San Diego's first freeway wasn't Interstate 5 or Interstate 8 or Interstate 15, and certainly not Interstate 805 or for that matter any other Interstate highway, U.S. Highway 101 or even U.S. Highway 80. It was U.S. Highway 395.
In the 1930s, California Division of Highways planners and the city of San Diego were presented with a two-fold problem: the two-lane US 395 was becoming increasingly congested and difficult to navigate, and its corollary, that San Diego had no viable high-speed central north-south route. Murphy Canyon was too narrow to expand with the earthmoving technologies available, and it was too far east for direct downtown access. (This is ironic in the present day since of course Interstate 15, US 395's modern successor, runs down Murphy Canyon today.)
Fortunately, there was a natural corridor running right from downtown that was unoccupied, and parallel to US 80/US 395 on Park Blvd: Cabrillo Canyon. Cabrillo Canyon was named for explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who (as mentioned in Part 1) discovered what would become San Diego in 1542. At the time, Cabrillo Cyn was something to be crossed over and not driven through, exemplified by the beautiful 1915 El Prado bridge carrying Laurel Street high and dry above the undeveloped canyon floor (which even had water in it, as the man-made Laguna del Puente). However, its unique topography was very promising to the highway engineers searching for an alternative route, who exclaimed in California Highways and Public Works that its numerous outshooting arroyos "branching out at right angles to the mesas between ... is peculiarly adapted to the economical construction of a freeway. The arroyos, combined with short structures for cross traffic, form a natural distribution system to all parts of the city."
Despite the enthusiastic reception of the new route, the long range plan for what would be called the Cabrillo Parkway took some time to come to fruition. An embryonic plan was submitted as early as 1932 by engineer Rowland Reed and promoted by local community boosters led by father and son George and Arthur Marston, but full right-of-way was not granted by the city of San Diego until 1941 and the only existing structure that could be used for the new highway was the 1915 bridge; fifteen others had to be constructed from scratch, the first one being the Washington St/6th St bridge built in 1940. Actual groundbreaking on the alignment itself was considerably delayed and did not occur until February 1946. Nevertheless, engineers made the most of the long gestation and planned it as a true parkway in the mold of the earlier and very successful Arroyo Seco Parkway (today's CA 110), even including paths for equestrian and hiker traffic, but also made sure attention was paid to design speed such that there were no at-grade crossings all the way from Ash St to Kearny Mesa. As part of the last portions of the project, 10th and 11th Streets in downtown San Diego were converted to southbound and northbound one-way streets, respectively, and a complex interchange was built with Mission Valley Rd, the future site of the US 80 freeway and modern Interstate 8, in the heart of Mission Valley.
The new $3.5 million, 7.1 mile Cabrillo Parkway was an immediate success. Opened on 28 February 1948 and signed as U.S. Highway 395 (cosigned with US 80 through Balboa Park, decommissioning the old Park Blvd alignment), it received a massive ribboncutting ceremony with the younger Marston, Reed, local dignitaries and military brass culminating in a mile-long auto parade from Balboa Park to Linda Vista. The scenic and picturesque landscaping and views of the new Park arterial are best appreciated on the 1947 aerial shot at right (click for a 126K large view in a new window); notice the lack of the Interstate highways and the relatively underdeveloped northern portion of the city towards the city limits. Heavily utilized as the central arterial the city and state had envisioned, the Cabrillo Pkwy became the plumbline of San Diego's new northern expansion and an important facilitator of the city's modern history. A typical view of the highway can be seen at the upper left of this page.
In just eight years, however, the formerly generous speed limit of 55mph on most sections was seen as a liability and the highway desperately needed an expansion to three lanes per direction. Unlike the Arroyo Seco, unfortunately, there was no breakdown lane to shoehorn into the tight design which had looked so spacious little more than a decade earlier, while its rechristening as the Cabrillo Freeway was nevertheless done without a trace of irony. The new US 80 freeway required considerable reconfiguration of the Mission Valley interchange in 1960, and with the construction of the Interstate 5 San Diego Freeway through downtown bringing even more traffic into the Cabrillo Fwy's southern end, a new four-level-style interchange (shades of the Arroyo Seco again) was built as part of the I-5 project in 1964 depicted at left during its early days. However, further expansion of the Cabrillo Fwy was not to be, because the huge sums brought in by the extension of Interstate 15 to San Diego in 1968 allowed a more favourable routing to be adopted. The expansion of the Cabrillo Fwy never happened, and after its designation as CA 163 in 1969 and the US 395 signs started to disappear, particular attention was paid to turning it back into the parkway it was originally designed as and recognizing its unique position in the history of San Diego. We'll see portions of this "retro-retrofitting" as we drive the modern highway completely from END sign to END sign. As befits its historic status, the Cabrillo Parkway became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
As a technical note, please excuse some of the strange angles used in this section -- the CA 163 Cabrillo Fwy is very difficult to photograph safely from the road, and creative measures and vantage points were needed to get a good shot and not impede traffic.
In this Part we will also start on the beginning of Pomerado Road, the old
alignment of US 395 through Poway bypassed by the later US 395
freeway, which is now also part of Interstate 15. This very old routing has
a number of fabulous roadgeeky wonderful things, more of which we will see
in the next Part.
US 395 via the Cabrillo Freeway (1948-1969)
The Cabrillo Freeway and modern CA 163 start here today, just south of Interstate 5 and north of 11th Avenue and A Street. US 80 and US 395 of course proceeded south to US 101, and so did CA 163 until 1984; we talked about this in Part 1. I love old button copy signs, so I'm still using my old grotty 2005 picture despite these signs being replaced with new retroflective crap since.
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Entering the "four level" with I-5 depicted
in the background. One of my big pet
peeves is this sign, at the very beginning of the Cabrillo Fwy (Pkwy),
designating CA 163 as a "Historic Route: Historic Cabrillo Parkway." The
bottom sign is fine. The top sign shows the wrong shield, because it should
be US 395 in the Historic Route position, not the Johnny-come-lately CA 163,
and the shield should be green: CA 163 never used white shields, because it
was signed here well after Caltrans started using the current green shields in
The lame justification I hear for this error's continued existence is that signing it as US 395 would be confusing. However, a simple BEGIN CA 163 affixed to this sign would cure all its ills, and there's plenty of space. For that matter, this was also US 80 until the Alvarado Freeway was built.
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If we abruptly turned left,
hopped the median and committed several brazen traffic misdemeanours to
head back south, we
would see the southern END of CA 163 as it turns into 10th Avenue. US 395
headed south of here to Market and thence to US 101.
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NB CA 163 at the $225,000 (1915) Cabrillo Bridge, also known as the
El Prado Bridge. This historic bridge was built in 1915
for the Panama-California Exposition to
connect Laurel Street to El Prado, as depicted in this beautiful
1916 picture on Wikipedia which also shows the man-made Laguna del Puente
at its base (the Laguna is where the freeway runs now; the old Camino Cabrillo
next to it has since been overrun). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the future
President, was the first to drive across and open it.
Unusual for the time, the bridge was
built 110' high due to the steep depth and walls of the canyon, and is 916'
in length with a main 450' span consisting of seven arches of 56' each plus
supports. Originally partially wooden due to the redwood timbers used to
structure the concrete forms, it was not retrofitted despite a minor fire in
1951 and finally a major fire occurred in 2004 within the columns where the
wood still resided. Firefighters had to smash holes in the bridge sidewalks
to extinguish the burning beams. A 2005 restoration, depicted at right (click
for an 89K enlargement),
cost $3.5 million and removed the wood, replaced the steel and repaired the
Also note the wooden railings at left, added as part of the
"retro-retrofitting" project to approximate the former appearance.
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A typical exit structure, here exit 1C at Richmond Street. Notice the dud
bridge, which formerly afforded southbound access and was later obliterated.
Compare this with the 1948 Quince Street exit at right (click for a 55K
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Washington St and the sharp turn down into Mission Valley. This was where
US 80 diverged off to join El Cajon Boulevard and head east until the Alvarado
Freeway was built along Camino del Rio; after that, this was Business Route 80
and later Business Route 8 (which ostensibly it still is; see
This interchange was complex to construct for its time and involved several
approach crossings, as shown in the 1948 picture at right (click for a 77K
enlargement). Look for the little US 395 shield at lower left. US 395 is
crossing Pascoe St in the foreground with the 6th Avenue exit branching
off to the right and the Washington St exit in the
background; this view is southbound on the reverse angle
ascending the lip from Mission Valley into Cabrillo Canyon.
Note that Pascoe St no longer extends across the freeway today.
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The wooden railings on the overpass are part of the original construction,
as shown in the south-facing
1947 construction image at right (notice the enlargement of
the wooden railing, almost exactly the same as the picture today).
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Approaching the junction with Interstate 8. When the Cabrillo Pkwy first opened
in 1948, this was a somewhat intriguing ellipsoid interchange with Mission
Valley Rd (the top image of two on the right; click for a 127K enlargement).
This was before US 80 and modern I-8 occupied Mission Valley, and was
originally constructed as a county road.
After the city and county of San Diego expanded Mission Valley Rd into the Camino del Rio/Alvarado Expressway routing with FAS funding, later designating it as US 80 officially, the old interchange became increasingly congested and was replaced with the 1960 expanded one (the bottom image at right).
The modern CA 163/I-8 interchange was finally rebuilt again in 1991, which
remains the current one in use and the one depicted in my photograph.
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Friars Rd exit after passing through Interstate 8, the last of the original
overcrossings, although it has obviously been rebuilt. The original Friars
Road bridge (then signed "Friar's Road") is in the 1947 picture at right,
CA 163 has a strange split alignment north of I-8 for the complex movements
to and from the Interstate; the original lanes appear to be the centremost
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The original Cabrillo Freeway ended just after Friars Rd and continued on
as expressway and regular two-lane highway which was subsequently widened
In 1956, the grade-separated freeway portion was extended north with
new interchanges at Genesee Avenue and Aero Drive, the former interchange
reconstructed in 1970 and
the latter interchange now destroyed by the construction of
the Interstate 805 Jacob Dekema Freeway/Inland Freeway in 1972.
This interchange here at Mesa College Drive was added in 1972 as part of
the I-805 project to mitigate the loss of the Aero Drive exit.
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The Interstate 805 interchange. This is roughly where the 1956 freeway ended;
in 1958 it was extended through the Clairemont Mesa Blvd exit.
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Balboa Avenue interchange, still showing now-outdated CA 274 signage.
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Parallel to CA 163 from approximately this point north is Kearny Villa Rd.
Until 1964, when the southernmost phase of the north US 395 freeway was
initially completed, a partial expressway alignment continued north; most of
this is under CA 163 asphalt and subsequent reconfiguration, but what of it
does survive is subsumed under Kearny Villa Rd itself.
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Kearny Villa Rd and CA 163 meet in two places; here is one of them. The
STATE | CITY paddle makes it clear what side of the line old US 395 occupies.
This first Kearny Villa Rd exit is approximately the end of the 1959 freeway.
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North of the southernmost Kearny Villa Rd exit,
Kearny Villa was pulled to the east to Ruffin Rd and
swing around CA 52; we will ignore this diversion and continue on 'straight'
as if this picture and the next were directly connected since the closest thing
to the original alignment is actually modern CA 163 itself.
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Continuing on Kearny Villa Rd/old US 395 north of CA 52.
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An old Government Property sign as we approach the remnants of Camp Elliott
and Camp Kearney.
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The first of our military turnoffs is old Camp Elliott.
Camp Elliott was a Marine barracks, originally named Camp Holcomb,
formally designated on 14 June 1940 after Marine Corps Commandant Maj. Gen.
George F. Elliott (10th, serving
1903-1910) and charged with west coast defence
through the 2nd Marine Division and the Fleet Marine Force Training Center
West Coast. It
remained in service through the Korean War, and was finally relinquished to
the city of San Diego in 1961. Here is a brief history
of Camp Elliott. There is a Caltrans depot here now. Portions of Camp
Elliott were placed on what used to be Camp Kearny, to be explained a little
bit when we get to Miramar.
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Coming back up to CA 163 and the second and final junction with Kearny Villa
Rd from the freeway.
CA 163 east of the junction is not part of old US 395; it was constructed as
part of an Interstate 15 bypass project around what was then NAS Miramar (more
presently) in 1982.
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for completeness because I promised to take you END to END even though this
easternmost segment has nothing to do with old US 395, here is CA 163 leaving
the Kearny Villa Rd exit and merging with Interstate 15 ...
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... and here is the northern end.
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Crossing CA 163.
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Looking back at the junction. Notice that CA 163 northbound is signed as
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The US 395 freeway continues north of the CA 163 intersection, today as a
"city street." This was US 395 until 1969, built in initial form in 1965
and subsequently upgraded between 1968 and 1970,
and after US 395 was decommissioned became I-15 itself. (We can prove this
because there are at least two surviving postmiles as of this writing. For
the significance of what a postmile is, see the
Floodgap glossary.) However, it
passes completely through NAS Miramar, which is now NCAS Miramar, and could
not be further widened as Caltrans lacked the right-of-way. The problem was
literally circumvented by building a completely new alignment for Interstate
15 curving around the old highway, opened 1982, and relinquishing the entire
old freeway with ramps intact to the city of San Diego. This is the first
exit, at Harris Plant Road. Ironically, the modern I-15 alignment is still
completely hemmed in by the base, but at least it's on a much wider easement.
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Overlooking the freeway from the Harris Plant Rd overpass, showing a 1968
date on the original construction stamp.
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The onramp signage now simply reads Kearny Villa Rd, and appears to have been
Caltrans-constructed, probably as part as the deal for relinquishment.
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NB Kearny Villa Rd/old US 395/old Interstate 15.
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Postmiles are still painted on the median Jersey kerb at intervals (which are
also seen on modern Interstates 5, 8 and 15). Note the warning sign in the
background -- this would not have been appropriate as a breakdown lane.
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The MCAS Miramar (old Miramar NAS) exit for Miramar Way,
one of the few new signs placed.
Miramar Naval Air Station started in 1917 with the formation of Camp Kearny,
named for the famous General Stephen Kearney who had captured California
during the Mexican-American War with his legendary Army of the West. (And now
you know where all those Kearnys on those street names came from -- see
Part 1. General Kearney had another US 395 connection;
see the main exhibit, Part 2.) Camp
Kearny was, militarily speaking, a bust; despite its $4.5 million price tag,
it was barely used for three years during World War I and decommissioned in
1920. (This suited a young Charles Lindbergh just fine, who used the abandoned
field to test-fly his new Spirit of Saint Louis before heading east. In fact,
the Spirit of St. Louis was also locally built, by then-Ryan Airlines
Corporation. Lindbergh's legacy on San Diego aerospace continues, as his
name graces the airfield -- Lindbergh Field -- at the San
Diego International Airport.) Briefly used for dirigible testing during the
1930s, Camp Elliott was built nearby in World War II and the camp rapidly
expanded to accomodate the 1st Marine Air Wing. Formally dedicated as Naval
Auxiliary Air Station Camp Kearny in 1943, with a parallel Marine detachment
as Marine Corps Air Depot Camp Kearny, renamed Miramar, the two combined as
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in 1945. When the Marines moved to El Toro
in Orange County in 1947, the base was redesignated as NAAS Miramar, but
again fell into disuse (the city of San Diego was even offered the land for
a single dollar, but refused).
Although some training facilities persisted into the 1950s, it was not until the Vietnam War that Miramar adopted its most famous role as a training ground for the Navy's air dogfighting elite. In 1969, the TOPGUN school was established and welcomed the first of its famous F-14 Tomcat fighters in 1972. The base maintained its reputation as the "best of the best" in Naval air squadron training well into the 1980s when the movie of the same name "Top Gun" came out with that no-talent clown Tom Cruise in 1985 (I have not forgiven him for besmirching Mission: Impossible). However, after years of prominence, base closure recommendations in 1993 shut down the El Toro Marine base to the north and relocated the Navy's fighter squadrons and Top Gun school to NAS Fallon in Nevada (since 1996), moving the Marines back home to Miramar. After nearly half a century, the Marines are back where they started and Miramar again the home of their West Coast air power. The annual Miramar Air Show was always one of Dad's favourites.
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One of the two Interstate 15 postmiles, at PM 12.80, sits at the exit to prove
this alignment's lineage.
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The closest corresponding postmile on the bypass Interstate 15 is this one
at PM M12.124, showing an unusual M postmile indicating a double realignment.
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This is also the corresponding exit on Interstate 15 today for Miramar Way.
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Some more well-preserved enamel signage to annoy Caltrans detractors, in
this case the advance signage for the final "exit" of this alignment at
Pomerado Rd and Miramar Rd. The
city of San Diego didn't bother replacing the overheads -- why should they?
They look fine!
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On the other side is this CA 163 sign which probably dates from the mid-late
1970s. The best part is that technically it's not wrong. I don't know what
was in the rest of the gantry.
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The bridge date reads 1970, but I doubt that is the date of the posted CA
163 sign as US 395 would have still been well-signed then. Note that the
city has obscured the old bridge number.
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Notice the full 65mph speed limit, standard for urban freeways. This won't
last much longer though as the old freeway starts to pull west to run around
the I-15 Pomerado Road exit, distorting the old routing.
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The closest continuation is little Kearny Mesa Rd, rather than continuing
up Kearny Villa to Miramar Rd. There is a small impassible stub at the
western jog that is close to the old connector to Pomerado Rd and later
the freeway, but it is probably not original surface and is gated private
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Junction Miramar Rd, at its eastern end. We turn right.
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The overpass of the modern I-15 Pomerado Rd/Miramar Rd exit.
At this freeway crossing we have two choices, either to hop on modern
Interstate 15 north (US 395 from 1950-1969),
or Pomerado Rd northeasterly (US 395 from 1935-1950). We will do the
latter and earlier routing first.
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US 395 via Pomerado Road and Poway (1935-1950)
This old routing is narrow and a bit kinked in spots, not suitable for trucks, hence the regulatory signage forcing truck traffic onto I-15 and Poway Rd east. The later bypass route was clearly a necessary project.
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Passing by the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center,
attached to MCAS Miramar which this routing skirts the eastern edge of.
Along this portion of old US 395/Pomerado Rd is the community of Scripps Ranch, part of the city of San Diego. Scripps Ranch is named for Edward Willis Scripps, a newspaper publisher and founder of the E. W. Scripps Company media conglomerate and the former United Press Associations news service (the latter as a direct competitive move against the Associated Press, and is today part of United Press International). Scripps' media moguling started with his founding of the Penny Press, now the Cleveland Press, after working for his older half-brother James on his paper, the Detroit News. From the Penny Press, Scripps founded or acquired over twenty-five additional publications to form his young empire, making sure to groom local talent and maintain local editors for veracity and community support. His methods were extremely successful but his riches were not enough to overcome his chronic health problems, so he bought 400 acres in San Diego in 1890 and finally moved into a house on his new ranch around 1900. Most of the territory actually went to his beloved half-sister Ellen Browning Scripps; E. W. took only 30 acres for himself. Delighted with the weather, he stayed there and conducted most of his business directly from the ranch until his death in 1926. Among Scripps' other local connections is the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on the University of California San Diego campus, opened with donations by E. W. and Ellen in 1903.
Portions of Scripps' former holdings are also part of MCAS Miramar, and Scripps was in fact responsible for the name Miramar (roughly "sea view"), which Scripps named the local mesa after the Archduke Maximilian's castle in Trieste, Italy.
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Turn off for Alliant International
University, a name that sounds like
a food service company instead of an institution of higher education.
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formed in 2001 out of the merger of the California School of Professional
Psychology and United States International University (which is the name I
remember). USIU started as California Western University, founded in 1952 on
90 acres in Point Loma (now Point Loma Nazarene University, where I
used to work and this server used to be housed [see the
CA 209 exhibit]) out of the old Balboa Law College,
later Balboa University, which was the first law school in San Diego when
it was founded in 1924. In 1967, Cal Western University changed names
to USIU and moved here to Scripps Ranch in 1968, leaving the California
Western School of Law behind which separately moved to downtown San Diego in
1973 and severed its affiliation in 1975. USIU maintained multiple campuses
throughout the USA and the world, consistent with its name. CSPP, for its
part, was founded in 1969 with its first campuses in San Francisco and
Los Angeles and expanded to San Diego in 1972 and Fresno in 1973.
the unified university has approximately 3,600 students. This sign also
depicts the affiliated Thurgood Marshall Middle School, named for the late U.S.
Supreme Court justice and the first African-American to serve on it. (For
the UCSD graduates in the audience, though, it will still always be Third
College to me.)
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Looking at some of the new construction on campus. For the record, I prefer
the old USIU name. A name like that has some heft.
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Continuing NB Pomerado Rd. Notice the striping pattern on the kerb.
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Since its days of US 395, Pomerado Rd has been widened somewhat for the
extra traffic volumes and the large number of housing developments on the
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Starting to climb the hill into the Poway valley past the interminable
groves of eucalyptus.
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Curving around ...
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... and cresting ...
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... to turn right and descend the hill towards Poway proper.
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