[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

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4 August 2006: Interstate 8/Historic US 80: Gila Bend, AZ to El Centro, CA
 
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22 October 2006: US 80 Special: Historic US 80 in San Diego, CA (Part I)
 

7 August 2006: The End of the Summer of 6: El Centro, CA to San Diego and the Pacific Ocean

From Maine to Mexico, and now from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all good vacations must come to an end and so must this one. Today we close the Great American Road Trip that was the Summer of (200)6 and go out with a bang. Stay tuned at the end for a little housekeeping!

P.S.: Happy birthday, Stinky! We still have your dog!

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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.

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Picking up BUSINESS I-8 along westbound I-8 as we leave El Centro.

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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.

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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 [2000], 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is the highest point along I-8. Quite an elevation spread, don't you think?

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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.

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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").

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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 [2000].

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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 [2000]. (The sign is a little out of date.) An old alignment of US 80 runs through town, now also BUSINESS highway.

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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 [2000].

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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'.

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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.

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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.

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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 corridor.

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 Renumbering.

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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. Interstate 5 in San Diego and Orange counties replaces old US 101 until it picks up the old US 99 alignment in Los Angeles county.

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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? There will be one final post to make: the completion of the US 6 photoessay. Don't expect this to arrive for maybe ten to twelve months -- I'm not kidding. It took me about six months to do the research and writeup for US 395, and that route is "only" 1,305 miles.

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:

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The Force will be with you.
Always.

Next: Cameron Kaiser tries to find gainful employment! But that's an entry for another time.

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4 August 2006: Interstate 8/Historic US 80: Gila Bend, AZ to El Centro, CA
 
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22 October 2006: US 80 Special: Historic US 80 in San Diego, CA (Part I)
 


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