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US Route 95 and the desolation of the ION Highway

US Route 95 north of Winnemucca, Nevada through Oregon to the outskirts of Marsing, Idaho travels approximately 220 miles through what is known as the Idaho-Oregon-Nevada Highway ("ION Highway").  The ION Highway segment of US Route 95 is one of the most desolate stretches of US Route which traverses the remote terrains of the Great Basin Desert, the high deserts of Malheur County, the Owyhee River, Jordan Valley, and Owyhee Mountains.  

Part 1; the history of the ION Highway expansion of US Route 95

The history of the ION Highway begins in the 1860s during the mining booms of the Comstock Lode in Nevada and Silver City of the Owyhee Mountains in what was Idaho Territory.  The "ION Cutoff" was established as a connecting stage route between Virginia City, Nevada and Silver City, Idaho by way of the Humboldt River at the site of what would become Winnemucca, Nevada in 1868.  As noted in the intro the name "ION" refers to "Idaho-Oregon-Nevada" which the stage route served as a cutoff via Oregon.  

Several military encampments were established during the Snake War (1864-68) along the path of the ION Cutoff to protect travelers on the highway.  The most prominent of these military encampments was Fort McDermitt which was established in August 1865 near the Nevada/Oregon State Line.  The ION Cutoff can be seen on the 1873 Bancroft's Map of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona in addition to the 1872 Bancroft's Map of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia connecting the Central Pacific Railroad in Winnemucca, Nevada to Silver City, Idaho.  

Fort McDermit was disbanded in July of 1889 after the conclusions of the Snake War, the 1872-73 Modoc War, and the 1878 Bannock War.  The decline of the Comstock Lode Mines around Virginia City and Silver City in the late 1870s led to a drop in travel along the ION Cutoff.  The ION Cutoff would decline to large enough of an extent that it never was part of any organized early 20th-century Auto-Trail.  The ION Cutoff doesn't even appear as a major road on the 1924 Rand McNally Highway Maps of Oregon.

The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925 which did not include the ION Cutoff.  Part of the ION Cutoff was assigned to part of Nevada State Route 8 ("NV 8") on the 1926 Rand McNally Highway Map of California and Nevada.  NV 8 is shown to be graded north of Winnemucca to Amos.  

The ION Cutoff doesn't appear with any State Highway designations in Oregon and Idaho on the 1925 Rand McNally Map of Washington and Oregon.

In November of 1926, the US Route System was approved by the AASHO.  US Route 95 ("US 95") originally had a southern terminus at Fruitland, Idaho which can be observed on the 1927 Rand McNally Map of Idaho.

The 1931 Clason's Highway Map of Idaho shows the ION Cutoff realigned in Oregon north from Jordan Valley towards Rockville, Adrian, and Nyssa.  Idaho State Route 20 ("ID 20") is shown originating at the Oregon State Line in the Owyhee Mountains northeast towards Marsing and Nampa.  

According to the History of Highways in Oregon Document, ION Highway #456 was added to the Oregon State Highway System on August 25th, 1933.   Twenty miles of the ION Cutoff were immediately added as a State Highway from the Nevada State Line northward.  The original description of ION Highway #456 was described as follows:

An additional six miles of State Highway were added to ION Highway #456 north of McDermitt and the Nevada State Line on November 1, 1934.

2.4 miles of State Highway were added to ION Highway #456 from Malloy's Ranch to ID 20 at the Idaho State Line in the Owyhee Mountains on December 6, 1934.  

On March 10, 1937, the Oregon Highway Commission assigned US Route 95 to ION Highway #456.  This measure was implemented without the official approval of the AASHO.   

I.O.N Highway #456 is shown graded from NV 8 and McDermitt northward Battle Mountain on the 1937 Gousha Map of Oregon.  The same map displays part of ION Highway #456 designated as Oregon Route 201 from Jordan Valley north towards Rockville.

In a letter dated October 4, 1938, the Nevada State Highway Engineer requested information from the AASHO Executive Secretary about a 1937 request to extend US Route 95 ("US 95") through Nevada.  The origin point for the proposed extension of US 95 is shown to be the ION Highway at McDermitt at the Oregon/Nevada State Line.  The AASHO Executive Secretary replied on October 8, 1937, indicating that the Oregon Department of Transportation stated that ION Highway #456 was not ready to facilitate automotive travel.  The AASHO Executive Committee's opinion was to hold off on the extension of US 95 until ION Highway #456 was completed in Oregon.  

OR 201 is shown signed over the completed segments of ION Highway #456 on the 1939 Rand McNally Map of Oregon.  A new direct alignment of the ION Highway #456 from Jordan Valley to Rome bypassing Arock can be seen along with a completed segment north from McDermitt to Blue Mountain Pass.  

On May 20, 1939, the Nevada State Highway Engineer again petitioned the AASHO Executive Committee to extend US 95 into Nevada.  The Nevada State Highway Engineer noted NV 8 had been fully paved from Winnemucca to the Oregon State Line since 1936 and was ready to be assigned as US 95 despite ION Highway #456 not being completed.  

The Nevada State Highway Engineer's letter was met with a reply by the AASHO Executive Secretary on May 24, 1939.  The Executive Secretary stated once notification of the completion of ION Highway #456 was received from the Oregon Department of Transportation the AASHO Executive Committee would likely take action to extend US 95.

A letter dated June 2, 1939, from the AASHO Executive Secretary to the State Highway engineers of; California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho noted the proposed alignment of US 95 south to Blythe, California.  A separate letter to the Nevada State Highway Engineer notes that a last-minute request was made to extend US 93 south of Las Vegas to the California State Line via Searchlight over NV 5 instead of US 95.  


A letter dated June 10th, 1939, by the AASHO Executive Secretary to the President of the AASHO states that the Nevada State Highway Engineer attempted to get US 95 into Nevada before the completion of ION Highway #456 under the pretenses that a like interim measure was permitted for the extension of US 6.  ION Highway #456 is noted to have an anticipated completion sometime during 1940.  

The AASHO Executive Secretary advised the Highway Engineers of; California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho in a letter dated July 7, 1939, that the AASHO Executive Committee approved the extension of US 95 to Blythe, California.  

On November 21, 1939, the Oregon Highway Commission approved assigning ION Highway #456 as US 95.  

US 95 appears assigned over NV 8, ION Highway #456, and ID 20 on the 1940 Rand McNally Map of Oregon.  A small portion of the ungraded road is shown carrying US 95 from Crooked Creek northeast to Rome.  

The 1944 Rand McNally Map of Oregon shows US 95 and ION Highway #456 had been realigned north of Crooked Creek to modern Burns Junction.

Part 2; a drive on US Route 95/ION Highway from Winnemucca, Nevada to Marsing, Idaho

The ION Highway segment of US 95 begins in the Great Basin Desert from Interstate 80 eastbound/US 95 northbound Exit 176 in Winnemucca onto Winnemucca Boulevard and the Interstate 80 Business Route.  

US 95/ION Highway follows the former US 40 on Winnemucca Boulevard into downtown Winnemucca.  At Malarkey Street US 95/ION Highway northbound makes a left-hand turn in front of the Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Map.  

As described by Doug Kerr in his feature titled, "Winnemucca to the Sea:"

"The Winnemucca to the Sea Highway was conceived as an idea to establish a continuous, improved route branching from what was then US Highway 40 (now I-80) in Winnemucca, Nevada to the Pacific Coast in Crescent City, California. This highway was to span 494 miles as it crossed through deserts, mountains, and forests on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Community leaders from points along this proposed highway formed the Winnemucca to the Sea Highway Association, which worked with state and local governments to obtain funding for the planning, construction, and upgrade of the highway. The original proposal was to create one highway, numbered 140, which was to be applied to the complete route as the parent major US highway was coast-to-coast US-40, the Victory Highway. However, this idea never fully came to fruition. Currently, a traveler driving on the Winnemucca to the Sea Highway actually follows seven different highway numbers, which are US 95, NV 140, OR 140, US 395, OR 62, I-5, US 199, and US 101, hitting southern Oregon cities like Klamath Falls, Medford, and Grants Pass on its way between Winnemucca and Crescent City. However, the association did work towards getting several improvements made, such as the paving of the highway. For instance, in 1962, the paving of 117 miles from Lakeview, Oregon to Denio, Nevada had been completed. The Winnemucca to the Sea Highway was dedicated in September of 1962 at Doherty Slide, just east of Lakeview."

The Winnemucca-to-the-Sea Map depicts the alignment of the highway from Winnemucca westward to Crescent City, California.  As noted above Winnemucca was plotted in 1868 as a siding of the Central Pacific Railroad along the First Transcontinental Railroad.  Winnemucca is the only incorporated city in Humboldt County and became the County Seat in 1873.  

US 95/ION Highway follows Malarkey Street north out of downtown Winnemucca passing under Interstate 80, over the Humboldt River, and over the First Transcontinental Railroad.  

McDermitt is signed as 74 miles away on US 95/ION Highway northbound departing downtown Winnemucca.

US 95/ION Highway departing Winnemucca is designated as the Veterans Memorial Highway.  Several miles north of Winnemucca US 95/ION Highway intersects NV 795.  

US 95/ION Highway north of NV 795 is signed as 20 miles from NV 290, 29 miles from NV 140, and 254 miles from Boise.

US 95/ION Highway jogs immediately northward to NV 290 at Mile Marker 22.

US 95/ION Highway northbound climbs from NV 290 to the 4,907-foot-high Paradise Summit.  

US 95/ION Highway north of Paradise Summit intersects NV 140.

US 95/ION Highway north of NV 140 is signed as 12 miles from Orovada and 42 miles from McDermitt.

US 95/ION Highway northbound approaching Orovada intersects a Rest Area.

Sawtooth Mountain of the Santa Rosa Range is easily observed from the US 95/ION Highway Rest Area.  

US 95/ION Highway northbound passes through the small community of Orovada.  Orovada was settled in 1918 and takes its name from the Spanish word for "Gold" in addition to "Nevada."

US 95/ION Highway north of Orovada passes through the Fort McDermitt Paiute/Shoshone Indian Reservation.  

As it approaches the Oregon State Line, US 95/ION Highway enters the community of McDermitt.  The present community of McDermitt is located approximately five miles west of Fort McDermitt and traditionally had an economy based on mining.  The last mine near McDermitt closed in 1990 which has led to a large population decline.  The Nevada/Oregon State Line bisects McDermitt which places the community in both states.

Upon entering Malheur County, Oregon US 95/ION Highway is signed as 101 miles from Jordan Valley and 183 miles from Boise.  

US 95/ION Highway northbound climbs from the Great Basin Desert via Blue Mountain Pass located at 5,293 feet above sea level. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound crosses into the Mountain Time Zone at approximately Mile Marker 78.  The segments of Malheur County closest to Boise are the only part of Oregon that adheres to Mountain Standard Time.  

The reverse view on US 95/ION Highway southbound towards the Pacific Time Zone. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound crosses Crooked Creek near its original ungraded alignment. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound traffic approaching OR 78 at Burns Junction is advised of a truck length restriction which requires a detour to US 395.  Burns Junction has an ODOT weigh station, but the community essentially has no operating services and functionally is a ghost town.  

US 95/ION Highway departing Burns Junction swings northeast and is signed as 45 miles from Jordan Valley and 130 miles from Boise.

US 95/ION Highway northbound snakes through a series of badlands to the community of Rome on the Owyhee River.  Rome takes its name from a nearby formation known as the "Pillars of Rome."  The Rome Post Office opened for service in 1909 but has since been consolidated with Jordan Valley.  Jordan Valley is signed as 33 miles from Rome at the Owyhee River. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound climbs from the Owyhee River onto a plateau south of Jordan Creek. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound passes by Arock Road which accesses the community of the same name on the Old ION Highway.  Much of the Old ION Highway from Rome northeast to Jordan Valley follows the northern banks of Jordan Creek.  Arock took its community name in 1922 from what is claimed to be inspiration from a petroglyph found in the area.  

US 95/ION Highway northbound descends from Arock Road and intersects Antelope Reservoir Road upon crossing Ash Creek. 

US 95/ION Highway northbound crosses Jordan Creek and intersects the Old ION Highway at what is now signed as Danner Loop Road.  

US 95/ION Highway northbound enters the City of Jordan Creek where it makes a left-hand turn onto Bassett Street. 

Jordan Valley was a center of the conflicts of resources during the Snake War in the 1860s between the Native Tribes and European settlers.  In 1863 gold was discovered in Jordan Creek by prospectors which led to the establishment of a community named after party member Michael M. Jordan.  A toll road facility was operated at Jordan Valley via the ION Cutoff to Silver City until it was taken over by Owyhee County officials in Idaho in 1878.  Jordan Valley was incorporated as a city in 1911.  The economy of Jordan Valley largely transitioned to ranching since the 1870s but saw a return to mining operations when the DeLamar Mine opened in 1977.  The DeLamar Mine shuttered for a final time in 1999 which has led to a sharp population decline in Jordan Valley.

The Pelota Frontone was constructed as a ballcourt by Basque immigrants to Jordan Valley in 1915.

An older building in Jordan Valley is located along US 95.

Departing Jordan Valley US 95/ION Highway swings generally northward and is signed as 85 miles from Boise.  

North of Jordan Valley US 95/ION Highway intersects Silver City Road.  Silver City is signed as 25 miles to the east in the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho.

Silver City was founded in 1864 after the discovery of Silver near War Eagle Mountain.  Silver City was the Owyhee County, Idaho seat from 1867 until 1934.  Silver City once had a population approaching 2,500 full-time residents but largely is considered a semi-active ghost town in modern times.  Silver City can be seen in an 1892 photo sourced from the University of Idaho Library. 

US 95/ION Highway tracks northward and crosses Succor Creek near the Idaho State Line.  Succor Creek Road is signed as access to Succor Creek State Park.  

US 95/ION Highway swings northeast from Succor Creek to the Idaho State Line and Owyhee County.  

US 95/ION Highway northbound is signed as 28 miles from Marsing and 61 miles from Boise upon entering Idaho.

US 95/ION Highway enters the Owyhee Mountains and picks up the course of Little Squaw Creek.  From a vista, the Old ION Highway can be observed straddling the cliffs above Little Squaw Creek.  A historic information sign notes that "Owyhee" is an older spelling of the word "Hawaii."  The Owyhee Mountains are named after Hawaiian fur trappers who disappeared in the area in 1818.  

Much of the modern US 95/Ion Highway north through the Owyhee Mountains bisects the Old ION Highway via a large, excavated cut.  US 95/ION Highway northbound descends through the Owyhee Mountains and emerges into Snake River Valley on the outskirts of Marsing to ID 55.  As the ION Highway segment of US 95 reaches its end traffic heading towards Boise is directed to take ID 55 eastbound through Marsing. 


Unknown said…
I am trying to find a legible map of the OLD ION highway through Oregon. I am planning on driving it in May 2023. Cannot use my phone's gps because there is no connectivity in much of the route so a paper map would be great. Thanks for any help.

Anonymous said…
Please note “it’s” is not the possessive of “it.”

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