Above photo: Boles Creek flows under Grove Street in Weed. Grove Street carried the first routing of US 97 into Weed.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
During the past couple of months, I have spent what little bit of free time I’ve had chasing down some benchmarks, determining the early routing of US 97 through Weed, California, and doing a little exploration of former US 99W and US 99E. I still have some research to do on the aforementioned section of US 97, as well as some pictures to take, but I hope to have a post up in the next month or so on that subject. If you are a member of the Facebook group “California Historic Highways” you’ve seen some results of my research already posted to that group in the past few weeks.
Benchmarks: I added benchmark W 494 to the Siskiyou County, California Survey Marks page. This benchmark is near the first routing of US 97 outside of Weed, after the southern terminus of 97 was moved from Ashland, Oregon, to Weed in 1934.
I also added new pages for Butte and Tehama counties in California. The first benchmark listed in the Butte County page is near the crossing of an abandoned branch of the Sacramento Northern Railway over CA State Route 99 (ex-US 99E).
New blog post: Lake Shasta Artifacts, 9 December 2021. A visit to a segment of historical US 99 left high and dry by the receding waters of Lake Shasta, as well as a railroad tunnel that is also accessible.
All photographs by Denis Fabbrini unless otherwise indicated.
At the beginning of November, I made a trip down to Lake Shasta to explore some of the old infrastructure uncovered by the drought conditions much of the West has been suffering from in the past couple of years. Lake Shasta has been a levels only really seen in the past decades – 2014, I believe, and the great drought of 1976-77. Stuff that has emerged from the waters include old highways, bridges, and railroad beds and tunnels. Unfortunately, much of the area surrounding the lake was engulfed in wildfires throughout this past summer, with national forest closures making access to much of the lake and these historic sites pretty tough.
At the beginning of November, I was finally able to make it down to the lake and spend a few hours exploring a couple of sites of interest with a fellow roadgeeker, Eric Hall, from Redding.
This spot is located in a drainage off the west side of the McCloud River Arm of Lake Shasta. The 1915 Pacific Highway and the 1926 US 99 routing drops off a ridge heading south down to the McCloud River, then along the north side of the Pit River, until it crossed the Pit near what is now Bridge Bay, under the shadow of the present I-5 Pit River Bridge. This routing was replaced when Shasta Dam was built and required that US 99 be moved to higher ground, along with 26 miles of Southern Pacific trackage. The new routing opened in January 1943.
We found this segment from the Bailey Cove boat ramp down to the water level of that day to be in remarkable condition. Some stretches were nearly intact, while other pieces were partially washed away or still covered in 10 to 12 feet of silt deposits. Eric and I believe that part of the road had been uncovered by grading over the summer to allow boaters to reach the receding waters.
Southern Pacific Railroad Tunnel 6
After concluding our exploration of the Bailey Cove area, we drove up Interstate 5 to Antlers to check out one of the old railroad tunnels exposed by the receding waters. Tunnel 6 is located just north of what was the confluence of the Sacramento River and Charlie Creek. Today, the tunnel can be reached by driving south on Lakeshore Drive south of Antlers about 1 mile. After passing the US Forest Service Lakeshore Station, make a hard left just before crossing the Charlie Creek Bridge. A high clearance vehicle is recommended to travel down the river canyon slope to reach the tunnel.
When built by Southern Pacific predecessor Central Pacific in 1884, it was a just basically a hole dug through rock until sometime in the 1920s when concrete headwalls were added. The south end of the tunnel is lined for about 50 feet, whereas the north portal is not. Since being first inundated in 1948, the tunnel has partly filled with silt, raising the floor probably about 10 feet or more. The tunnel is situated in highly metamorphosed shale and slate, more than likely from some old island arc slammed up against the North American plate many millions of years ago. Also impressive is the the trestle high above the canyon that replaced the tunnel necessitated by the flooding the Sacramento River by the Shasta Dam.
Some months back blog posts by Tom Fearer at Gribblenation.org regarding local roads in my area ended up leading me down the proverbial wormhole for more information. I have to say the trip was rewarding. While not answering all my questions about the original subjects – Siskiyou County Road A12 and the first routing of US Route 99 through Weed, California – the search for information resulted in answering a few questions about previous railroads in the area (the Weed Lumber Railroad/Southern Pacific Railroad) and the locations of the first Weed Airport and the long-gone Yreka Airport.
Most of the research involved internet searches for historical maps between the years of 1915 and 1945. While my search started with historical topographic maps at the USGS website, other map sites included the David Rumsey Map Collection, aeronautical charts and airway bulletins at the Library of Congress, as well as posts and articles at Gribblenation and cahighways.org. While my research continues, enough information was accumulated to post a worthy entry about the Yreka Airport on the Siskiyou County Aviation Infrastructure page of this site.
Within the next week, I will also post an entry on the aforementioned page about the original Weed Airport. I had first seen a mention of this airport in the September 1, 1931 Airway Bulletin No. 2. The 1927 (revised 1930) Army Air Corps Air Navigation Map indicates an approximate location of the former airfield, but it was the 1935 California Division of Highways Siskiyou County Highway Map that really helped in nailing down the exact location in a ranch pasture along Old Highway 99/Stewart Springs Road a mile south of the current Weed Airport.
The lesson is that it is the journey through the wormhole can be just as rewarding as the destination. Being mindful that seemingly unrelated resources can result in clues to other research projects should always be kept in mind. The only problem is that usually leads one down other, numerous wormholes!
One of the usually submerged historic highway bridges in Shasta Lake
The Salt Creek Bridge was built on the Pacific Highway in 1925 between what is now Lakehead and Redding. This bridge apparently replaced one built some years earlier, as the older abutments are visible underneath the newer structure. It was later abandoned in 1941, as US Route 99 (the former Pacific Highway) was rerouted in anticipation of Shasta Lake inundating the older route (as happened in 1948).
In dryer or drought years, the Salt Creek Bridge is one of the first submerged artifacts to make its appearance as the lake level falls. It is easily accessible from the Salt Creek exit on Interstate 5. Take Lower Salt Creek Road west for about 3 miles at which point you will come to the bridge underneath the towering Union Pacific railroad trestle.
My visit to the site got a little more interesting, as I ran into a gentleman making casts of footprints in the muddy bank of creek upstream of the bridge. He believed them to be evidence of Bigfoot-like creatures. I have to say the footprint and casting of others he had made in the area didn’t look quite human. He proceeded to show me dozens of pictures of like footprints he had found at numerous sites, as well as other weird things that apparently Bigfoot hunters believe are evidence of the mythical creature actually existing. I came away from the conversation thinking I might have to make my forays into the area forests with a new viewpoint.
All in all, the bridge is in great condition. This is likely due to being submerged in the cold waters of Shasta Lake most of the year. If you decide to drive across the span, beware of the approaches, as there are gaps between the bridge and the road.
I spent an hour or so this afternoon exploring a small section of Edgewood Road going north out of Weed. This used to be US Route 99, before Interstate 5 was built and replaced Highway 99. I concentrated my efforts on one curved section of the road, examining old wooden guard rails, and looking for “C-blocks”, which are old California Division of Highways survey monuments. I did not find any, but I’ll return and spend a little more time in the brush looking for any that might exist.
The general location of my efforts was 41.43049, -122.39933
An accessible, historic, and photogenic bridge worth exploring
Trip dates: November 24 & 25, 2017
The Harlan D Miller Memorial Bridge, known also as the Dog Creek Bridge, is an abandoned concrete arch bridge completed in 1927 as part of US Route 99 just north of Lakehead, Shasta County, California. After Route 99 was replaced by Interstate 5, it carried traffic as part of Interstate 5 until a bridge to the northwest was expanded to accommodate both directions of traffic in 1974. It was abandoned and slated for demolition, until saved due to efforts of concerned citizens, and is now managed by the US Forest Service.
Harlan D Miller (1880-1926) was the State Bridge Engineer for the California Highway Department from 1923 until his untimely death in 1926. During his short tenure as State Bridge Engineer he made radical changes to the way California designed bridges. These changes included requiring all highway bridges in the state be designed by the state and designing bridges that matched the geometry of the roadway. The latter often complicated design fork but the final result (skewed or curved bridges) justified the efforts in drivability.
Miller’s most visible effect on California bridges was the consideration given to design aesthetics. His designs were recognized in their own periods as possessing beauty and boldness. Many fine details can be seen on Miller designed bridges including rail and end post details, as well as clean lines and details of the superstructure design.
When my family relocated to the Bar Area in 1963, I remember driving across this bridge as we traveled to the Mount Shasta region to visit relatives several times per year. After the bridge was decommissioned, it had always been my desire to explore the now abandoned structure. I finally had a chance to do so this past week.
DIRECTIONS & ACCESS
Off Interstate 5, take the Vollmers/Delta exit. Proceed west about a quarter mile and turning left onto Fenders Ferry Road. Drive down along the Dog Creek watershed for about a mile, crossing the creek twice and underneath the I5 span until reaching the historic bridge. Park just before the railroad tracks, and climb up the east side of northern end of the bridge.
According to a couple of other websites, there is supposedly access at the northern end of the bridge from the top, at end of a private road where a Forest Service begins. I checked it out and I’m not comfortable at this time on recommending its use. The adjoining property owners have posted a lot of onerous signage, and have tried to unsuccessfully block the easement. I would be nervous parking my vehicle here. Check this post for updates, as I will attempt to get clarification from the Forest Service regarding use of this easement.
The dichotomy of urbanization and wide open spaces in Southern Arizona has always fascinated me. Within minutes of the hustle and bustle of Tucson, you can find yourself in wide open desert terrain, with an endless view to the horizon; on top of a mountain wilderness, surrounded by towering conifer forests; or in the middle of rural ranchlands and farms, looking more like California’s Central Valley or a Midwest farming state. No more is this apparent than in a drive around the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson.
I’ve been in Tucson for 10 years, and have yet to drive from start to finish Redington Road, or circumnavigate either the Catalinas or the Rincons. I had mentioned to my buddy Rob a few weeks ago that I wanted to accomplish these trips, now that I had gotten my Expedition road trip and somewhat off road ready. We decided on this past Saturday to make the trip, with the objective of getting the lay of the land and scouting out stuff for further exploration, as well as taking a few photos along the way. We met at my house on the Eastside and left at 8:20 am. We had a full take of gas, water, ice, donuts, charged batteries for everything, and no deadline to get back. Some clouds floated in the sky ahead, but nothing threatening, so we forged ahead. Since it was a gorgeous morning with relatively low temps, I thought we’d see more people on Redington Road than we did. We ran across a dozen or so souls from a geocaching club who were doing a clean up along the first few miles of the road, a couple of mountain bikers, and a handful of people engaged in target practice. Other than a 4 or five other vehicles, including a Pima County deputy sheriff, we had the entire length of Redington Road to ourselves. The road was in really good shape, save a couple of spots where rain had created small gulleys (maybe 6 inches deep and a foot wide) in the last couple of nights. There were obvious signs that road crews had done some grading and clearing of washes in the last week. The scenery was just stunning. Very green vegetation was abundant, from thick grasses coating the top of the pass to plump saguaro and dark green ocotillo. Wildflowers were everywhere. We made our way along rather slowly, as we stopped along the way to take pictures and check some side roads out. Just below east of Piety Hill we stopped to drink our coffee and devour our donuts. This video is a view to the east with the Galiuro Mountains across the valley
The water was only about 6 inches deep, not swift, and the river bed seemed firm enough, but since we didn’t have a second vehicle to pull us out or any recovery equipment, we crossed further downstream at the bridge. Cascabel Road is in great shape. The valley floor is green and lush. I didn’t expect to see as many residences this far out of Benson as we did. As you would expect, the people we did see reflected the cross section of those you find in rural Arizona – from ranchers to retirees to old hippies to those trying to stay off the grid. Everyone seemed friendly and waved at us, whether from a passing vehicle or from their front gate. Just south of the Spear Ranch I had noted a cemetery on the topo map on the east side of the road. Along this stretch the road was line on both sides by a bosque, which on the east side of the road climbed up a short bluff. I jumped out of the truck and wound my way up the hillside through some brush until I came to a fence about 60 feet off the road. Going through the barbed wire I proceeded another 25 feet until I topped the bluff and wa-lah! there was the graveyard. I had only brought my iPhone up the hill, so I went back to the truck to retrieve my camera and Rob, because he had to see this. As one can see in the photos, besides several modern graves, there are 29 unmarked graves that have to date back to the 1850’s. In a history written by Tess Gamez, of the family that owns the land on which the cemetery sits, it’s not known what year the graveyard was established, or what persons are buried in the 29 unmarked graves.
IMG_2281 webThere was no end to the photographic opportunities, as my buddy Rob will attest to.
IMG_2282 webClouds set up some spectacular shots to photograph.
IMG_2286 webA lone cottonwood guards an old water tank near the top of Reddington Pass.
IMG_2293 webThe top of the pass opens into some large grassland areas.
IMG_2298 webMesquite bosques are common throughout Arizona.
IMG_2309 webWe were treated to grand views throughout the trip.
IMG_2310 webThe view as we descended into the San Pedro River Valley.
IMG_1845 webLooking east towards the Galiuro Mountains.
IMG_2314 webA magnificient stand of heritage saguaros.
IMG_2316 webThe San Pedro River.
IMG_2323 webAnother bosque.
IMG_1846 webNo trip in Arizona is complete without a snake in the road.
IMG_2327 webThe Gamez family cemetery.
IMG_2331 webSome of the 29 pioneer graves, occupants unknown.
IMG_2339 webRailfanning at the Three Bridges area on Marsh Station Road just east of Vail, Arizona.
We had thought of completing the trip to Benson in about 3 to 4 hours so we could lunch there, but we stopped so often that we found ourselves at the Gamez Cemetery around 1 pm. From there, we left off making any more stops (for the most part), reaching Benson around 3. Rob suggested we eat at the Horseshoe Café. I had never eaten there. Wow, we had quite a meal! While the burgers and sandwiches sounded great, they start serving dinner at 3 on Saturday, so Rob had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a salad, while I had liver, bacon, and onions, baked potato, and a salad. The portions were HUGE. Each entrée was only $10. On the way back, we stopped at the Three Bridges area off Marsh Station Road near Vail to photograph a couple of westbound trains we had seen passing through Benson. We finally got back to my house at 5:20 pm, nine hours after we had left.
It was easy to forget within minutes of climbing Reddington Road that a modern city was behind us. Almost immediately we were met with solitude, gorgeous landscapes, and a sense of what Arizona must have looked like when the first European explorers entered the region. For those that live in the region, life is probably pretty much the same as it was 150 years ago – isolated, dependent upon water, neighbors, adaptability, and endurance. Even with Tucson or Benson 40 or 50 miles away, you get a sense that you are a long ways from nowhere.
Random acts of thought, and useless pieces of information – et deinceps per nebula