Baker is a former siding of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad located in the Mojave Desert of northern San Bernardino County, California. Former US Route 91 and US Route 466 originally were aligned through the community of Baker via Baker Boulevard. Following the construction of Interstate 15 the terminus of US Route 91 and US Route 466 were shifted around Baker for several years. This blog examines the history of US Route 91 and US Route 466 within the community Baker.
Part 1; the history of US Route 91 and US Route 466 through Baker
As noted in the intro Baker was a siding of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad which incorporated on July 19th, 1904. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was spurred by interests by the Francis Marion Smith of the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The Pacific Coast Borax Company would locate the Lila C. Mine in 1901 in the Black Mountains near the eastern outskirts of Death Valley. The Lila C. Mine was located 135 miles from the nearest railroad line in Ivanpah, California. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was plotted with the intent to reach the Lila C. Mine and eventually northward towards the Bullfrog Mining District, Goldfield and Tonopah. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad intended to eventually reach San Diego hence why "Tidewater" appears in it's name.
The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was initially planned to be built from Las Vegas, Nevada by agreement with the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. Several miles of line of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad were constructed in 1905 before the agreement to connect with the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad fell through. The initial southern terminus of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was subsequently changed to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (previously the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad) at Ludlow, California. This realignment of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad took it directly northward to Soda Lake The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad reached the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad siding of Crucero by 1906 and was constructed north to Death Valley Junction by 1907. Ultimately the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad would merge with the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad in 1908 which brought it northward to Goldfield, Nevada. Baker would be constructed as a siding of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad on the north shore of Soda Lake in 1908.
What ultimately became the US Route System was first discussed during the American Association of State Highway Officials ("AASHO") annual 1924 meeting. The AASHO recommended to the Department of Agriculture to work with the States to develop a system of Interstate Highways to replace the many Auto Trails in use. The Joint Board on Interstate Highways was ultimately commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and it's branch agency the Bureau of Public Roads in March of 1925. The Joint Board on Interstate Highways first met in April of 1925 and decided on the new interstate road network would be known as "U.S. Highways."
During the drafting phases of the US Route System in 1925 the Joint Board on Interstate Highways 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 siding 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. As the early US Route System was still in the works it appeared that US 91 would ultimately follow NV 5 via the National Park-to-Park Highway and Evergreen National Highway to US 60 near Bannock. This 1925 Rand McNally Highway Map shows the projected route of US 91 entering California via NV 5 on the National Park-to-Park Highway and Evergreen National Highway to a south terminus at US 60 in Bannock. 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. Notably the planned route of LRN 31 appears to have been originally proposed to enter the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad siding of Soda Lake (now Zzyzx) via Soda Lake instead of Baker or Silver Lake.
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 by bypassing Baker through the Mojave Desert via; Francis Springs, Silver Lake, and Bitter Spring headed southwest to Daggett and US 66. LRN 31 is shown as being graded between Barstow northward to Baker. 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 January 1928 California Highways & Public Works
notes the alignment of US 91 on LRN 31 in California. US 91 is stated to have enter California via NV 6 through Jean towards Baker. From Baker US 91 followed LRN 31 southward to Daggett. This alignment would have taken US 91/LRN 31 through Baker via Baker Boulevard.
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.
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. 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 91paved 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.
In 1913 the Lila C. Mine was no longer viable which led to the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad attempting to extend the spur from Death Valley Junction to Ryan (on Dante's Peak Road). Ultimately extension of this line was blocked which led to a new narrow gauge line known as the Death Valley Railroad being constructed from Death Valley Junction to Ryan in 1914. The decline of mining in the Bullfrog Mining District, Goldfield and Tonopah led to the abandonment of the Tonopah & Tidewater north of Beatty, Nevada by 1928. In 1933 Death Valley National Monument was created which placed a barrier to Borax Mining in Death Valley. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad attempted to linger on as a tourism line to Death Valley National Monument but it did not prove viable. The remainder of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was approved for abandonment by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1940. Unlike most of the sidings of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad the community of Baker easily outlived it's parent line due to being on the major highway corridor of US 91/466.
US 91/466 through Baker during the mid-20th Century would become a major corridor of travel as the multiplex was the primary connecting route from Las Vegas to the interior of Southern California. In the original version of the Interstate Highway System the route of US 91/466 from Barstow north to the Nevada State Line was approved as a chargeable Interstate on July 7th, 1947. Ultimately original version the Interstate Highway System was not legislatively approved.
In the events leading to the 1956 Federal Highway Aid Act the alignment of US 91/466 north of Barstow to the Nevada State Line was retained as a planned Interstate. This 1955 planning map shows the potential Interstate north of Barstow to the Nevada State Line as a being planned as a four-lane limited access road slated to be complete by 1965. Ultimately the Federal Highway Aid Act was signed into law on June 29th, 1956. US 91/466 from Barstow north to the Nevada State Line was assigned to become part of Interstate 15 ("I-15").
The September/October 1961 California Highways & Public Works announced the opening of the Baker Grade as a full freeway alignment of US 91/US 466/I-15. This new segment of US 91/US 466/I-15 is stated to have been 25 miles in length originating from the eastern outskirts of Baker towards Halloran Summit at Cima Road. Previous to being upgraded to a freeway the segment of US 91/466 northeast from Baker towards Halloran Summit was known as "Bloody Baker Grade" due to the high number of accidents seen on the busy roadway. During the 1964 State Highway Renumbering the Legislative Route Numbers were dropped from the State Highway System. The 1964 Division of Highways State Map shows US 91/US 466 from Barstow to the Nevada State Line legislatively defined as part of Route 15. US 91 is shown truncated from Long Beach to Barstow. It is not clear when/if US 91 was approved for truncation by the AASHO Executive Committee.
US 466 was approved for truncation from Morro Bay to CA 127 in Baker by the AASHO Executive Committee during June 1964. This truncation would see US 466 terminate on Baker Boulevard at the intersection with CA 127/Death Valley Road.
I-15 was announced as being completed to freeway standards north of Barstow in the September/October 1965 California Highways & Public Works. The articles cites a 18 mile segment of recently opened freeway through Baker which relocated US 91/I-15 to a bypass of the community. Numerous photos of the recently completed I-15 north of Barstow are shown. Much of the early history of US 91, LRN 31 and the Arrowhead Trail is also recapped. The bypass route of US 91/I-15 would move the terminus of US 466 in Baker to the CA 127 Exit at Death Valley Road.
The AASHO Executive Committee approved a Division of Highways request to truncate US 91 to CA 127 in Baker on November 27th, 1966. The truncation of US 91 saw it terminate with US 466 at the CA 127 Exit on I-15.
US 91 can be seen truncated to CA 127 in Baker on the 1967 Division of Highways Map. Oddly the 1967 Division of Highways Map shows no indication of US 466.
On December 4th, 1971 US 466 was eliminated as a US Route by the AASHO Executive Committee. This request was made by the Division of Highways in reference to the remaining segment of US 466 multiplexed with I-15 to CA 127 in Baker. The Division of Highways request to eliminate US 466 was made in concurrence with the States of Arizona and Nevada.
During May of 1974 Caltrans petitioned the AASHO to truncate US 91 from California. This request by Caltrans was made alongside additional requests to truncate US 91 from Nevada and Arizona which were heard during the June 1974 AASHO Executive Committee Meeting. This ultimately led to US 91 being truncated from CA 127 in Baker northward to Brigham City, Utah.
Part 2; exploring former US Route 91 and US Route 466 in Baker
From I-15 southbound former US 91/466 on Baker Boulevard can be accessed via Exit 248.
Former US 91/466 on Baker Boulevard enters the community of Baker as the I-15 Business Route. South of the Van Ella Road intersection the notable Alien Fresh Jerky can be located on Baker Boulevard. Alien Fresh Jerky is a novelty beef jerky store which has an obvious alien motif. Alien Fresh Jerky was originally established in 2000 Crystal Springs, Nevada and moved to Baker in 2002.
South of Alien Fresh Jerky the World's Tallest Thermometer can be found on Baker Boulevard.
The World's Tallest Thermometer was built in 1991 by the Young Electric Sign Company. The World's Tallest Thermometer features a height of 134 feet which is a reference to the record high temperature measured in Death Valley on July 10th, 1913.
Former US 91/466 on Baker Boulevard intersects CA 127/Death Valley Road south of the World's Tallest Thermometer. From 1964 until the Baker Bypass opened in 1965 this would have been the south terminus of US 466.
Former US 91/466 on Baker Boulevard south of CA 127/Death Valley Road crosses a 1940s era bridge and merges back in with I-15. San Bernardino is signed as 132 miles due south from Baker.
As noted in Part 1 when the Baker Bypass was completed in 1965 it saw the terminus of US 466 shift to Exit 246 at CA 127/Death Valley Road. US 91 was truncated to Exit 246 in 1966 along a multiplex with I-15 and US 466. US 466 would be removed from this terminus point in 1971 and US 91 by 1974.