I did say Maine to Mexico, so here's Mexico. This is a surprising
remnant of US 99, right at the Calexico-Mexicali
border (both, of course, being reverse
portmanteaus of Mexico and California) at the end of modern CA 111. US 99,
of course, ended here too. I am very surprised this shield has not been ripped
off -- it's not remanufactured, but an original 1950's era shield as evidenced
by the rust on the rear and the fact there is no "PROPERTY STATE OF CALIFORNIA"
decal which didn't come into service until some time later.
Picking up BUSINESS I-8 along westbound I-8 as we leave El Centro.
As stated previously, Interstate 8 has the distinction of being the lowest
elevation of any Interstate highway. Here at the New River, the approximate
elevation (or should I say depression) is 52
feet below sea level. Compare this to the lowest point in North
America, Badwater in California's Death Valley, which is -282'. (For
completeness, the lowest land point on earth is on the shores of the Dead
Sea, at -1,312'.)
For that matter, the New River itself is a real low, one of the most
polluted waterways in the United States. Formed by the same 1905-7 Colorado
River flooding that made the Salton Sea and the nearby Alamo River, its
nearly immediate use as a drainage system fouls it to this day (mostly due
to raw sewage dumping south of the border, which then flows north). It
is approximately 81 miles long.
As we approach the Jacumba Mountains,
ImpCo S80, the alignment of most of old US 80
in Imperial county, comes to an end outside the small town of Ocotillo
(population 296 ,
with a name that likely descends from an Indian term for "prickly"). ImpCo S2
turns into SDCo S2 and heads for CA 78 through the backcountry desert parks.
Ocotillo's low elevation made it a deathtrap when strong rains from the
remnants of Hurricane Kathleen literally drowned the town in 1976.
Through the Jacumba Mountains, I-8 will rise from sea level to over 3,000 feet
in just a few miles. Its ultimate summit will be shortly. The mountain name
comes from a corruption of a local Indian (Kumeyaay/Diegueño?)
term probably meaning "hut along water" or something similar.
Desert View Tower overlooks the canyons where old US 80 and I-8 run over the
San Diego-Imperial county lines. The Tower, which was originally hollow, was
built by Jacumba (in San Diego county) settler Bert Vaughn, former mayor
of San Diego and local speculator, as a monument to
the settlers and road builders of the day. During WWII it was used as a
civil defense lookout, although not by the military. Vaughn's family kept
the tower until 1947 when it was sold to WW2 flyer Dennis Newman,
who renovated it and opened it to tourists in 1950. Although I-8 bypassed
it in 1967, it remained a popular stopping point and after changing hands
in 1983 and 2001 is still a good place to stop for a view and a cold drink.
The operator now is a Ben Schultz, a pleasant gentleman with whom I chewed
the fat about the old road.
The view from the top. It's well worth the $2.50. This is facing east, with
westbound I-8 closest to us. Note the little smoothed out section of rock
face to the far left and about 2/3 down the photograph.
If we zoom in, we can see an old concrete slab section of US 80 descending
the hill. This likely dates from the mid-1920s.
Your $2.50 also buys you a look at the caves. No, Indians didn't carve these
-- they were part of artwork done by unemployed engineer W. T. Ratliffe, who
carved and painted them ca. 1933 to hone his skills. Not only
did he do a large selection of animals and "spirit" scenes, but he also carved
caves, grottoes and stairs to get to them.
To get to the Tower, you'll exit at In-Ko-Pah Park Rd right at the county
line and turn back east. In so doing, you will drive a later alignment of
US 80 (some of which is also concrete slab) which makes up part of the Tower
road. It was signed as part of Interstate 8 at some point in time, as the
postmile here at the county line shows. Old Highway 80 starts here and turns
left to go under the freeway into the desert town of Jacumba, named for
the mountains and the town Bert
Vaughn founded in hopes of establishing another border crossing (no such
luck), about four miles away.
Now in San Diego county, our next major junction is CA 94 which feeds southern
San Diego county, becoming a freeway in Casa de Oro and ending in downtown
San Diego proper.
This is the highest point along I-8. Quite an elevation spread, don't you
Descending through the Cleveland National Forest and up into
the Laguna Mountains west of the Jacumbas, which in this section is
not much of a forest. Along the Sunrise Highway into Mt. Laguna
proper, however, there
are more classic stands at higher elevations (most of this is scrub oak) and
even snow a few times a year. The forest was named for President Grover
Cleveland and today encompasses 460,000 acres, extending into Riverside and
Orange counties to the north.
Leaving the forest and coming down a 13-mile grade from the Laguna summit
(a bit lower than Crestwood) and the Cuyamaca Mountains,
we start to get a little more populated as valley regions predominate.
The Cuyamaca range peaks at 6,512' as the great Cuyamaca Mountain (second
highest in San Diego county). The Cuyamaca Rancho State Park now consumes
much of the mountains, accessible from CA 79. The name comes from a Spanish
corruption of the Kumeyaay Indian term ahhakweahmac ("where it rains").
Tavern Rd, which
connects to part of BUSINESS I-8 through Alpine (most of which is old US 80
again, mostly on Alpine Blvd). Alpine is named for its
"alpine" elevation among the Cuyamaca Mountains even though it is not
particularly high amongst them. Its population is 13,143 .
With our entry into El Cajon, we leave the deserts and mountains behind us
pretty much for good -- urban terrain will predominate all the way to the
beach. El Cajon is named "the box" in Spanish for the surrounding mesas in
the middle of which it sits; one of the largest cities in eastern San Diego
county, its population is 94,869 . (The sign is a little out of date.)
An old alignment of US 80 runs through town, now also BUSINESS highway.
Turning into the Grossmont ("big mountain") Pass and La Mesa ("the table"
in the same way that El Cajon is "the box"), population 54,749 .
Mount Helix, the major landmark of eastern San Diego county. It appears on
the La Mesa city seal, and the name is applied to various landmarks and
roads (including the Helix Fwy, CA 94's old name; a lot of Helix Streets;
and Helix High School). The name is somewhat ignominious; it was named
after the local Helix species of snail. This probably has something
to do with its spiraling base. The mountain's peak is 1,370'.
Through the Grossmont Pass and western La Mesa. El Cajon Blvd is the
continuation of US 80 through this section; it was
marked as BUSINESS I-8 for a very long time, and still appears as such on
advance signage although most of
the shields have been gone for at least five or ten years by my reckoning.
It is still BUSINESS I-8 from the freeway.
West of here, roughly at the El Cajon Blvd exit, is the original US 80
freeway (the "Alvarado Cyn Fwy") opened in 1949-50. The remainder of the
US 80 freeway was constructed mostly during the 1950s out to El Cajon.
The marine layer started to get a little thicker here and had not yet burnt
off, so sorry about the clouds (I'll rephotograph these for the full Interstate
8 photoessay). Here we start to enter San Diego city limits; rather than rehash
the history of San Diego here, you can read it from
Old Highway 395 Part 1. San Diego State
University sits alongside Interstate 8 and is one of California's oldest
universities, founded in 1897 (not to be confused with the University of
California, San Diego, which is my alma mater). With a student
body of 33,000, it is the third-largest university in the state.
Interstate 8 through Mission Valley, named for the San Diego Mission (again,
read the history of San Diego above). This is a major commercial and tourism
The junction ahead with CA 163 is where I-8 and US 395 met until US 395 was
shortened in 1969 for I-15. US 395 was the last US highway to serve San Diego
and the only one of San Diego's US highways to survive the 1964 Great
Finally, Interstate 5 as we reach the coast. This was originally the end of
Interstate 8, and was the end of the US 80 freeway (at what was then US 101),
but was extended along old CA 109 to the ocean in 1972.
in San Diego and Orange counties replaces old US 101 until it picks up the
old US 99 alignment in Los Angeles county.
Shortly after this, the modern-day end of I-8, at the Pacific Ocean.
We're done, and our final odometer is 103,524 -- a total of 9,622
miles traveled. Whew!
So now what?
If you are on the RSS feed or mailing list, and you want to receive
notification that the photoessay is completed, do nothing. You will
receive a notification automatically, and that will be the final posting
to the Summer of 6 (which will be archived at that time). Otherwise, if you
want to jump ship now, drop the RSS feed from your browser or E-mail me
according to the instructions in the subscription confirmation and I will
remove you manually.
Regardless, I had a blast and I really hope you enjoyed the postings as well.
You don't get many chances to take a trip like this and I'm thrilled I had
the opportunity. Whether or not I'll get to visit these places again, I
think it's fair to close with these final words: