One of the more intriguing mysteries of the early US Route System in California is where the original south terminus of US Route 91 was intended to be located in the Mojave Desert. Since the emergence of the AASHTO Database the entire history of US Route 91 in the California Mojave Desert has finally come to light.
During the drafting phases of the US Route System in 1925 the Joint Board on Interstate Highways ultimately decided several facets of what would become it's numbering convention:
- Odd one or two digit numbers would denote a north/south route.
- Even one or two digit numbers would denote a east/west route.
- X1 numbers would denote major north/south routes.
- X0 numbers would denote major east/west routes.
- Spur highways of one or two digit routes would be assigned a third digit. Example; US Route 199 ("US 199") is a child route of US 99.
- Odd numbers would begin at 1 on the East Coast and ascend westward.
- Even numbers would begin at near the Canadian Border at 2 and ascend southward.
- The numbering of the US Route System would ultimately infer a position within the Country to aid navigation.
By October of 1925 the Joint Board on Interstate Highways submitted a final report to the Secretary of the Department Agriculture. Part of the final report regarding the US Route System would be a list of routing points for all purposed US Routes. The full list of the US Routes originally submitted in October of 1925 can be viewed on the link below:
Report of Joint Board on Interstate Highways; October 30th, 1925
While the US Route System submitted in October of 1925 was fairly close to what was implemented in November of 1926 there was some significant differences. The most glaring or "well known" difference is that US 60 was planned on the routing which ultimately became US 66. Regarding US 91 the routing points were clear aside from the southern terminus in the Mojave Desert of California. In the October 1925 report submitted by the Joint Board on Interstate Highways US 91 is shown simply as ending at US 60:
The US Route System within
California was approved by California Highway Commission with no changes
recommended which can be seen in the January 1926 California Highways & Public Works.
US Route 91 was stated to enter California and end near Needles.
The planned route of US 91 south from Great Falls, Montana to Las Vegas, Nevada is very clear in the 1925 Report. That said, south of Las Vegas the routing of US 91 was at best open to interpretation. Ultimately two existing roads south of Las Vegas to what was planned as US 60 were immediately available; the Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road towards Daggett or the Arrowhead Trail which was aligned directly south into California to Bannock. The Arrowhead Trail was multiplexed with the National Park-to-Park Highway and Evergreen National Highway which can be seen on the 1924 Rand McNally Map of California. Below the Arrowhead Trail is listed as "18," the National Park-to-Park Highway as "64" and Evergreen National Highway as "20."
The Arrowhead Trail was a Auto Trail which was plotted out in 1915 when Charles H. Bigelow (race car driver and promoter) drove the entire route planned route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The Arrowhead Trails Association would incorporate as an Auto Trail organizer based out of Los Angeles in December of 1916. The Arrowhead Trail largely followed the path of the Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road but detoured significantly south of Las Vegas via Nevada State Route 5 ("NV 5") towards Bannock. By 1920 the "Silver Lake Cutoff" of the Arrowhead Trail was proposed as a means of to saving 90 miles by connecting the highway from Las Vegas directly southwest to Daggett. The Silver Lake Cutoff was similar to the previous Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road but followed a more northern path to utilize the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad sidings of Silver Lake as a waypoint. This new routing of the Arrowhead Trail via the Silver Lake Cutoff was ultimately paved with oiled earth in 1925 by San Bernardino County.
The precursor to the Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road was 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 ultimately utilized much of the established trade routes of the Old Spanish Trail through the Mojave Desert. 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 Road by 1855 and was capable of facilitating wagon travel. The Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road utilized Soda Lake as a waypoint given it had a natural spring which also brought it towards a junction with the Mojave Road at the "Forks of the Road." The Los Angeles-Salt Road largely fell into disuse when the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was constructed between 1903 through 1905. The Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road can be seen on 1873 Bancroft's Map of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Ultimately what drove the decision to route US 91 via the Arrowhead Trail to Daggett appears to be the extension of Legislative Route 31 ("LRN 31") by the California Legislature. According to CAhighways.org LRN 31 was first adopted as a State Highway during the 1916 Second State Highway Bond Act between the San Bernardino County line northeast to Barstow. In 1925 the Legislature approved an extension of LRN 31 from Barstow to the Nevada State Line.
The new extension of LRN 31 from Barstow to the Nevada State Line appears as an unbuilt Legislative Act Road on the 1926 California Highway Commission Map.
The 1927 National Map Company Sectional Map shows US 91 entering California via NV 6 southwest over what had been the Arrowhead Trail. US 91 is shown traversing through the Mojave Desert via; Francis Springs, Silver Lake, and Bitter Spring headed southwest to Daggett and US 66.
The 1927 State of Nevada Department of Highways Map shows US 91 entering California via NV 6 and using the Arrowhead Trail via Silver Lake.
The 1930 Division of Highways Map of California shows US 91 routed onto a partially completed and largely unimproved route of LRN 31 from Barstow via Baker. LRN 31 would much more closely follow the path of the Los Angeles-Salt Lake Road than the Silver Lake Cutoff had.
The AASHO Database shows that the California State Highway Engineer sent a letter to the AASHO Executive Committee on January 24th, 1930 requesting that the south terminus of US 91 be moved from Daggett to Barstow. The existing US 91/LRN 31 between Yermo and Daggett was slated to be relinquished as a State Highway.
According to a letter sent to the California State Highway Engineer dated November 11th, 1930 the AASHO Executive Committee approved changing the terminus of US 91 from Daggett to Barstow on May 25th, 1930. Strangely the AASHO did not advise the California State Highway Engineer of their approval of the terminus change to US 91 (seems familiar in the context of modern email).
US 91/LRN 31 was ultimately relocated over an extension of 1st Avenue in Barstow via the Barstow Overhead. The Barstow Overhead is discussed in detail in the June 1930 California Highways & Public Works. This new alignment of US 91/LRN 31 via the Barstow Overhead had the highway terminate via 1st Avenue at US 66/LRN 58 in downtown Barstow. The Barstow Overhead provided a grade separation of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad ("ATSF") which US 91/LRN 31 did not previously have at Daggett. The Barstow Overhead is stated to have opened on April 28th, 1930.
US 91 was joined by US 466 between the Nevada State Line southward to the outskirts of Barstow. US 466 ultimately would split west from US 91 at the outskirts of Barstow towards Tehachapi Pass and did not cross the Barstow Overhead. The first documents acknowledging the existence of US 466 in California can be found during October/November 1933 in the AASHO Database.
The 1934 Division of Highways Map of California shows US 91 mostly paved and fully graded on LRN 31 between Barstow and Baker. Notably US 466 does not make an appearance on the 1934 Division of Highways Map.
Ultimately US 91 was approved to be extended southward from Barstow to US 6 in Long Beach by the AASHO Executive Committee during June of 1947. The extension of US 91 to Long Beach was as far as the highway would get before it began to be consumed by the 1964 California State Highway Renumbering and construction of Interstate 15.
In 2012 I took a picture of US 95 meeting the former alignment of US 66 near Bannock on what had been planned as the south terminus of US 91 at US 60. Said junction is known today as "Arrowhead Junction."