California 80
(Bygone Byways(TM) since 2001)

    The completion of I-8 was the blow that ended U.S. 80 in California.  By 1974, the last official signs were being taken down, and U.S. 80 technically ceased to exist.  Thankfully however, there remain many bypassed loops of old roadway.  For example,  the loop beginning at the top of In-Ko-Pah Gorge, swinging south through Jacumba and onward through Pine Valley and Descanso Junction is one of the most exquisite drives to be found anywhere.  Traveling through rugged, yet beautiful country, this terrific segment of highway is comprised almost entirely of old 1930's-era concrete to which asphalt has been added to the outside edges to widen the road.  Therefore, the original road is still there to be not just admired, but driven and enjoyed as it was designed to be.

    Old 80 in California must have been quite the adventure in early motoring.  In a 2-3 hour drive, the roadie will encounter: river bottom land...sand  dunes that Lawrence of Arabia would admire...field upon field of crops...rocky scrubland...a narrow twisty highway through huge, fractured granite boulders and mountains...high mountains populated with manzanita and oak, then a gradual descent into a concrete jungle and urban chaos.  For you, the modern motorist to experience this, I advise you to take your time.  Let me show you some of my photos in the hopes that they will inspire you to get off the freeway and do a little exploring of your own.  From east to west...

Check out my California 80 
       driving directions!

    Today, the Algodones Dunes are just a passing curiosity to the motorist whizzing by at 70 miles per hour, but to the early motorist, they proved to be an almost insurmountable obstacle.  80-CA-Gray's Well Road-Plank Road.jpg (135778 bytes)Do you realize that the original 1926 U.S. 80 through these dunes was literally on wooden planks?  The 'Plank Road' as it was called was just that-sections of wood connected together to provide vehicles a means of getting traction through the dunes.  As sections were buried by drifting sand, horses either uncovered the old section of road, or new sections were added.  As recently as 15-20 years ago, old sections of the Plank Road were still being occasionally uncovered by drifting sand.  Be sure to check out a section of this original road (see photo) at the western end of Gray's Well Road (Dunes recreation area exit).

    Road construction techniques were adapted to meet the sand dune challenge.  The second effort to tame the dunes (the Plank Road being the 1st) was to pour asphalt to 'lock-in' long strips of blowing sands so that a traditional road 80PC-CA-Algodones Sand Dunes 3-NoPM.jpg (127304 bytes)could be constructed on top.  Here's a couple of early probably 20's-30's era postcards of vehicles80PC-CA-Algodones Dunes-American Sahara-1938.jpg (113701 bytes) crossing the dunes on top of these 'captured' strips of roadbed.  Note that these postcards pre-date center line striping which really didn't happen on a regular basis until well into the Thirties!  If you're on west bound I-8, I've spied what must80-CA-Gordon's Well Road-Asphalt in Dunes.jpg (238713 bytes) be portions of these old, buried asphalt dunes past the modern rest stop and down below to the right (see photo) as you climb a substantial hill with a guardrail just before you reach the Gordon's Well Exit.  If any off-roaders could nab me a close-up photo, I'd appreciate it!  


  The two photos at the right are taken from Gray's Well Road, and show a80-CA-Gray's Well Rd-Dunes!.jpg (98482 bytes) section of Gray's Well Road that may be a80-CA-Gray's Well Rd-Old 80 Segment.jpg (106367 bytes) portion of remaining 80 and a photo of the dunes from the same spot.  Who knows...maybe this stretch of road was the stretch depicted in one of the postcards!

   As you emerge from the 'American Sahara', old highway 80 has been relegated to frontage road status.   Be sure to take the Gordon Well exit. Old postcards of the Gordon Well area confirm that this was indeed, old 80.  Head west on the north frontage road.  By the time you reach the Brock Research Road exit, the abundance of  'C' markers and survey markers reinforces the fact that the north frontage road was indeed, the old road.  Though deteriorating and there is not really much to see, this stretch of road is still interesting in a desolate way and remains easily drivable all the way to Holtville.  It was a long stretch between services out here.


     Holtville seems to be a nice little place.  A well-kept central park and downtown area rounds out the town.  For the roadie, be sure to note the 'requisitioned' Texaco building at the east entrance to town, 80-CA-Holtville-Union Food Market.JPG (309240 bytes)and the Union Food Store sign looks to hail from the 20's or 30's!    I was intrigued by the 'BAIT' 80-CA-Holtville-Union Food Market Sign.JPG (191283 bytes)sign on the side of the building.  Not much in the way of rivers or creeks around here...  BTW, enjoy the close-up of the sign.  As you head out of town towards El Centro, also note the abandoned railway on the north side of the road.


     Follow my driving directions through El Centro, Seeley, In-Ko-Pah Gorge and on into Jacumba...


     Sleepy little Jacumba.  It wasn't always so.  At one time, Jacumba was thriving enough to support a large Hotel-the80-CA-Jacumba-Old Spa Photo.JPG (113431 bytes) Vaughn and a spa.  After checking in at the Vaughn, weary travelers went straight across the street to take advantage of the natural hot springs that abound in the area.  In fact, the remains of80-CA-Jacumba-Old Spa.JPG (199113 bytes) this sprawling complex (just west of 'downtown') are still here to remind us of what once was.  These mustard-colored arches make for a great photo-op and shouldn't be missed. The fireplace ruin on the south side of the road is all that80-CA-Jacumba-Old_Spa_5.JPG (191540 bytes) remains of the Vaughn Hotel today (burned in '82).  The 'new' spa has some interesting old photos of the Hotel Vaughn & the old spa from 'back in the day'.  
Author's addendum 05/06:  I spent a night in the 'new' spa and the rooms and service were abysmal-especially for the $80+ price.  Broken windows with no locks, tubs that don't drain, all furniture was a mish-mash of very cheap flea market items and the extreme water damage to all rooms spoke to years of roof/plumbing neglect. Heck, when pulled closed, the curtains did not even completely cover the windows so I had to tuck the bedspread up over the curtain rod for privacy.  I see they were working on the outside pool area, so perhaps they are trying to improve things, but as much as I try to support 'Mom & Pop' operations, I cannot recommend staying here.  Perhaps I'll try again in a year or two and see if things have changed...


80-CA-Live Oak Springs-More Rocks.jpg (180701 bytes)   For some great exploring and driving, take any I-8 exit to the south from the Live Oak Springs exit area on west to the Pine Valley area.  This picture is of a particularly fine stretch road and is just south of the interstate at the Live Oak Springs exit (look for the Golden Acorn casino) and turn immediately west.  The road is conveniently called Highway 80 through here and the whole area abounds with interesting boulder/rock formations.


  Further west past the Kitchen Creek I-8 exit, you80PC-CA-Boulder Oaks Resort-Chevron Station & Store-NoPM.jpg (179399 bytes) approach the Boulder Oaks campground area.  The Forest Service took over the grounds around 1998 or so, and when they did, they removed the last vestiges of the old store/station that had resided there for years.  For your pleasure, check out my 'Now & Then' shot of the old Boulder80-CA-Boulder Oaks-Site of Old Station.JPG (162164 bytes) Oaks general store/gas station (unmarked 40's-era postcard) and the same area today (you can verify the location by the shape of the hill in the background).  All that remains today is a small concrete apron where the pumps used to sit.  This is in the parking area and is right in front of the parked cars.  Again, note the 30's era concrete indicative of this whole stretch.  Continue on towards Laguna Summit... 


    Highway 80 does not cross to the north side of the interstate until the Sunrise Highway exit at Laguna Summit.  From there, the highway 80-CA-Los Terrinitos-1917 Bridge.jpg (232558 bytes)loops through Pine Valley and Descanso Junction before being consumed by the interstate just east of the Vista Point overlook.  As a point of interest, if you pass the CAL 79 exit westbound on I-8, keep looking to the right and you can see the old Highway 80 grade high up on the hill to your right.  It keeps winding along the hillside, gradually dropping lower & lower until by the time you reach the Vista Point overlook, you can see where I-8 blasted through the old roadbed.  Be sure to backtrack if you have to, and take CAL 79 just a little ways north (1/2 mile or less) to Wildwood Glenn Lane.  You can follow Wildwood Glenn Lane (the high winding grade you saw from the interstate) west until the road peters out.  What a study in contrast.  For detailed directions in this area, be sure to check out Rob Droz's info here.  Also be sure to see the 1917 Los Terrinitos Bridge pictured to the left.  I assume this must have been on the original 1926 Highway 80 through this area.

    I've been to the san Diego area, and have tons of pics for you.  Please check back soon as I hope to add at least three or four more pics into this already too large web page.  Until I get that accomplished, I hope you've enjoyed these pages, and please visit the rest of my site.  Click on any state below to explore Highway 80 on another roadie adventure!

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