[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

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3 August 2006: Interstate 19 (Tucson to Nogales) and Interstate 8 (Casa Grande to Gila Bend)
 
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7 August 2006: The End of the Summer of 6: El Centro, CA to San Diego and the Pacific Ocean
 

4 August 2006: Interstate 8/Historic US 80: Gila Bend, AZ to El Centro, CA

I know I'm back in my home state when I see CHP nailing people, there's inspection stations everywhere, the only thing I can get on the radio is Mexican talk shows, and the rumble strips are shallower. (That's one good thing. The rumble strips in Nevada and Arizona are so deep it's like driving your tires across a saw blade.)

Today we'll be passing once more over the Colorado River, which we saw way back in Glenwood Canyon and along I-70 while we traveled US 6. This time, we'll be passing over its southernmost section which makes up the border between California and Arizona. The Colorado River is not only an important recreational destination, but it is also the major water source for the voluminous local agricultural operations in both states (not to mention Mexico).

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Leaving Gila Bend in the morning.

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As we get closer into the agricultural centers of western Arizona and eastern California, we see a lot more canal work (including this one, the Mohawk, built in the 1950s). A small alignment of old US 80 rides a few miles north of the highway to serve the farming towns.

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The Gila Mountains (named for the river, too) are the gateway to Yuma, the last city along I-8/US 80 in Arizona. Interstate 8 and US 80 cross them together; the old alignment seems to be the eastbound lanes which the westbound lanes cross over and back.

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Yuma, population 77,515 [2000] and the major urban centre in the Colorado River valley south of Las Vegas. Yuma is named for the Yuma Indian tribe, a/k/a the Quechan Indians (the Yuma name appears to be an antiquated one, possibly a Spanish corruption), who still live in the region on the Fort Yuma reservation directly across the Colorado. Settled by the Spanish ca. 1540, the area was strategically important as it was the easiest river crossing point for miles. Steamboat service in the 1850s gave way to the first railroad crossing by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1870, and then the original automobile crossing in 1915 which was the only road passage for over a thousand miles. Today, Yuma is still the only large city in the region and remains a significant service point for recreational and transport traffic. It was also the site of a real meteorological rarity when 1997's Typhoon Nora made landfall at the mouth of the Colorado and went straight up it, pouring 3.5" of rain at the local Marine Corps outpost and causing widespread havoc. Such landfalls are extremely unusual along the United States Pacific coast. Yuma is the county seat of Yuma county, population 160,026 [2000].

Old US 80 enters Yuma signed as a business alignment of I-8, intersecting US 95 in the middle of town. You can see US 95 in California and southern Nevada in the Vegas to Blythe exhibit. US 95 continues south to the San Luis border crossing, and north to Quartzsite and Interstate 10.

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Now, the three Colorado River crossings in Yuma, starting with the first.

The original Ocean-To-Ocean Highway crossing (despite the name, this was never a part of the National Old Trails Hwy a/k/a US 66), built in 1915 as a joint venture between California's Imperial county, the state of Arizona and the federal Office of Indian Affairs. Designed remotely in Washington DC without a thorough knowledge of the site and river, the truss bridge required significant falsework to be built which got washed away twice by storms; finally, the contractor erected the truss on the south side of the river and floated it into final position on barges, which is why the bridge has no central pier to this day. Closed in 1988 to vehicular traffic when it was deemed structurally unsound, it underwent a $2 million restoration project and reopened -- a single automobile lane, just as before -- to auto traffic in 2002 which it continues to carry to this day. Next to it is the 1923 companion railroad bridge. US 80 was routed over the O-T-O bridge when first designated in 1926; after US 80 was moved off it in 1957, this routing existed as BUSINESS US 80.

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Old US 80 branches off to intersect ImpCo S24 and enter Winterhaven. The mainline continues as Indian Route 31 into the Fort Yuma reservation, with a rarely-seen Indian Route shield.

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The second crossing is along present-day BUSINESS I-8, built 1956-7. It is a much larger crossing and a fair bit more dull. In 1964, after US 80 was killed in California, this was the western terminus of US 80 (but the signs didn't go down until well into the 1970s). This crossing ceased to be US 80 when Arizona retracted US 80 to Benson in 1977, and the O-T-O Bridge lost its BUSINESS designation at the same time.

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Last of all, the modern Interstate 8 crossing and the freeway one in use, built in 1976.

As we enter California, we cross into Imperial county, the youngest of all of the California counties and one of the most impoverished. Formed in 1907 out of the eastern half of San Diego county, the county is named for the Imperial Valley it sits within (itself named for the Imperial Land Company which in those days reclaimed land in the area for agriculture). Its present-day population is 142,361 [2000].

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Looking back at the old 1915 bridge, the "Ocean-To-Ocean Highway Yuma" sign can be seen on the trusswork. It is illuminated at night.

Westbound old US 80 continues north of I-8 through Winterhaven to rejoin the Interstate at CA 186 just before the sand dunes, which we'll see in a minute.

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Both old US 80 and I-8 cross and crisscross with the All-American Canal in several places. Completed in 1942, the All-American Canal is so named because its entire length remains on this side of the border, draining 26,000+ cubic feet/sec of water from the Colorado for drinking water and irrigation of the Imperial Valley. There are also several hydroelectic power plants along its length, and its remnants maintain the Salton Sea via runoff into the Alamo and New Rivers, the largest lake in California.

Much of this region is at sea level or below. In our last stretch we will come to the lowest point on any Interstate highway, at the New River crossing.

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The Imperial sand dunes are our next major gateway.

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From ca. 1915 to 1926, the only highway crossing over these dunes was this, the old Plank Road. (US 80 was not ever signed over this, by the way, as a more reliable road had been constructed by then.) The wooden planks not only made a more stable surface for those early cars, but had the advantage of being moveable when buried or undercut (each 12' section was shifted by a team of horses). Originally about seven miles long, this restored segment is all that remains of a fascinating and unique engineering achievement.

The things I won't do for you, the reader: I picked up a nasty sunburn trudging through the sand like Lawrence of Arabia to get to the top of this hill. The temperature was about 105 F.

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Over the dunes, a very old road parallels I-8 for some miles. At least some portions of this could be US 80 as well.

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US 80 then leaves I-8's routing along CA 115 to become ImpCo S80, the major surviving alignment of US 80 in Imperial county. We'll come back to this in a second.

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This is one of California's newest routes (but not newest route numbers; see the Mass Grave CA 7 entry). This CA 7 was defined in 1990 and a routing allocated in 2000; it is completely open for traffic now and runs straight to the Mexican border, allowing people to bypass the narrow CA 98.

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CA 111, which picks up historic US 99 from CA 86 south of here to proceed to the border as well. US 99, for those not from the West, was one of the major plumb line routes from Mexico to Canada passing through Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle until it was finally decommissioned; it is largely replaced today by various state 99s (including in California) and Interstate 5.

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North of the border, old US 99 is carried on modern CA 86 including into El Centro, shown here. El Centro ("the center" in Spanish) is the county seat of Imperial county and combined with Brawley to the north is the Imperial Valley's primary urban centre; El Centro proper's population is 37,835 [2000].

BUSINESS I-8 in El Centro comes off I-8 along CA 86 north into downtown. At Main St, BL 8 and CA 86/old US 99 pick up ImpCo S80/old US 80 and the historic routes continue together and turn west on Adams.

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At Imperial Avenue, CA 86/old US 99 turns north and BUSINESS I-8 turns south to go back to the Interstate while ImpCo S80/old US 80 proceeds due west. This sign along CA 86/old US 99, south facing the intersection, is another historic artifact due to Caltrans recycling their signs: if you look at the arrow next to the San Diego control city, you'll notice that the arrow used to point west along old US 80. It now faces straight ahead on BL 8. There is also an old mileage sign at the intersection showing 59 miles to Yuma east on the S80 alignment.

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The Laguna Inn and Suites, a pleasant stay right on the Interstate at the west end of BL 8 ready to complete our final leg. Time for a little Law and Order-flavoured relaxation.

Next: El Centro, CA to San Diego, CA! Or perhaps I should say ... Last?

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<< Previous entry
3 August 2006: Interstate 19 (Tucson to Nogales) and Interstate 8 (Casa Grande to Gila Bend)
 
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7 August 2006: The End of the Summer of 6: El Centro, CA to San Diego and the Pacific Ocean
 


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