Skip to main content

Where the hell is Hill Valley? (US Route 8 south/US Route 395 east)

Recently I made a visit to Universal Studios near Los Angeles.  While on the back lot tour I came across a piece of infamous movie-borne fictional highway infamy; the location of town square of Hill Valley, California on US Route 8/US Route 395.


The above photo is part of the intro scene to the first Back-to-the-Future movie which was set in 1985. To anyone who follows roadways the signage error of US 8 meeting US 395 in California is an immediately notable error.  For one; US 8 doesn't even exist anywhere near California with present alignment being signed as an east/west highway between Norway, Michigan and Forest Lake, Minnesota.  To make matters worse US 8 is signed as a southbound route and US 395 (a north/south highway) is signed as an eastbound route.  At minimum the cut-out US 8 and US 395 shields somewhat resemble what Caltrans used in the 1980s.

Assuming Hill Valley is located on what would have been US 395 by 1985 what locales would be a viable real world analog?  US 395 in California presently runs from the Oregon State Line to Nevada State Line  US 395 traverses eastern Nevada before reentering California running along the eastern flank of the Sierras to I-15 near Hesperia.  California State Route 8 would have gotten somewhat close to US 395 at the Nevada State Line.  Interstate 8 obviously doesn't work since the Route 8 displayed in Hill Valley is signed as a through surface route.  None of the Signed County Routes of A8, D8, E8, G8, J8, N8 and S8 even remotely come close to US 395.  For reference US Route 395 was cut back to it's current terminus at I-15 near Hesperia at some point after 1975.  For real world map references of the truncation of US 395 see the article below regarding the history of the Cabrillo Freeway:

California State Route 163;Old US Route 395 on the Cabrillo Freeway

Digging even deeper into Legislative Route Numbers prior to the 1964 State Highway Renumbering LRN 8 doesn't fit the bill either.  LRN 8 was defined in 1909 as a highway spanning from Ignacio (modern Novato) to Napa which are nowhere close to the corridor of US 395.  LRN 8 today is part of CA 37, CA 121 and CA 12.

CAhighways.org on LRN 8

One might assume that the US 8 shield was an error for US 6 which would place Hill Valley as an analog for Bishop of Inyo County.  US 6 used to multiplex US 395 south of Bishop until the 1964 State Highway Renumbering truncated it's present location.  The main problem with the US 6 theory is that the 1885 railroad map from Back-to-the-Future Part III which displays Hill Valley has it located on the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


The Central Pacific Railroad was part of the First Transcontinental Railroad which which ran from the Western Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, CA east to Ogden, UT.  The Central Pacific Railroad ran east of Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via Donner Pass.  The Central Pacific Railroad was under construction from 1863 through 1869 when it connected to the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah.  For reference the Central Pacific began leasing it's lines to the Southern Pacific in 1885 before eventually being annexed by them in the following decade.

The only US Routes which would have in theory connected with the route of the Central Pacific would have been US 40 and US 99E.  With all the above in mind, the grand conclusion about the location of Hill Valley after looking into a little bit of highway and rail history that it is simply movie gibberish.  The fact that Hill Valley is located within walking distance of a desert complicates matters further since none of the Central Pacific route in California came close to such terrain.  While the Back-to-the-Future movies series is unarguably a classic it just goes to show that locations often depicted in popular media often fall far short in the area of proper highway signage.

Incidentally the current prop structure on the Universal Studios back lot doesn't really resemble how it looks in the Back-to-the-Future movies anymore.


Comments

Anonymous said…
The back lot at Universal Studios burned somewhere around 2007. The fire included the original BTTF courthouse set. When Universal rebuilt the burned area, the new courthouse didn't look like the old one
Anonymous said…
Isn't Auburn or Grass Valley halfway from Sacramento and Reno be candidates for the fictional Hill Valley though?
Unknown said…
The closest to reality would have been in Mission Valley in San Diego !!! The 163, the 395 and the 15 all cross over the 8 there ... Lol

Popular posts from this blog

Paper Highways; California State Route 1 through the Lost Coast

For all the accolades and praise that California State Route 1 gets for being a top notch coastal highway one fact tends to get overlooked; the highway was never finished!  In this edition of Paper Highways we look at the failed path of California State Route 1 through the Lost Coast.



Part 1; the history of Legislative Route 56 and California Route 1 through the Lost Coast

The Lost Coast region consists of the undeveloped coastal areas of Humboldt County, Mendocino County, and the King Range.  The Lost Coast region roughly spans from near Rockport in Mendocino County north to Ferndale of Humboldt County.  The Lost Coast region is known for having rugged terrain which rivals what is seen in Big Sur.  The Lost Coast has several small communities such as; Shelter Cove, Whitehorn, and Petrolia.

In 1933 Legislative Route 56 was extended south to LRN 2 (US 101) near Las Cruces and north to Ferndale to LRN 1 (also US 101).  Prior to 1933 the legislative description of LRN 56 had it's nort…

US Route 99 to Visalia?...

Something that I noticed awhile back while doing map research regarding US Route 99 in Fresno was that the highway intended to be originally routed through the City of Visalia.



The early originally planned alignment of US Route 99 in Visalia

To be clear US 99 was never actually routed through Visalia and ended up bypassing the City in favor of a direct route from Goshen southeast to Tulare.  US 99 within San Joaquin Valley was aligned over Legislative Route 4 which in turn was added to the State Highway System as part of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act.  LRN 4 for a time was aligned through Visalia via; Mineral King Avenue, Main Street, and Mooney Boulevard.  This early alignment of LRN 4 through Visalia can be seen on the 1924 Division of Highways State Map.


The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925.  The US Route System with in California was approved by California Highway Commission with no changes recommended…