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Cajon Pass; Cajon Pass Toll Road, National Old Trails Road, US Route 66/91/395 and Interstate 15

This past weekend I spent some time in Cajon Pass traversing the many historic road alignments.


Cajon Pass is located in San Bernardino County, California along the San Andreas Fault.  Cajon Pass  serves the boundary line between the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains and San Bernardino Valley.  Cajon Pass is historically one of the most traveled transportation corridors in American California and presently is served by four rail lines, Interstate 15 and California State Route 138.

While Cajon Pass is known mostly for carrying US Route 66 it has carried numerous other signed highways that have had a significant impact on regional and national road travel.  While this is my best attempt to compile everything from the best sources I could find into one single transportation history blog regarding road travel in Cajon Pass I suspect as time goes on this article will be frequently updated.  If you have any information that you feel is relevant or pins down certain time frames more accurately please feel free to contact me at tomfearer@yahoo.com, I will gladly cite you as a source on any updated to this blog.

The actual Cajon Pass is located in Horsethief Canyon at 3,777 feet above sea level and is presently traversed by CA 138 in addition to all the rails descending into San Bernardino Valley.  Regular travel through Cajon Pass by Europeans began on what was known as the Mormon Road.  The Mormon Road was scouted by a party led by Jefferson Hunt which were looking for a supply route from Salt Lake City to Southern California through 1847-1848.  The Mormon Road descended through Cajon Pass via Coyote Canyon (modern Crowder Canyon) and Cajon Canyon into San Bernardino Valley.

The Mormon Road was later reorganized and improved into the Los Angeles-Salt Lake Trail by 1855.  The most significant change to the wagon routing through Cajon Pass was a realignment that took it away from Crowder Canyon west over what was known as Sanford's Cutoff.  Sanford's Cutoff ultimately proved unpopular as it included a 30% downhill grade whereas Crowder Canyon while narrow and prone to seasonal flooding had much gentler descent.

In 1860 gold was discovered in Holcomb Valley in the San Bernadino Mountains.  The discovery of gold brought a significant influx of travelers to Cajon Pass which required road improvements to handle the increased traffic.  In April of 1861 the State of California authorized legislation to construct a wagon road through Cajon Pass.  A toll franchise was granted by the State to John Brown, Henry Willis and George Tucker to improve the road through Cajon Pass, this was the genesis of the Cajon Pass Toll Road.

In the mid-19th Century the State of California typically granted twenty year franchise rights to organizers who would fund and construct wagon routes.  The Cajon Pass Toll Road did not utilize Sanford's Cutoff but instead utilized an improved route through Crowder Canyon.  By 1863 John Brown had bought out the shares of his co-stake holders in the Cajon Pass Wagon Road.  The Cajon Pass Wagon Road in the early years was subject to heavy flood damages and toll house attacks by local tribes.  In 1874 the Cajon Pass Wagon Road became stable enough for John Brown to plan improvements in the upper parts of the road which were more direct and less steep.  Part of the improvements included a 185 foot cut which is now part of Forest Route 3N45, this cut would be utilized into early US Route era.  In 1878 John Brown sold his rights to the Cajon Pass Toll Road to Jesse Tay and Charles Lawrence.  The franchise toll rights to the Cajon Pass Toll Road expired in October of 1882 and the it became a public facility once again.

Far more information regarding the Cajon Pass Toll Road can be found on mojavedesert.net.

Toll Road through Cajon Pass

In 1880s the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway constructed the California Southern Railroad as the first line through Cajon Pass.  The ATSF Line through Cajon Pass brought numerous people to the area by way of rail sidings such as Summit and Cajon.  Through the remainder of the 19th Century into the early 20th Century not much changed in Cajon Pass regarding road travel.  The popular road over Cajon Pass still utilized the route plotted out by John Brown which can be seen on this 1908 USGS Map.


In April of 1912 the National Old Trails Road ("NOTR") was organized with the goal of signing a trans-continental highway between Baltimore and Los Angeles.   Building a modern road for automotive use through the Mojave Desert of California would prove to be particularly difficult as State Highway Maintenance didn't exist and the general path of travel was alongside the service routes of railroads. The first Auto Trail through Cajon Pass was the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon Needles National Highway which was first signed in Cajon Pass by 1913.  NOTR organizers later adopted the routing of the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon Needles National Highway in the western United States by 1914.  The NOTR was able secure funding to pave the route through Cajon Pass and construct the 1914 Crowder Canyon Bridge.

FHWA.dot.gov National Old Trails Road

Below is a 1916 map published by the National Old Trails Road organizers showing the route of the highway through Cajon Pass.


A link to the full 1916 NOTR highway map can be found below.

1916 NOTR Highway Map  

In 1916 Second State Highway Bond Act authorized a new State Highway between San Bernardino north to Barstow which would incorporate the NOTR over Cajon Pass.  This new State Highway was known as Legislative Route Number 31.

CAhighways.org on LRN 31

The 1918 State Highway Map is first California Road map to clearly show state maintenance over Cajon Pass.  Although this map below shows the NOTR on the 1914 alignment it was quickly realigned to the west over the gentler grades of Cajon Summit.  Some reports state that the NOTR/LRN 31 was realigned over Cajon Summit by late 1916 (specifically Mike Boultinghouse who is a well renown source on The National Old Trails Road Page on Facebook) whereas others state it was complete by 1918.


The NOTR wasn't the only Auto Trail over Cajon Pass.  The New Santa Fe Trail and National Part-to-Park Highway were also signed over Cajon Pass and can be seen on this 1924 Highway Map of California.

1924 Rand McNally Highway Map

For reference the California State Automobile Association shows the NOTR/LRN 31 routed through Crowder Canyon and through Cajon Pass in on their 1917 State Highway Map.  It appears that the year the route of the NOTR and LRN 31 shifting to Cajon Summit cannot be conclusively made without further documentation.

1917 CSAA Highway Map

This snipped map from the 1926 NOTR Highway Map shows the highway clearly going over Cajon Summit west towards the siding of Alray.  


A full version of the 1926 NOTR Highway map of the western United States can be found below.

1926 NOTR Highway Map

In November of 1926 the US Route System was approved and US Route 66 was plotted to cross over Cajon Summit.  The earliest route of US 66 utilized the improved route of the NOTR built as part of LRN 31 in 1918.  Most reports cite that US 66 (along with the other US Routes) was first signed in California by 1928 replacing the NOTR.  The 1918 alignment of the NOTR/LRN 31 would later be straightened by 1930 with final bridge work coming in 1931 as evidenced by the video below. 

BackRoadsWest1; Route 66 in Cajon Pass

While drafting the maps used in this blog I was sent a link provided by Mike May of ElectricRoute66.com showing the difference between the 1918 NOTR alignment of LRN 31 and the 1930 alignment used by early US 66.  The map goes into far greater detail throughout Cajon Pass on specific historical alignments of US 66 up to the building of I-15 on the Mojave Freeway.

Route 66 in California custom Google Map

Contrary to some reports it appears the path of the NOTR and Cajon Pass Toll Road was largely abandoned after the 1918 realignment.  Part of the NOTR/Cajon Pass Toll Road became part of an extension of LRN 59 in 1933 which was numbered as California State Route 2 by 1934. State Maintenance of LRN 59 can clearly be seen east of LRN 31 in Cajon on the 1935.


At some point in late 1934 or early 1935 US Route 395 was extended into Southern California and joined US 66 in Cajon Pass.  This 1938 State Highway Map below shows US 66 co-signed with US 395 in Cajon Pass.


In 1947 US 91 was extended south from Barstow via Cajon Pass into Long Beach.  This 1948 State Highway Map displays US 66/91/395 through Cajon Pass.


In 1964 the California State Highway Renumbering occurred.  CA 2 east of Phelan was reassigned as part of CA 138 through Cajon Pass (parts east of Lake Arrowhead would become CA 173) whereas US 91 was truncated back to Barstow.  In 1969 I-15 on the Mojave Freeway was completed through Cajon Pass and was briefly co-signed with US 66/395.  US 395 was truncated to Hesperia at some point either in 1970 or 1971 whereas US 66 was truncated in 1972.


More on the endpoint history of US 66, US 91 and US 395 can be found on USends.com.

US 66 end points

US 91 end points

US 395 end points

More recently the one mile section of CA 138 which was built over the grade section of the 1914 NOTR/Cajon Pass Toll Road was realigned and razed this past year. 

Caltrans District 8 Commuter Alert; CA 138 realignment in Cajon Pass

Below I prepared two maps showing the differences in the highway alignments over Cajon Pass.




With all the historic information regarding road transportation in Cajon Pass above in mind I began my approach by car via the modern southern terminus of US 395 at I-15 in Hesperia.







My detour from I-15 was at southbound Exit 138 onto Oak Hill Road near the top of Cajon Summit.



I crossed I-15 on Oak Hill Road and turned south on Mariposa Road.  Mariposa Road south of the Chevron Station picks up former alignment of US 66/91/395.  Much of the alignment of I-15 on the Mojave Freeway to the north was built directly over the former alignments of US 66/91/395.




Just south of the Chevron Station on Old US 66/91/395 on Mariposa Road is the ruins of the Summit Inn which burned in the Blue Cut Fire of 2016.  Part of the marque for the Summit Inn still stands and displays "Historic Route 66."



I last visited the Summit Inn back in 2012 for breakfast.  Suffice to say I wish that I had taken better pictures.




Continuing south of the Summit Inn the path of Mariposa Road dead-ends an embankment along the northbound lanes of I-15.  The 1916/1918 NOTR alignment followed by US 66/91/395 would have cut right into what is now the freeway.  The end of Mariposa Road also serves as the boundary for San Bernardino National Forest.




To the left the at the end of Mariposa Road the dirt path of Forestry Road begins.  Forestry Road near Cajon Summit has nothing to do with any historic road alignment in Cajon Pass but does connect with the former the Cajon Pass Toll Road and 1914 NOTR alignment.  Forestry Road is a somewhat sandy road that is not well graded, personally I wouldn't recommend taking a low clearance vehicle on it.  I headed out on foot eastbound towards an overlook of Cajon Pass located near some water tanks.






The overlook of Cajon Pass is definitely worth stopping to see.  To the left the former grade of the Cajon Pass Toll Road/1914 NOTR can be seen descending towards the rails in Cajon Pass.  Crowder Canyon can be seen just to the right of the center of the photo.  The northbound lanes of I-15 can be seen on the far right.



I continued east on Forestry Road towards a junction with Forest Route 3N45.  The Cajon Pass Toll Road/1914 NOTR continued northbound to the left on Forestry Road towards Hesperia whereas the southbound route followed 3N45 to Cajon Pass.









I turned south on 3N45, the cut built as part of the Cajon Pass Toll Road is immediately evident.  It is hard to imagine that at one point that primitive looking dirt road was once a paved automotive highway that crossed the country.


 

I continued south on 3N45 down to Cajon Pass and the first set of four rails.  The first set of rails belongs to the Union Pacific and opened to freight traffic in 1967.













3N45 southbound next passes under two BNSF lines; the first apparently opened recently in 2008.  The second underpass I'm to understand was built in 1915 but the line dates back to 1913.  The 1915 BNSF underpass is one of the few obvious relic structures dating back to the early NOTR alignment still present on 3N45.





The fourth and final line on southbound 3N45 is an at-grade crossing.  This crossing was the first line constructed in Cajon Pass by the ATSF in the 1880s.  I turned around at this point and headed uphill back to my car after passing the rail grade given that I was close the modern alignment of CA 138 in Cajon Pass.  Crowder Canyon can be seen directly south in the second photo below.





Truck traffic can be seen on northbound I-15 from 3N45 heading back uphill.


As I was heading back up hill on 3N45 a BNSF train passed by on the 1967 line.


One final look at the road cut blasted as part of the Cajon Pass Toll Road.


Upon returning to my car I followed I-15 southbound towards CA 138.  As noted on the map above US 66/91/395 closely followed the modern alignment of I-15 south but not completely.  At the top of Cajon Summit (note; the sign states an elevation of 4,260 feet) there is an abandoned segment of asphalt still clearly identifiable from aerial views between the I-15 travel lanes.  On the curve approach to CA 138 there is another large segment of derelict asphalt located north of the southbound lanes of I-15.

























I turned east on CA 138 and headed over I-15 to Wagon Trail Road.  Wagon Trail Road is the successor alignment to the 1914 NOTR alignment and carried US 66/91/395.




I followed Wagon Trail Road south to the mouth of Crowder Canyon.  There are two small monuments near the mouth of Crowder Canyon; the first memorializes the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail whereas the second is presently under construction but will feature information about Camp Cajon.







The mouth of Crowder Canyon is largely hidden from view by Wagon Trail Road as it merges into the northbound lane of I-15.  A closer inspection will reveal that the canyon is part of the Pacific Crest Trail.  The Pacific Crest Trail is largely located on the heavily eroded roadway of the Cajon Pass Toll Road and 1914 NOTR alignment.




One of the immediate features of Crowder Canyon is the ruins of the 1914 bridge.  The NOTR would cross from the north side of Crowder Canyon to the south as it emptied into the larger Cajon Canyon.  The roadway on the south rim of Crowder Canyon is barely recognizable but a grade can be seen.







Through most of Crowder Canyon the NOTR was aligned on the northern side.  It is hard to imagine a roadway actually being present in such a tight and narrow canyon.  Almost all the asphalt and obvious road features have either been crushed by rock fall or eroded away by the creek below.  Stray traces of asphalt can be seen in places whereas others can be found under a layer of sand.  It is understandable why this was such a trouble point along the Cajon Pass Toll Road and a priority to be realigned when the State assumed maintenance of LRN 31.










One last view out the southern mouth of Crowder Canyon offers a striking contrast in time periods of road travel with the haggard 1914 Bridge in the foreground and I-15 in the background.


Returning to I-15 south I took the freeway to the Cleghorn Road which connects to the final expressway alignment of US 66/91/395 on Cajon Boulevard near the Cajon town site.  Traffic on I-15 south is advised Cajon Boulevard is a segment of Historic US Route 66, no mention of US 91 or US 395 is made.








Almost immediately south of the Cajon town site is a small bridge dated to 1930.



When the 1930 alignment of US 66 was built it was aligned close to the railroad whereas the previous NOTR alignment ran west of the rails to a siding known as Cosy Dell to the south.  Flooding near the tracks often washed out the roadway which required it be moved uphill to the east as traffic increased on ultimately what would become the US 66/91/395 expressway.  The only obvious segment of this early alignment is located near the Cajon town site is at the 1930 bridge.




South of the 1930 bridge the alignment of Cajon Boulevard expands to an expressway.  Today much of modern Cajon Boulevard utilizes the southbound lanes of the US 66/91/395 expressway whereas the northbound lanes are closed.


The southbound lanes of US 66/91/395 expressway cross a bridge date stamped with the year 1952.



The northbound lanes of the US 66/91/395 display some test shields painted into the asphalt.  The painted shields are a common sight on old alignments of US 66 in California and were a measure taken since signage theft was more or less constant after the highway became a part of Americana.




West of the 1952 bridge the washed out section of the 1930 alignment can be seen near the railroad tracks.



Continuing south on Cajon Boulevard the roadway briefly switches to the northbound lanes of the US 66/91/395 expressway before switching back to the southbound lanes.  The US 66/91/395 expressway passes by Blue Cut before meeting a junction with Kenwood Avenue.  Today Cajon Boulevard continues onward fully connected to San Bernardino.















Until recently Cajon Boulevard had a gap south of Kenwood Avenue that was blocked off with a mound of dirt.  I took this photo from atop the dirt mound back in 2012 when the former US 66/91/395 expressway south of Kenwood Avenue was in a state of abandonment.


Update 10/2/19:  This past weekend I took the recently reopened section of Cajon Boulevard from Kenwood Avenue south to Devore Road.  The new alignment of Cajon Boulevard jogs slightly west from the historic alignment of US 66/91/395 under the I-15/I-215 interchange.












I returned to I-15 southbound from Cleghorn Road and completed the circuit of I-15 to the junction with I-215.













In closing if anything, I hope by revisiting the subject of Cajon Pass (the pass was previously featured as part of a throwback US 66 series) that it brings more attention to the overall history of the area and all the highways that crossed it.  In particular some highways that had a huge presence in Cajon Pass such US 395 and CA 2 hardly ever get a mention which in my opinion really underscores the larger importance of the area.  While US 66 and the NOTR definitely are the most important historical routes to cross Cajon Pass they definitely were part of a much larger picture.  I'd really would like to recommend supporting the websites linked above as they provide historical insight as to why many of the modern transportation facilities in California are located where they are. 

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