image.

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Distance signage to San Diego, south of CA 18. Someone collected this sign with their car a few months ago, so I'm using this older 2005 image too.

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Freeway entrance to Interstate 15, which is at the same corner as the I-15/US 395 "split" we saw above at the end of Joshua St. Notice that there is no END sign, because until 1969, it didn't end here when it merged onto the Interstate. Maybe Caltrans will take pity on the route and post a few nostalgia shields for us on I-15 and I-215. Hey, it could happen.

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Passing PM 4.0 again as we merge back onto I-15 south.

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Heading back down the Cajon Pass to San Bernardino, with this radiant view of the distant snow-topped mountains from the Summit.

Get out of the car (and hitchhike home)
Turn around and drive to Canada (and start the main US 395 exhibit)

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