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East/West Cycling in the Southwest - Part 1

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East/West Cycling in the Southwest - Part 1

Old 03-21-09, 05:27 PM
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East/West Cycling in the Southwest - Part 1

Introduction

I hate to admit it when I am stumped, but it really is next to impossible cycling from Southern California to Arizona and New Mexico - or vice-versa - without having to get on interstates. And not just for a couple of miles, but for lots of miles. If you are willing to ride dirt roads through the sand dunes, then yes, there are options, but as far as pavement goes you have few options.


Former US Highways Across the Southwest with Connectors

Why is it so bad in the Southwest? Throughout the West, when they built the interstates, they often constructed the new road right on top of the old highway. What had been Route 66 became I-40. US 60 became I-10; US 80 became I-8. Thus, all three US routes got covered in the Southwest. In the East, the old roads were bypassed which was a disaster for the small towns but gave cyclists and Amish buggies a backroad option.

Because the cities of the southern California coast are ringed by mountains, there are only a few natural routes heading inland. Not surprisingly, these corridors have been gobbled up by 16-lanes of freeway. Yeah, cyclists are permitted to ride on the shoulder, but it's like having a root canal. The lowest and broadest pass is San Gorgonio - between San Bernardino and Palm Springs. This pass has an interstate, an aqueduct, a rail line, pipelines, and high-power transmission lines, but not a single road or trail for cyclists and pedestrians. It speaks volumes for where California really puts the money it doesn't have.

Historic Routes

Of the three former US highway routes, US 66 has the most non-interstate options. Heading west from Williams, Arizona, you have to ride the interstate for about 20 miles, but then there is the best remaining section of Old Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman. After that you can take Oatman Road to Needles. Following another short stretch on I-40, you can get back on Old Route 66 through Amboy to Barstow and beyond. The latter stretch is hot, dry, and very remote.


US 66, Goldroads Grade, 1933
Pomona Public Library, Frasher Foto Postcard Collection
https://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/...8d4/?brand=oac


Old Route 66, Oatman Road
Wikimedia Commons
https://library.byways.org/view_detai...BJECT_ID=58293

US 60 is so-so. Heading west from Globe, Arizona to Apache Junction, it is part of the Southern Tier, but has proved very unpopular because of its narrowness and heavy traffic. West of Phoenix to Quartzite, it has far less traffic and is a more appropriate road for cycling because I-10 has bypassed it. But, and it's a big but, US 60 ends at Quartzite. Period. From there all the way to the south entrance of Joshua Tree N.P., you have to get on I-10. 100 miles of interstate biking - bleah! And after struggling through the traffic of Palm Springs, you have to get back on I-10 to get over San Gorgonio Pass.


US 60, Snow Creek Service, 1947
Pomona Public Library, Frasher Foto Postcard Collection
https://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/...0fk/?brand=oac


I-10, San Gorgonio Wind Farm
WestCoastRoads
https://www.westcoastroads.com/califo...xit_114_01.jpg

US 80 is probably the worst of the three. West of Gila Bend you have 100 miles of I-8. In contrast, the eastern section, through Bisbee, is one of the nicest rides in the state. Initially, US 80 was routed from Tucson through Phoenix, but with the completion of Highway 84 via Casa Grande to Gila Bend in the 1930s most through traffic stayed south of the Phoenix route. Once in California, you have two sections of interstate riding - through the Imperial Sand Dunes and up out of the Imperial Valley. It's the latter climb which is a killer for westbound riders. From Jacumba, the Southern Tier route mostly follows Old US 80, but there is yet one more short stretch of interstate near Descanso.


US 80, Winterhaven, 1947
Pomona Public Library, Frasher Foto Postcard Collection
https://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/...33j/?brand=oac


Old US 80, Winterhaven
WestCoastRoads
https://www.westcoastroads.com/califo...erhaven_04.jpg

Other Routes

There are a few more important east-west highways that intersect with the historical US routes. In California the two most important are Highway 78 - from Oceanside to Blythe - and Highway 62 - from west of Palm Springs to Parker, Arizona. By continuing from Parker on Arizona Highways 95 and 72, you can get all the way to US 60 at Salome.

In Arizona the two most important are Highway 86 - from Why to Tucson and Highway 260 - from Cottonwood to Springerville. Highway 62 is probably the best way to access southern California without any interstate riding, but it is extremely remote. Highway 78 is the Southern Tier route. Highway 86, combined with Highway 85, lets you bypass Phoenix from Tucson, but again, it is very remote. Highway 260, combined with Highways 89 and 71, is an excellent connector from Prescott to the Mogollon Rim.


Just West of the Junction of Highways 62 and 177
Bernard Menou, A Frog Hops Across America
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...al&context=all


Sunset, Junction of Highways 62 and 177
WestCoastRoads
https://www.westcoastroads.com/califo..._ca-177_01.jpg

What these two photos suggest is that the desert is a different entity at noon and during the morning or evening. The former is harsh and brutal; the latter soft and inviting. Thus, it really is a good idea to ride early and late. And, if possible, hide out during the middle of the day.

Three additional roads bear mention. Most importantly, the Buckeye-Salome Road is an excellent paved connector between Old US 80 near Arlington and US 60 at Salome. This creates a paved, backroad route all the way from Phoenix or Tucson to the California line at Parker. San Diego County Road S2 is a lovely, quiet ride from Ocotillo on the Southern Tier almost to Warner Springs. What's odd is that many California state highways have no shoulders despite high traffic volumes. The northern half of S2 has shoulders and light traffic - a rare combination in southern California.


San Felipe Road North of Highway 78
Wikimedia Commons
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sanfeliperoad1.jpg


Please Go to Part 2

Last edited by jamawani; 03-21-09 at 05:34 PM.
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Old 03-21-09, 05:32 PM
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East/West Cycling in the Southwest, Part 2

Temperatures

Crossing the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts has been a challenge since the days of the Butterfield Overland Stage. One often sees images of destitute Okies fleeing the Dustbowl for California, only to break down in the heat of the desert. The desert is not to be trifled with - especially on a bicycle. There is no shade, no service, no water, and nobody for miles and miles. If you decide to take the less-traveled road, remember that.


Impoverished Family with Broken-Down Vehicle, August 1936
Dorothea Lange - FSA-OWI Photo Collection
https://memory.loc.gov/pnp/fsa/8b2900...0/8b29797v.jpg

Summer temperatures regularly hit 115F - 46C. It is dangerous to ride between June and September, difficult even in April and October. Winds tend to be westerly - adding an extra element of blast furnace for westbound riders.

Here is what a few folks at Crazyguy had said about the temperatures:

'Today was a very long, very blistering hot day. Temps were forecast to be 102...per the border patrol checkpoint, it was between 111 and 115 in the area where I was riding.'
Bill Banfield - Sept. 28, 2008 - Southern Tier, California Desert
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p..._id=92249&v=3k


Yuma, Arizona - Average and Record Highs and Lows

'I somehow knew the area around us was beautiful, seeing only mountain ridges lit by a full moon, as well as steep berms near the road, but these sights we would see another day when it was not going to be 115F.'
Dan Altenburg - June 19, 2008 - Southern Tier, California Desert
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p..._id=80355&v=Be


Parker, Arizona - Average and Record Highs and Lows

'Too hot. Can't do it. This town is a dump, but I just can't go further. It's not even 10 am and I'm too hot to move.'
Sonya Mankowsky - March 22, 2004 - Southern Tier, Quartzite, Arizona
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...e_id=10586&v=0


Needles, California - Average and Record Highs and Lows

'Good thing, I decided that being alive and well was better than having a bloated ego and dead. What really happened was I sat under a bridge for 8 hours sweating and trying to resist the urge to gulp down all my water.'
Tzuo Han Law - June 1, 2007 - Route 66, Mojave Desert
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...id=53155&v=17j

<<<>>>

And those were the people who made it back to write about it. Heh-heh.


Feedback

I would like to ask about certain routes.

I believe that the best route from central Arizona to the Pacific Coast is to converge on Salome from Prescott, Phoenix, or Tucson, then ride to Parker on the Colorado River. From there, take a very lonely Highway 62 to Twenty-Nine Palms and continue via the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita to Ventura.

Did I say remote? There ain't nothing on Highway 62 between Vidal and Twenty-Nine Palms - a distance of 96 miles. The old station at Rice Junction is a burned out hulk. But there is actually something out there. The Iron Mountain Pumping Station - part of the Colorado River Aqueduct - 14 miles west of Rice and 4 miles north.


All That's Left in Rice, California
Walking in LA
https://www.walkinginla.com/2006/Jan31/20250.jpg

Ever since William Mulholland stole the water from the Owens Valley, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District has conducted its affairs in secrecy. Technically, Iron Mountain is off limits to the general public, but since it has a small community, cafeteria, park and, most importantly, water - it would be hard for MWD to begrudge a thirsty cyclist. If that fails, you can snare some water from the aqueduct itself by negotiating the fence plus using a water filter/tablets. The aqueduct parallels the highway most of the way from Vidal to the pumping station - then crosses the road for the last time 3 miles west of the junction with Highway 177.


Iron Mountain Pumping Station
Ron's Log
https://u1.ipernity.com/4/04/47/13504...6ce30.1024.jpg

To get into Los Angeles, since both San Gorgonio Pass (I-10) and Cajon Pass (I-15) make you ride on the interstate, you could go all the way to Santa Clarita before turning south to the San Fernando Valley. Unless you want to take one of the trans-mountains roads. Puff-puff-puff.

Getting to San Diego is hardest. If you really want to stay off interstates, you have to go all the way up to Parker. You can continue on to Twenty-Nine Palms and ride through Joshua Tree National Park to Palm Desert, but be forewarned. The climb out of Palm Springs on Highway 74 is brutal. From the top of the San Jacinto Mountains it is a fairly easy ride via Pala and a parallel bike trail to Oceanside.


The Climb Out of Palm Desert on Highway 74
Philip J. Erdelsky
https://www.efgh.com/trans/c74f.jpg

Otherwise, you can head directly west from Salome to Blythe on the Southern Tier route which puts you on I-10 for about a twenty miles. (Or, you can ride up to Parker and then ride back south through the Mojave Indian Reservation.) From Brawley, you can avoid the I-8 climb by riding west on Highway 78 turning onto Highway S2 to ride up the San Felipe Valley, then connecting to Highways 79, 76 (narrow) and S6 via Escondido - reaching the Pacific coast at Del Mar.

<<<>>>

Whaddya think? Is it worth it to ride all those extra miles to avoid a zillion-lane interstate?

I would appreciate comments on any and all route alternatives between central Arizona and the southern California coast. It's not easy because of terrain, temperatures, and road choices. But, more info is always better.


The Open Road

<<<>>>

A Note on Images -
All weather data is from the Western Regional Climate Center and is public domain. Images taken from Wikimedia are either public domain or available for use. West Coast Roads images are reduced in size and fully attributed for educational use. Full-size images are available by clicking on the link. Other images are similarly used for educational purposes with attribution.

Originally posted at Crazyguyonabike

Last edited by jamawani; 03-21-09 at 07:16 PM.
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Old 03-21-09, 07:45 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani


The Open Road

<<<>>>
I was going to ask if this was Route 66 and then I saw it listed in the properties description.

Any more original Johnny Gunn photos of Route 66?
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Old 03-21-09, 07:56 PM
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Actually -

I think Route 264 through the Navajo and Hopi Reservations gives you a better "feel" of the Old Route 66 than the sections that remain alongside I-40. In other words - the open West, the sense of discovery, American Indian culture.

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Old 03-21-09, 08:05 PM
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Very interresting post (and interrestinger old pictures), Jamawami. You`ve probably saved somebody, maybe me, some trouble. But a lot of the complaints you have against some of those routes are their remoteness. That`s why people go the the SW, isn`t it?
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Old 03-21-09, 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by rodar y rodar
Very interresting post (and interrestinger old pictures), Jamawami. You`ve probably saved somebody, maybe me, some trouble. But a lot of the complaints you have against some of those routes are their remoteness. That`s why people go the the SW, isn`t it?
Remoteness?

I live in Wyoming. I love remote.
But I mention remoteness because many people who are from urban areas may be unprepared for it.
Forewarned is forearmed.

PS - That's why I rec Highway 62 from Twenty-Nine Palms to Parker and list water options.
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Old 03-21-09, 09:14 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani
Actually -

I think Route 264 through the Navajo and Hopi Reservations gives you a better "feel" of the Old Route 66 than the sections that remain alongside I-40. In other words - the open West, the sense of discovery, American Indian culture.

It's tempting and beautiful, but besides the remoteness, what about.....

Stealth camping on reservations?

and police presence especially with drunk driving?
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Old 03-21-09, 09:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Airwick
It's tempting and beautiful, but besides the remoteness, what about.....

Stealth camping on reservations?

and police presence especially with drunk driving?
You should NEVER stealth camp on a reservation.
Two reasons -
First, non-Indians have already helped themselves to plenty of Indian land.
Second, many Indians don't take to kindly to non-Indians - even non tribal members - on their land.

There are places to camp. The Navajo Nation has a $5 permit system.
There are a dozen Navajo Tribal Parks.
Camping is free at Second Mesa in Hopiland.
Plus, if you ask, you are rarely refused.

Alcohol has been and continues to be a serious problem.
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Old 03-21-09, 11:13 PM
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I, too, have been exploring the routes out here, and can add some reality checks.

There's no simple route from Tucson to Phoenix except for the interstate. I've seen some randos published a route that used frontage roads to Picacho, then a dozen turns to navigate through the small town and finally get to Chandler. Or, there's a route through Florence and Oracle Junction.

You weren't wrong about the freeways, but it's not quite so bad. You do have to ride I-8 west of Gila Bend, but at Spot Road you can divert to the old hwy 80 for about 10 miles. Another 20 mi gets you to Tacna, where the old highway continues. The one mountain pass (Mohawk pass - not major, only a couple of miles) explains why there's only one road. Of course, there's the old Camino El Diablo to the south********** (just a joke - 100 miles of sand and bones)

On the old San Diego to Yuma ride, we'd take hwy 98 via Calexico. The desert has not been kind to the old frontage roads along I-8 out by the dunes, and they're pretty cracked and bumpy! The few miles of concrete freeway by the dunes actually feels pretty good.

The Ocotillo climb into the Lagunas is murderous, but once you reach Jacumba you're in heaven. No few-mile stretch of I-8 could possibly ruin the day. There's backroads all the way to San Diego except for that Descanso section you mentioned.

I rode Palm Springs Century, and it used backroads from Indio to Palm Springs. I don't know about Palm Springs to LA, but has anyone been around Salton Sea lately? There's a recreation area, everyone talks about the bird and wildlife populations, and it seems to be the magic route to get you off of I-10. I remember it being good wide road but it's been many years since I've been that way.

Regarding the reservations - just ask where you can camp. They'll probably just point to the local Chapter House / community center or something.
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Old 03-22-09, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani
You should NEVER stealth camp on a reservation.
Two reasons -
First, non-Indians have already helped themselves to plenty of Indian land.
Second, many Indians don't take to kindly to non-Indians - even non tribal members - on their land.

There are places to camp. The Navajo Nation has a $5 permit system.
There are a dozen Navajo Tribal Parks.
Camping is free at Second Mesa in Hopiland.
Plus, if you ask, you are rarely refused.

Alcohol has been and continues to be a serious problem.
I will ignore your first point out of respect for Stinkums.

It's the last sentence I want to focus on,... How to assess the risk? I was right about the non-existance of police, right? So, if drinking and driving is a problem, how to do an analysis on the risks verses the number of cars you're likely to encounter?

Please compare Route 264 with the best comparative alternative.

Originally Posted by SandLizrd

The Ocotillo climb into the Lagunas is murderous, but once you reach Jacumba you're in heaven....
Old US 80, right? And I totally agree,.... the ride through Jacumba and Boulevard is awesome.
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Old 03-22-09, 09:23 AM
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Airwick -

It's impossible to measure precisely the relative risks of one road vs another.
The three biggest measurable factors are traffic volume, shoulder width, and average speed.

As for percentage of impaired drivers - the rural West and rural South lead the nation.
So you are not a heckuva lot better off on the other side of the rez line.
I have found that cycling near popular boating reservoirs on weekends is hair-raising, too.
Did I tell you about when I flattened myself in a ditch to avoid an airborne boat?

My sense is that the increased number of impaired drivers - as a percentage of drivers -
is offset by the lower speeds that you generally encounter on reservations.
Many native people still drive at mid-20th century speeds on rural roads.
Avoiding holiday and weekend-evening riding on reservations is a good precaution.

BTW - I've probably ridden on dozens of reservations without a single problem.
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Old 03-22-09, 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani
Airwick

It's impossible to measure precisely the relative risks of one road vs another.
The three biggest measurable factors are traffic volume, shoulder width, and average speed.
I know it will be difficult, and totally subjective, but I have faith in you.

Sounds like you would obviously choose 264.

What are the available statistics and data for Route 264?
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Old 03-23-09, 11:51 AM
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Monday morning bump.....
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Old 03-23-09, 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by SandLizrd
I rode Palm Springs Century, and it used backroads from Indio to Palm Springs. I don't know about Palm Springs to LA, but has anyone been around Salton Sea lately? There's a recreation area, everyone talks about the bird and wildlife populations, and it seems to be the magic route to get you off of I-10. I remember it being good wide road but it's been many years since I've been that way.
Some 40 miles east of Palm Springs...and just west of Chiriaco Summit...Box Canyon Road takes you from I-10 to the town of Mecca near the north shore of the Salton Sea. From here, you can take 86 south (immediately west of the Sea) and make your way through Borrego Springs, Julian, and then on to the coastal communities.
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