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Long closed California State Route 39 at Islip Saddle

Back in 2016 I visited the long closed segment of California State Route 39 in the Islip Saddle of the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County.


Islip Saddle is a mountain pass in the San Gabriel Mountains located at 6,680 feet above sea level.  Islip Saddle serves as the junction of CA 2/Angeles Crest Highway at the north terminus of CA 39/San Gabriel Canyon Road.  While the junction of CA 2/CA 39 unto itself is noteworthy due to the striking views from Islip Saddle southward through San Gabriel Canyon it has been become far more known for the long standing closure on the latter route since 1978.

CA 39 was one of the original 1934 State Highways and was made up of Legislative Route Number 171 south of what was US Route 101 in Buena Park and LRN 62 north of it.  In the case of LRN 62 it was created during the 1919 Third State Highway Bond Act.  The original legislative definition of LRN 62 had it running north from Azuza to Pine Flats in the San Gabriel Mountains to LRN 61 (which became CA 2). CAhighways.org has more details on the background of LRN 62.

CAhighways.org on LRN 62

LRN 62 in the San Gabriel Mountains first appears on the 1920 State Highway Map as one of the 1919 Legislative Routes.

1920 State Highway Map

On the 1928 State Highway Map the route of LRN 62 appears as an unimproved Secondary State Highway.

1928 State Highway Map

On the 1932 State Highway Map LRN 62 is shown connecting as an unimproved road with LRN 61 at Islip Saddle.  Prior to 1934 State Highway Maps didn't do a good job showing what roads had actually been completed but rather showed routes as they were legislatively defined. 

1932 State Highway Map

In 1933 LRN 62 was extended south to the newly created LRN 171.   Both LRN 62 and LRN 171 formed CA 39 when the Signed State Routes were created in 1934.  The 1934 State Highway Map shows only a small portion of CA 39/LRN 62 was actually completed north of Azuza.

1934 State Highway Map

By 1938 State Highways finally appeared on State Highway Maps.  CA 39/LRN 62 is shown almost completed to CA 2/LRN 61.

1938 State Highway Map

Work through the 1940s and 1950s on CA 39/LRN 62 appears to have stalled as little progress was made.  Given that progress on CA 39/LRN 62 appears to have stalled by 1938 my speculation is that the route was affected by the same 1938 floods which created the "Bridge to Nowhere" to the east.  By 1957 the State Highway Map shows CA 2/LRN 61 on Angeles Crest Highway as complete with CA 39/LRN 62 nearly reaching it at Islip Saddle.

1957 State Highway Map

According to CAhighways.org CA 39/LRN 62 was completed to CA 2/LRN 61 in Islip Saddle by 1961.

CAhighways.org on CA 39

Interestingly CA 39 isn't shown completed to Islip Saddle until the 1963 State Highway edition.

1963 State Highway Map

As mentioned above the north terminus of CA 39 at CA 2 was closed in 1978.  The winter of 1978 saw large rock slides at Islip Saddle which heavily damaged the northern most 4.4 miles of CA 39.  Interestingly despite the closure of CA 39 for four decades the route was never outright abandoned (unlike the dirt segment of CA 173).  Until recently Caltrans has shown little to no interest in reopening CA 39 through to CA 2 in Islip Saddle.  According to CAhighways.org interest in reopening CA 39 began in 2016 as due it concerns about fire evacuations in the San Gabriel Mountains.  An environmental impact survey was to be completed by early 2018 the CA 39 has recently undergone minimalist repairs to allow emergency vehicles access.

In 2016 one of my primary goals in traveling CA 2 on the Angeles Crest Highway (of course behind having a fun mountain road drive) was to photograph the closure point of CA 39 at Islip Saddle in case the route reopened.  CA 39 is not marked with any trailblazer shields or any real signage indicating it's location.   That said the north terminus of CA 39 is easily found from the parking lot of the Islip Saddle trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail.  The CA 2 Safety Corridor signage is an even more obvious location giveaway from the roadway.


The north terminus of CA 39 is gated off with a clear warning that pretty everyone (including pedestrians) is banned from traversing the damaged highway.  The slides on CA 39 in Islip Saddle are considered an ongoing concern which would explain why the signage is written to deter hikers.


Looking over the fence line the road deck of CA 39 appears to still be in somewhat reasonable shape.


Just to the west on CA 2 the full scale of CA 39 descending from Islip Saddle into San Gabriel Canyon can be seen.  Some of the slide points on CA 39 are apparent to the eye from CA 2.


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