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2 August 2006: Historic US 80: Dallas, TX to Tucson, AZ (Hiatus 3)
 
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4 August 2006: Interstate 8/Historic US 80: Gila Bend, AZ to El Centro, CA
 

3 August 2006: Interstate 19 (Tucson to Nogales) and Interstate 8 (Casa Grande to Gila Bend)

Today is red, white and blue, as in the Interstate shield -- we'll do the entirety of I-19 in Arizona, along with the first part of I-8 to continue our US 80 exposé.

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

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 US 89 was retracted to Flagstaff in 1992.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And yet, the speed limits are still in mph ...

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... and there are stealth mileposts turned at 90 degree angles to the road along with the regular kilometre "mileposts." The frontage roads are signed in miles.

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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.)

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Distance signage in kilometers, as promised.

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And advance signage too.

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Green Valley, a retirement community about 20 miles (oops! did I say miles?) south of Tucson. Its current population is 17,283 [2000]; this was photographed from one of the overpasses.

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The terrain gets more mountainous as we get closer to Nogales and the border.

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The signage is not limited to integral kilometres; a couple of the exits are given in metres.

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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 [2000], the majority of Santa Cruz county (38,381 [2000], 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 [2000] 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.

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The border. I didn't photograph much here; the Border Patrol gets antsy about people shooting pictures at border crossings.

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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.

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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 beforehand.

Interstate 8

Now for Interstate 8, which will take US 80 the rest of the way into San Diego.

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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 [2000] residents.

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When you've driven 4,734 miles across America, a paltry 353 miles back to San Diego is nothing!

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Dr Francis Chu! This road is for you-i-you!

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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.

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Business loop, not signed here, into Gila Bend, the only town of consequence in this region.

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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.

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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 [2000] residents.

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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.)

Next: Interstate 8 and Gila Bend, AZ to El Centro, CA! Only two more travel days until the end of the Summer of 6!

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