Historic US 99 Guide

Coachella Valley

[Whitewater River]

Whitewater River bridge north of Palm Springs

This bridge also carried US 60 and US 70 and was in operation from 1925 to 1952 when it was replaced by the freeway. Mt San Jacinto is in the background.

Indio and Palm Springs

Like the Imperial Valley, Indio and Palm Springs are part of the arid Colorado Desert and have thrived because of it. Indio is known as "The Date Capital of the World" and of course, Palm Springs is noted as the playground of the stars. In recent years, Palm Springs and the surrounding cities have become retirement havens due to the year round warm weather. This area is significant for highway history since it is located near the divergence of US 60 and US 70, two major transcontinental routes, from US 99.

After the junction with SR-195, SR-86 continues northwest. This section is little changed from the days when it was signed as US 99. In fact, between Riverside County post mile 2.00 and the intersection with SR-195 there are some sections of very old road dating from the 1920s to the east side. This road is the single slab By 2000, this section of SR-86 will be relinquished by the state since the SR-86 expressway will follow the alignment of SR-195 north to SR-111. This is probably fortunate since it means there will be no designs for widening or otherwise altering this section of road, even though it does mean the end of state maintenance.

SR-86 (Harrison St) continues due north to the intersection with Grapefruit Blvd, which is former SR-111, although it is still signed as such. The road here was widened to the current four lanes in 1956 as part of the expressway/freeway that went to Los Angeles. Almost immediately after at the next signal is Dillon Rd. As inauspicious as it looks, this intersection is where US 60 and US 70 converged with US 99. According to the old maps, this interchange was in use from sometime in the 1930s to 1972 when it was bypassed by I-10. From this intersection to Los Angeles, US 99 was co-signed with US 70 and US 60, intermittently, to Los Angeles. The three routes continued north on Grapefruit Blvd, which now turns into Indio Blvd. The overpasses are newer, being built during the 1960s and 1970s. However, this road was divided as it is now at the time it was US 99. This section was

A few miles to the north, Indio Blvd crosses the railroad tracks over two bridges, then merges with I-10. The westbound bridge was built in 1936 as part of the widening of US 99 from the single slab of concrete to a full two lane road. The eastbound bridge was built in 1956 as a part of the four lane expressway/freeway. From this interchange to just south of Ramon Rd, the original routing follows the freeway on the north side as a frontage road. This road is now called Varner Rd. and several sections still have signs of the original concrete showing through the asphalt overlay. After the merge with Indio Blvd, current I-10 was part of the expressway and subsequently widened. At Ramon Rd, the original alignment of US 99, along Varner Rd. splits to the north of the freeway. Like the frontage road to the east, this section of US 99 was bypassed by the expressway/freeway around 1952. The freeway, the newer alignment of US 99, remains essentially unchanged, with the exception that the original concrete has been paved over with asphalt and additional lanes were added on the outside. Just north of Palm Ave, the route of old US 99 rejoins the freeway, but Varner Ave now ends just short of the freeway. One who is nitpicky, like myself, would notice that the lines from the concrete expansion joints that show through the asphalt on Varner Rd. do not correspond with the current lane markings. This is because a lot of the original portions of US 99 were paved as single slab concrete in the 1920s and a small strip of concrete was added along the sides to enable the road to accommodate two cars going in opposite directions In all honesty, there is not much to see to the west of Palm Ave; the best thing is to get back on the freeway at Palm Ave.

The San Gorgonio Pass

This pass is named after the giant Mt San Gorgonio which lies on the north side. This is the tallest peak in southern California with a height of 11,499 feet. The pass is flanked on the south end by Mt San Jacinto (hah-SEEN-toh is the correct pronunciation), which is no small peak at 10,804 feet. In some ways this mountain is even more impressive than Mt San Gorgonio since it is part of a range that drops off sharply at the pass. In fact, the top of Mt San Jacinto is a mere six miles to the south of I-10! The San Gorgonio Pass itself is the only easily passable opening through the coastal ranges to southern California and has played a big role in the region's development. It was the construction of the Southern Pacific rail line through here that put Los Angeles on the map. In fact, it was this rail line that favored Los Angeles over San Diego, even though San Diego has its beautiful natural harbor. It is appropriate that US 99, the major highway in California follows this line into Los Angeles.

The stretch of freeway north of here was built as I-10 from 1962-67, although parts are merely widened portions of the 1952 expressway. Just to the west of the interchange with SR-111, portions of the original alignment of US 99 remain as frontage road. A distinctive feature is the white painted wood posts characteristic of bridges from the 1920s and 1930s. This can be reached by exiting at Verbenia Ave (the first exit west of SR-111) and taking it to the south frontage road. This road continues for five miles to the East Cabazon exit. There is a well preserved four lane divided section of US 99 visible at the Cabazon exit which is part of the expressway, but which was bypassed by the freeway in 1964. This really gives a good idea of what a typical town was like on 99 or any other old US highway. Unfortunately, this town has really died out since it was bypassed, much like a lot of other US 99 towns.

The road rejoins I-10 and at this point there is no choice but to head west on I-10. At the next exit, it is possible to reach some old segments of US 99 which acted as frontage road. This road is no longer maintained for vehicular use which makes it somewhat difficult to reach. These sections are well worth the effort it takes to get to them since the old concrete joints are visible through the asphalt overlay as well as the old style broken white line which separated both directions of traffic. There are also a couple more old style bridges which have been preserved. This section ends at the Ramsey St. on-ramp and the only way to get back to I-10 and the rest of the tour is to back-track to the last exit.

The town of Beaumont were bypassed in 1956 by the freeway west of the Ramsey St. off-ramp. Ramsey St. (or 6th St. in Banning) is the original routing of US 99 and still is an important street for the twin towns as many of the traveler oriented businesses still line this street. These towns still give an excellent feel for the way US 99 looked, especially since most of the buildings date back from before the freeway. Sixth St. in Banning is still the split level divided four lane road that it was when it was 99.

The freeway itself bears little resemblance to when it was originally constructed due to the fact that it was widened to eight lanes in 1969-70. Beyond SR-243, the freeway bypassed the town of Banning in 1961. Again this was widened in 1970. A little fun fact about the names of these two towns. Beaumont is a derivative of the French word for "beautiful mountain," a description that holds well in this area. Banning is named for Phineas Banning, the Army General who built the first railroad through this area.

At the western edge of Banning is the junction of I-10 and SR-60 which was built in 1961 as the US 60 / US 99,US 70 (I-10) separation. On one of the overhead signs on I-10 westbound it is obvious that an US 60 shield was covered by an SR-60 "greenout" cover because the white edges are still visible. US 60 did not rejoin US 99 until San Dimas, over 50 miles to the west, but US 70 remained co-signed with US 99 to the intersection with US 101.

The Foothills and San Bernardino

Even though the San Gorgonio Pass offers relatively easy access to metropolitan Los Angeles, there are still some hills to be crossed. While they are low and rolling, they posed an obstacle to the railroad; as a consequence it splits from US 99 (I-10) just west of Banning, following San Timiteo Canyon and rejoins US 99 at the outskirts of San Bernardino. San Bernardino was established as a Mormon settlement and marked the end of the Mormon Trail. This trail paralleled what is now I-15, although it started/ended its passage over the San Bernardino Mountains near the present route of SR-18. San Bernardino lies in a valley formed by creeks that drain the nearby mountains; the Santa Ana River and Cajon Creek are mostly responsible for this. One result is that this valley made excellent farmland to to the fertile soil being washed down from the mountains, although farmland is rare to see now. It has been successful due to its position at the crossroads of the route going north and the route heading east. Today San Bernardino is the most populous city of the Inland Empire and it continues to grow as more people flee from the suburbs of Los Angeles and Orange County.

99_old_shield.gif (3823 bytes) North: Inland Empire
South: Imperial Valley

[Historic Highways Logo]
Go to the Historic California US Highways Main Page

If you have any questions, comments, or if you would like to send me any updates or pictures, please contact me at: casey@gbcnet.com.
Frame URL: http://www.gbcnet.com/ushighways/US99b.html