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.
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
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. 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
be constructed on top. Here's a couple of early probably 20's-30's
era postcards of vehicles
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 must
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 a
section of Gray's Well Road that may be a 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, and
the Union Food Store sign looks to hail from the 20's or
30's! I was intrigued by the 'BAIT' 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-the 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
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 that 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
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...
For some great exploring and driving, take any I-8 exit to the south from the
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, you
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
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
Highway 80 does not cross to the north side
of the interstate until the Sunrise Highway exit at Laguna Summit. From there, the highway 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!