Incidentally, Interstate 19 was the start of my roadgeekiness as a kid, as I
"constructed" my own Interstate, gave it number 19 (for no good reason), and
"routed" it down our street in Spring Valley where we used to live -- I even
assigned an exit list to the dirt trails that were around the street. I think
I was about six or seven years old at the time; the
terminus was my house, of course. I'm sure this Southern California routing
will come as a great surprise to the residents of Tucson, so in homage to
where it all started, I-19 will be our first exhibit today.
Interstate 19 is the only "metric" Interstate, constructed and signed with
exit numbers and distance signage in SI. Built starting in 1963 and completed
into the 1970s, it largely replaces US 89 south of I-10 (I-17 took up the
rest) except for two stretches which were given Business Loop status.
US 89 was retracted to Flagstaff in 1992.
The conspiracy theorists will probably seize upon some grand scheme to
construct a globalization conduit into the unprotected belly of the United
States and thereby flood the minds of American children with such horrible
ideas as kilograms, cubic centimetres and internationalized versions of
Microsoft Windows, but the official motivation was as a "trial balloon"
during the push for adopting the metric system. Of course, buying milk in
anything but a gallon bottle would be un-American and except for those of
us in the science and medical fields, we remain blissfully stubborn.
Starting in Tucson, we get to the I-19 interchange (see yesterday's entry
about Tucson). Note the Business Loop, which we get to before we get to the
freeway itself. Remember it for later.
Tucson skyline rounding the ramp. ADOT has made a very pretty interchange,
with stylized sunflowers on the struts and a "sculptured" mural; several of
the bridges are similarly decorated. This was part of a reconfiguration
done between 2002-4.
For purposes of illustration and prevailing traffic pattern,
I traversed I-19 from north to south, which skips the I-10/I-19 interchange
signed as Exit 101. Exit numbers are all in kilometers, but the interchange
from I-19, the very first distance sign and exit 99 are given in miles as part
of sign updates done during the same reconfiguration. Past that, though,
you're in metric land.
And yet, the speed limits are still in mph ...
... and there are stealth mileposts turned at 90 degree angles to the road
along with the regular kilometre "mileposts." The frontage roads are signed
The small Santa Cruz River, where most of the early civilization in the
Tucson area settled. Most of the time it's dry. (We cross its flats when
we get to Interstate 8, but I didn't bother photographing it. There's
really not a river to photograph, or even much water of any kind.)
Distance signage in kilometers, as promised.
And advance signage too.
Green Valley, a retirement community about 20 miles (oops! did I say miles?)
south of Tucson. Its current population is 17,283 ; this was photographed
from one of the overpasses.
The terrain gets more mountainous as we get closer to Nogales and the border.
The signage is not limited to integral kilometres; a couple of the exits
are given in metres.
I-19 ends unceremoniously at an at-grade crossing just north of the border
in Nogales. Los ambos Nogales (the twin Nogales), as they refer to them,
means the Nogales on this side and its twin on the other. A nogal is a Spanish
term for a walnut tree, groves of which grew in great numbers in the area,
giving their name to the rancho established by the Mexicans in the region.
The north Nogales started as a trading post established in 1880
as Isaacson, named for its founder, Russian immigrant Jacob Isaacson; the
new name was given by the Post Office in 1883. Today's population is 20,878
, the majority of Santa Cruz county (38,381 , named for the
"holy cross" of the church)
of which it is the county seat. The Mexican Nogales was established as a city
in 1884 and has exploded in population over the last decade to 159,103
 due to increased industrial and consumer manufacturing in its
factories, making this a very busy and tight crossing.
The two cities really blur together, except there's a lot more ICE agents
on this side.
The border. I didn't photograph much here; the Border Patrol gets antsy about
people shooting pictures at border crossings.
Business Loop 19 in Nogales is the old end of US 89 in town. There's a stretch
called Old Tucson Rd which is another partial old alignment
of US 89, but I didn't cover it here since it's discontinuous and
not part of the Business route anyway.
BL 19 intersects with I-19 on the north side of Nogales, AZ.
The other Business Route is unsigned except for the one Business Loop shield
you saw way back at the beginning of this, over the Nogales Hwy alignment of
old US 89; this itself has an even older alignment, now called the Old
Nogales Hwy. It runs through Green Valley and the south of Tucson, along
the airport and ends at I-10, close to where US 80 and US 89 would have met
Now for Interstate 8, which will take US 80 the rest of the way into San Diego.
However, the first part of Interstate 8 doesn't have anything to do with US
80, instead replacing old AZ 84. In fact, so does I-10 in this stretch (thanks
Mark Thompson, corrected after the fact), as US 80 leaves Tucson on a different
alignment. We'll pick up this alignment a little bit later.
Strictly speaking, the interchange is within the city limits of Casa Grande
between Phoenix and Tucson. However, we don't actually see any of
Casa Grande along I-8, founded in 1879 as "Terminus" along the railroad
during the Arizona mining boom and later renamed for the Casa Grande ruins
of the Hohokam people (now a National Monument). Modern Casa Grande has
25,224  residents.
When you've driven 4,734 miles across America, a paltry 353 miles back
to San Diego is nothing!
Dr Francis Chu! This road is for you-i-you!
Most of I-8 between I-10 and Gila Bend is uninhabited except for stands of
scraggly succulents and saguaro. Good thing the speed limit is 75mph.
Business loop, not signed here, into Gila Bend, the only town of
consequence in this region.
As we ride BR 8 into Gila Bend, we go past AZ 85, heading north back to
I-10 as the Phoenix bypass route for points west, and a turn-off for Old
Highway 80 which even gets a little "shield." This is a long alignment and
I only looked at a couple miles of it for today. Old US 80 comes down to
join BR 8 and AZ 85 through downtown Gila Bend.
The last time I spent the night in Gila Bend was around ten or fifteen
years ago with my folks and we stayed here at the Space Age. It has been
significantly remodeled since then and for that matter so has a lot of the
town, which I remember as a dingy dump but has become even congenial. It's
still a little desert settlement, but there's a few more places to eat,
some nicer places and a little more activity in the street. However, the
Travelodge gave me a better deal, so I stayed there (a difference of $35 a
night does that to people).
Gila Bend is named for the Gila River, which itself comes from the O'odham/Pima
name for the river, hila akimel (a 630-mile tributary of the Colorado).
The Gila in olden times was a much larger and grander river, once navigable
all the way up to what is now Phoenix and as such made the old border between
the United States and Mexico between the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and
the Gadsden Purchase, but today is fairly small and dry in
the south. Despite this, it is still the major river of any kind in the region.
The town today has 1,980  residents.
Downtown Gila Bend. See, Mom and Dad, it really is a bit more active than
when we were there last.
(Rats, the Dairy Queen melted. Guess I'll drink my Blizzard instead.)