[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

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31 July 2006: Hiatus 2: "What I Did On My Summer Vacation by Cameron K."
 
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3 August 2006: Interstate 19 (Tucson to Nogales) and Interstate 8 (Casa Grande to Gila Bend)
 

2 August 2006: Historic US 80: Dallas, TX to Tucson, AZ (Hiatus 3)

Another couple days of travel. What the heck, I'm just going to turn our remaining time on the Summer of 6 into a Historic US 80 travelogue since we'll see a lot of the old highway as we head home to Southern California (first as I-20, then I-10, and eventually I-8 when we cross into Casa Grande).

A little bit of history about US 80: one of the original US transcontinental highways, running between San Diego, CA and Tybee Island, GA for a total of 2,747 miles (extended 1929 from Savannah, GA shortly after its commissioning in 1926), it represented a major southern thoroughfare and the first all-weather coast-to-coast highway until California's wholesale US highway cutdown in 1964. Once it was decommissioned in the Golden State, US 80 was truncated to Yuma, AZ at the Arizona-California stateline in place of future Interstate 8 (and Interstate 8 routed over the old highway until the freeway was done, which survives as Old Highway 80 in San Diego county and ImpCo S80 in Imperial county). When Interstate 8 was built into Arizona, US 80 was cut down again, this time east of Tucson at Benson in 1977; gradually I-10 took over all of the rest of US 80 in Arizona and New Mexico, so it was cut down to the Texas stateline in 1989 and the remainder of the old highway not covered by Interstate given to AZ 80 and NM 80 (particularly the very scenic and historic routing between Benson and western New Mexico through Tombstone and Bisbee, which is an adventure for another day). The final stand in Texas ended just two years later when TXDOT eliminated US 80 in favour of I-10 and I-20 and truncated US 80 to Dallas in 1991, the end of which you saw last time. Modern US 80 is now "just" 1,032 miles.

Along our way we'll also see US 90, which is the southernmost of the "transcontinental" routes (here used loosely since it never, ever traveled west of Texas). Another original 1926 route, it has mostly run between Van Horn, TX and Jacksonville, FL (put on the beach in 1950) for a total of 1,633 miles except for a very brief period [1939?] where it was run up north along what is now signed TX 54.

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First day. Continuing out of Dallas, leaving very early to avoid rush hour, I took an alternate route through the north side of Dallas-Fort Worth to keep out of the downtown. Part of it runs past Texas Stadium in Irving where the Cowboys play. Dad hates them nearly as much as the Broncos, right, Dad?

A note about Dallas-Fort Worth. The term officially incorporates the metropoli of Dallas-Plano-Irving and Fort Worth-Arlington for a total of 5,700,256 residents [2004 est.], making it the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country.

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Dallas-Fort Worth has a set of E-W suffixed Interstates, one of the few surviving sets after AASHTO mandated their renumbering in the 1970s. Due to an acrimonious spat between the cities over which one had to relinquish their I-35 (E being Dallas, W being Ft. Worth), AASHTO capitulated and allowed the routes to stay. A similar situation resulted in another I-35W and I-35E in Minnesota; these two pairs are the last suffixed Interstate highways today.

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We saw the end of US 80 in the last entry; now we'll do some Interstates too. Here's the first of the four ends we'll do on this one: this is the final milemarker for I-30 on the western edge of DFW as it joins back into I-20, along with historic US 80.

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Being the last stretches to be retired, the pieces of US 80 in western Texas are very well preserved and most of the significant ones bear BUSINESS shields. Each business route has a segment letter, which are inconsistently tacked onto the bottom of the shield (you can't see it here, but this one in Colorado City (4,007 [2003 est.]) is segment J).

There isn't a lot to Colorado City; this purports to be the downtown.

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Just west of Odessa on I-20 is the Odessa crater, a few miles off the freeway and the second largest meteor crater in the United States. Approximately 50,000 years ago, it is believed that a large shower of thousands of meteorites -- and a few large meteors -- impacted the earth and blew out several craters with the largest being 550' in diametre and over 100' deep. It is thought that the main mass, some 350 tons, hit the earth at such a rate of speed that it exploded upon impact and left only fragments (the largest around 300 pounds). Between then and the present age, the combined effects of water and wind deposited sediment into the craters and filled them in so that only the largest crater could be seen as a 15' depression; the secondary craters were not discovered until metal detection and excavation nearby revealed them in the 1940s. Although first discovered by a local rancher in 1892, it was not definitely identified as meteoric in origin until the 1920s.

Odessa and Midland (the hometown of George W. Bush and his wife Laura) are twin cities separated only by a county line; old US 80 runs between them on BUSINESS I-20 segment E (amusingly, my 2006 Rand McNally atlas actually calls it "BR 20E" as if it were truly suffixed). Combined, the two cities make a total of 241,316 [2004 est.]. Odessa is the county seat of Ector county (population 121,123 [2000], named for Confederate Gen. Mathew Ector), named possibly for the city in Russia after its establishment as a stop along the Texas & Pacific Railroad. Its share of the Odessa-Midland population is 97,000 [2003 est.].

Midland-Odessa sits in the Permian Basin, a sedimentary basin so named due to the large rock deposits believed to date from that geologic era (approximately 250 to 300 million years BC). The name is applied to just about everything, even the local high school and its football team (Permian High School) which appeared in the movie Friday Night Lights (book 1990, movie 2004).

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This picture was a serendipitous accident while hunting down Texas route variants (so far I've seen LOOPs, SPURs, standard state routes and, here, a PARK ROAD); a train coming by in the background made a fun depth-of-field and motion study.

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It seems appropriate as we trundle home along old US 80 that we would ourselves get to travel the 80mph limits I talked about in the 8 June entry. Now that I've driven on them, so far it doesn't seem like people are abusing them -- in fact, me driving the limit and a couple of state troopers also at the limit were the fastest things on the road. I was also relieved to note that trucks were not allowed to go 80, which was a concern I had, and there are night limits posted as well; while there is no slow lane traffic is so light here that I don't think it's really an issue.

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The clock on my wall in the Laura Lodge in Pecos, a fun little hotel and the best accomodations in town. It is located on another old US 80 alignment, BUSINESS I-20 segment B. If you have to stay in Pecos, I recommend it.

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Since I had some time to kill today, I took a drive around Pecos, a real old fashioned Wild West town. Backtracking over segment B west of the hotel at the county line, I found this old "signage" for US 80 marking the route.

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The present-day seat of Reeves county (named for Texas legislator and Confederate Col. George Reeves, population 13,137 [2000]), Pecos is named for the Pecos River shown here. When someone refers to "west of the Pecos," they're referring to this 926 mile river, a tributary of the Rio Grande and an important water source for New Mexico and western Texas.

Pecos was first founded in 1881 as another stop along the Texas & Pacific, although the Pecos Pueblo Indians were known to reside in the area as early as 800 AD. Francisco Coronado first explored the area in 1541; the river was shunned by early Spanish and Mexican settlers as too salty and a corruption of one of their epithets (el rio puerco or "the dirty river") may have been the origin of the Pecos name. After the occupation of the region and the formation of the Texas Republic, the local valley became an important part of the cattle trails and a fort established in 1855, the forerunner of the modern city.

The railroad still runs through Pecos. Loudly, I might add.

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Old US 80 and modern US 285 meet in the middle of town. If you travel south back towards I-20, US 285 goes past the local rodeo, traditionally held to be the site of the first rodeo ever in 1883 when three of the local ranchers bragged that their cattle ropers were faster. The matter was decided in competition on July 4th, 1883 a block south of the Pecos courthouse. Rodeo is still a big draw in Pecos today.

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Starting our second day and leaving Pecos; I-20 doesn't get a whole lot further than Pecos before it turns into I-10. Two more highway termini to go ...

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... and here's the next one. The last stop of significance between here and El Paso/New Mexico is Van Horn, the county seat of Culberson county (a positively desolate 2,975 [2000] of which 2,435 live here). A distinct irony is that while the county is named for Confederate soldier David Browning Culberson, the county seat is named for Union Army Major Jefferson Van Horne [sic].

This is the terminus of US 90 today, which originally ended at BUSINESS I-10 (old US 80) in the middle of town and was shifted to the freeway when US 80 was decommissioned. Note the button copy on the sign, an interesting contrast with the newfangled Clearview signs. Fill up your gas tank here, because you'll have quite a while before you get another chance.

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At-grade crossings?? On an Interstate?? You bet. Texas uses its frontage roads heavily throughout most of the state, even replacing classic ramps in most interchanges, but this area is so isolated that not even dirt frontage and service roads are consistently present. For this reason, the ranches and industrial fields out this way just get on and off the freeway directly.

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The 80mph limits end at the El Paso county line, which is a good thing due to the rain and poor visibility. Despite this, there were still a few dumb truckers willing to speed. El Paso (the county and city) are named for the mountain pass El Paso del Norte (the northern pass) created by the Rio Grande in which the city is located. The county has 721,598 residents [2000].

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You may have heard on the news about the flooding in El Paso and western Texas, and this is it, on I-10. El Paso is a large border city with 598,590 [2000] residents, second only to San Diego in population among U.S.-Mexican border cities on this side. Over the last several days nearly half a foot of rain fell, flooding out the Transmountain route, most of nearby Fort Bliss (an important Army test, training and deployment installation first established in 1849 and named for Army Lt. Col. Wm. Bliss, a son-in-law of President Zachary Taylor) and a large portion of the downtown. The Emergency Alert tones went off three times on the radio while I was stuck in traffic announcing flood stage. I estimate that I "forded" the Interstate under about six inches of water -- if I had left Pecos much later, I might not have gotten through at all. Unfortunately, it looks like more rain is in the forecast for the rest of this week.

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Out of the churning waters that used to be the city of El Paso we come to New Mexico and Las Cruces. Las Cruces is the seat of Doña Ana county (population 174,682 [2000]) and New Mexico's second largest city at 74,267 [2000] as the home of the New Mexico State University. The name means "the crosses" in Spanish and traditionally is in memory of the region's slain settlers (i.e., the crosses on their graves). At the south end of Las Cruces is our last highway end for this entry, I-25.

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In Las Cruces, I-10 (and old US 80) crosses the famous Rio Grande ("big river"). Also known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico (and formally El Rio Grande del Norte and El Rio Bravo del Norte, respectively), this 1,885 mile river and the fourth longest in the United States arises from headwaters in Colorado down to make up the Texas-Mexico border (as it has done since 1845) and flow into the Gulf of Mexico. A series of complex interstate and U.S.-Mexican treaties and arrangements govern its use but have not prevented the river's slow decline due to increasing overappropriation. That being said, the flow of the river remains the pulse of the increasingly populous borderlands even today.

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Our speed limits ramp back up to 75mph as we cross through the very isolated New Mexico south and over the Continental Divide, but a little bit lower this time than Loveland Pass.

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I stopped for gas and lunch in Lordsburg, NM, where another old alignment of US 80 exists as BUSINESS I-10. Lordsburg is the county seat of Hidalgo county (5,932 [2000], named for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ceded most of the American Southwest from Mexico to the United States in 1848) and contains most of its population at 3,379 [2000]. Lordsburg is what remains of a small (now ghost) mining town called Shakespeare; after the formation of Lordsburg in 1880 as a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, most of the population moved to the railroad stop and abandoned the old town which remains as a museum a couple miles south. The "Lord" in Lordsburg is probably Delbert Lord, an SPRR engineer.

Lordsburg is the eastern terminus of the last independent westernmost segment of US 70, a route which ostensibly got all the way -- 2,915 miles -- to Los Angeles from Atlantic, NC but only ever existed in California as an overlay on other routes (US 60, US 99 or both, extended along them in 1936). For this reason it was first on the chopping block in 1964, part of the same action that amputated US 6 and eliminated US 80, among others. Further shuffling within Arizona brought it back to Globe, AZ in 1969 for a total of 2,385 miles, where its terminus is today and the western end of the alignment starting here. Going back the other direction, US 70 silently hitches a ride with I-10 into Las Cruces and leaves east. We were also cosigned with US 180 part of the way, but there's no signs for this either.

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The rain had the desert basins that I-10 runs across full of peach-coloured, silty water like great filthy pink lakes that the roads crossed as causeways.

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NM 80 starts a few miles before the Arizona border (note the New Mexico route shield, a pretty circular one with striking patterned red trim). It descends south for approximately 32 miles before entering Arizona and running close to the border through Bisbee and into Douglas. We continue along I-10.

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Arizona doesn't have Daylight Savings and California does, so as soon as we enter the state I'm back on "Pacific" time.

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The other end of US 80 comes up here outside of Benson at AZ 80, which can be accessed along BUSINESS I-10, as we get into Tucson. US 80 rejoins us here.

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On the southeastern side of Tucson is Saguaro National Park, part of the Sonoran Desert and first established as a National Monument in 1933. The Sonoran Desert (sometimes the Gila Desert, named for the Gila River) gets its name from the Mexican state of Sonora, most of which the desert covers and then some with a total area of 120,000 square miles. Besides Sonora, this exceptionally hot and inhospitable region runs north to cover most of southern Arizona and stretch west into California where it climbs into the cooler, higher Mojave.

The chief landmarks in Saguaro Nat'l Park are its namesakes, the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), a massive desert plant that can reach 45' (the famous Champion saguaro) and may live centuries growing slowly over decades. Some may be as large as 10' in diameter, a helpful fact for the birds that burrow out holes in the cacti and nest in them. The name is a corruption of the Tohono O'odham Indian name for the plant which has since stuck. Considered endangered due to their sluggish growth and glacial speed of propagation, they are heavily protected in Arizona and flourish within the park boundaries.

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Time to relax in our suite in Tucson (the very pleasant Clarion), population 521,605 [2004] and the seat of Pima county (957,635 [2005 est.] and named for the Pima Indian tribe). The name appears to be another Tohono O'odham Indian name corrupted into Spanish, chukshon ("black base," probably referring to the volcanic mountain range on the city's west side). Settled as early as 12,000 BC along the nearby Santa Cruz River and inhabited by the Hohokam around AD 600-1450, the Jesuits first arrived in 1692 and the Spanish established a fort christened Tucson in 1775. After becoming part of the United States as a territory, Tucson was capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona during the Civil War and when Arizona split from the New Mexico Territory afterwards, Tucson was its capital from 1867 to 1889. Today it is notable for its resort communities, the local Air Force base (and the large aerospace and high-tech industries associated with it) and the University of Arizona. There was some flooding here in eastern Arizona too, but fortunately for us the majority was well to the north.

Dinner time!

Next: Interstate 19! (as promised, as long as it doesn't rain -- there's a 30 percent chance)

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31 July 2006: Hiatus 2: "What I Did On My Summer Vacation by Cameron K."
 
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3 August 2006: Interstate 19 (Tucson to Nogales) and Interstate 8 (Casa Grande to Gila Bend)
 


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