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2020 - Trip Reports - The Ridge Route

The Ridge Route

By Bob Jaussaud

Bob Jacoby deserves our special thanks for arranging a tour of the Ridge Route for the Desert Explorers on Saturday, May 9. The Ridge Route is a very historic California road and has been closed by the Forest Service since 2005. Through the efforts of Harrison Scott, Michael Ballard and several others, the Ridge Route Preservation Organization now has keys to the Forest Service gates and access to the road. They are currently leading a few tours and organizing work parties to repair sections of the route.

Sue and I are looking forward to seeing the old road again. Sue’s grandparents traveled the Ridge Route nearly every summer when her mother was a teenager. They were motoring to Yosemite from Pasadena. Sue and I were lucky to explore the route with her mother in the 1980’s and again with Harrison Scott in 2004. It is truly a beautiful trip back to an exciting time in our history. Huell Howser did a “Road Trip” on the Ridge Route in 2003 and it is available to see on the internet through the Chapman University Library at https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2003/09/25/ridge-route-road-trip-122/

In the late 19th century, there was serious talk in Sacramento of splitting California into 2 states. Lack of access across the Tehachapi Mountains south of Bakersfield effectively divided California. The construction of the Ridge Route in 1914-1915 solved this dilemma. The route followed the northwest crest of the San Gabriel Mountains and eventually accessed Bakersfield via Grapevine Pass through the Tehachapis. Interstate 5 is today’s modern version of the Ridge Route, though the old Ridge Route still exists on the crest of the mountains high above.

The original Ridge Route was constructed using picks, shovels and mule drawn Fresno scrapers. It was the first highway crossing of a major mountain range constructed by the California State Department of Highways. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the new route was “one of the most remarkable engineering feats accomplished by the State Highway Commission.” The Ridge Route was aptly named, as it followed the ridge of the mountains. It did this primarily to avoid drainage problems and, thankfully, it worked. Now, one hundred plus years later, the road is still in relatively good condition. Following the ridge was not necessarily easy, though. It resulted in 697 curves in 36 miles, almost a continuous set of reversing turns.

In 1915 the speed limit was 15 mph. Along the way one could take a break at the Ridge Road Garage, Kelly’s Half Way Inn, The Tumble Inn, or Reservoir Summit. And then there was Sandberg’s Summit Hotel where excellent, guaranteed-fresh steaks were served. Slot machines could also be found at Sandburg’s and, in “The Crib” out back, feminine companionship was available. How traveling has changed! It’s hard to find good steaks these days.

The Ridge Route was the main link between Northern and Southern California until it was finally replaced by Highway 99 in 1933. Highway 99 was submerged under the waters of Castic Lake and Pyramid Lake shortly after Interstate 5 was opened around 1968. The original Ridge Route was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Harrison Scott has written a comprehensive book titled “Ridge Route: The Road That United California” It is a really good read if you can find it.  ~ JoSo


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