Category Archives: Roads

Victor Valley Crossings

Fr. Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, (April 12, 1738 – July 18, 1781) was a Spanish priest who crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776. This map shows his route across the Victor Valley. Following the Mojave River after crossing at Oro Grande he walked through what is now downtown Victorville bypassing the rocky narrows and connecting back with the river near today’s Mojave Narrows Regional Park. Following the river to where the West fork and Deep Creek join to form the Mojave. He visited with the Indians then made his way up Sawpit Canyon and over the mountain ridge descending into the verdant sycamore grove that is known today as Glen Helen.

This map shows the route of Fr. Garces in 1776 during his crossing west. His diary it describes him being taken to an Indian village in the mountains.

50 years after Fr. Garcés made his way across the Mojave from the Colorado River, in 1826, Jedediah Smith retraced the trail of Garcés along the river then up and over the mountains. In 1827, one year after his first crossing, Smith had lost most of his men in a massacre at the Colorado River. Desperate for the safety of civilization, Smith, after crossing the Mojave River in Oro Grande, made his way directly to the Cajon Pass bypassing the San Bernardino Mountains.

The direct route over the summit and down the pass eliminates the steep climb and descent over the San Bernardino Mountains.

An Invitation to Summit

Dear Sir:

When I came over here three months ago, I brought four copies of Desert with me. Needless to say they have become rather dogeared as I have read them from cover to cover several times, and passed them around to my friends who have enjoyed them immensely.

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

The last day I was in sunny Southern California (it rained all the time I was in Frisco waiting to embark), I made one last sojourn to our desert retreat—the summit of Cajon pass. Few people know of this unique retreat, except those who pass by on the trains, and then all they see is a street-car tucked awav on the side of a hill, 200 yards from the tracks.

The street-car is the former Los Angeles railway’s funeral car Descanso. A group of railfans, known as Railroad Boosters, became interested when it was known the car was to be scrapped,and decided something should be done about it. So far as we were able to tell the Descanso was the only funeral car in existence, and to delegate such an ornate car to the junk heap was not a very fitting end. The L. A. railway then told us that if we could find a place to put it we could have it as a sort of museum piece. After several months of scouting around, we decided on summit. On July 4, 1940, the Descanso was hauled up to summit by flatcar on the Santa Fe. Eight of us spent a very strenuous day unloading the car. It weighed 18 tons.

Chard Walker watching trains pass from the terrace beside the Decanso in 1954. From his book, “Railroading in the Pass”

Three weekends were spent in getting the car to its present position, by the tedious process of laying a section of track in front, pulling the car up with a truck by means of block and tackle, then picking up the section in the rear, placing it up front again, etc. Then began the process of scraping off the old paint, removing the seats, and taking out a few of the unnecessary controllers, etc.

Route 66, Cajon Pass

Route 66, Cajon Pass

In the two years that have passed since its arrival at summit, the Descanso has gradually transformed from a dirty looking old streetcar, to that of a newly painted, well furnished cabin. From the exterior it still has the same general appearance of a streetcar as it still is on wheels on a section of rail, the trolley is still up, and still has the stained glass in the upper halves of the windows.

Quite a change has taken place on the interior though. Only two of the original seats are left in place with a folding table in between. A pot bellied stove, and a wheesy old phonograph well stocked with records, dominate the center of the car, while an icebox, a few chairs and another table and a small but complete kitchen take up the rest of the available space. Eventually we may put some folding bunks in one end, but due to material shortage, we content ourselves with sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags.

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon - Summit Valley

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon (Summit Valley)

We find it an ideal spot to go on a weekend, either as a home camp for a small hunting expedition, or for hiking up and down the railroad, the mountains, or just to lie around in the sun and watch the trains go by.

For anyone wishing to visit Summit, just go up Cajon Pass on U. S. 66 to Camp Cajon, and turn east (right if leaving from San Bernardino). This road is known as the back road to Arrowhead. It’s about five miles from 66 to Summit which can’t be missed as the road leaves the twisting mountain road onto the level Summit valley road. Off to the left about a quarter of a mile is the railroad station of Summit with its scattering of section houses and the post office. The Descanso is directly behind the station.

Summit

Summit

In closing I wish to extend a cordial welcome to anyone visiting Summit, and wish I could be there and meet them personally. Until the war ends I’ve got to be content to visit the desert via Desert Magazine.

Robert W. McGrew – Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii

Van Dusen Road Notes

Point of Van Dusen Road crossing Mojave River, Hesperia, CA. Looking toward Apple Valley and Marianas Mountains

The Van Dusen Road branched off from John Brown’s toll road heading east along the ridge after reaching the Cajon Summit.   The road  found its way down the Antelope Valley Wash to the Mojave River.  At this point the trail crossed through the soft sand and ascended through a small  canyon  at the base of the mountains, finding its way east then southeast to Rock Springs. From the springs the road then branched to the left heading east to Holcomb Valley becoming what is now known as the Coxey Truck Trail.

Looking west up Antelope Valley Wash from the Mojave River toward Cajon Summit

by Walter Feller – 2017

$150,000 Summit Road Route Being Considered

Summit Valley Road

Summit Valley Road

State Highway Commissioner Darlington has under advisement the matter of which route to choose for the 15-mile state highway to be built from Summit to Victorville at a cost of $150,000.  A delegation headed by Louis Evans of Hesperia asked Darlington to choose the route that would include Hesperia on the highway.

Los Angeles Herald, Number 58, 8 January 1919

Pioneer Trail

Pioneer Trail – by Mintor Jackson Steorts

Wagon wheel furrows cut deep in the sand,
winding through desolate desert land,
on through arroyos, climbing a rise
to snow-covered mountains that reach to the skies;
ruts that the elements tried to erase
from the deserts redoubtable face,
but fate has preserved, through all of these years,
the trail of the wagon train pioneers.

We follow their route in a multi-wheel drive
and marvel that anyone could survive.
Through famines, and droughts, and blizzards and rain
on a rumbling ox-drawn wagon train,
and eke out a living from off of a land
of solitude, emptiness, cactus and sand;
Did they vision rainbows way over there
where we find a cauldron and the smog laden air?

What will the future historians find
when they search for the trails we leave behind?
Will our many-lane highway be plain to see,
that leads toward that “Great Society?”
Or maybe they’ll excavate someday,
through atomic ashes to our freeway,
and wonder how anyone could survive,
on a careening, rumbling, four-wheel-drive.

Mohave III – Scrapbooks of History, Mohahve Historical Society, 1966

Back on the Trail

Photo of a possible trace of the Old Spanish Trail/Mormon Road near Hesperia

“It looked a lot straighter on the map.” – Anonymous

The Mormon Road going south across the Oro Grande Wash would come up and head straight into the Joshua trees and juniper woodland.  The slope was fair, the ground hard and the trail reasonably straight.  There were variations, though.  To the eyes of one, one way around a bush may look easier than it does to another.  Trails evolve.  If one branch is significantly better than another, that branch becomes wider and more popular. These branches and shortcuts may join together later.  These variations due to mankind and weather begin a process I have heard to be called, “braiding.”  It is quite possible for the main alignment, the busiest, the center-most version in the corridor to remain in use providing its continued existence to this very day.

Las Vegas Valley – Setting the Stage

During the Spanish Colonial Period (1542-1821) in the American Southwest, the Spanish empire was competing for control over resources with the British, French, and Russian monarchies. They attempted to link colonies in the Spanish territories, later known as the New Mexico and California, by establishing trade routes to form a passageway across the entire Southwest desert region. The Old Spanish Trail was used commercially to link the towns that would later become Los Angeles, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1829 until 1848. The abundant spring water available in the Las Vegas (meaning “the meadows” in Spanish) Valley made it an ideal resting point on the trail.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

The presence of the valley springs also drew the Southern Paiute Indians, a nomadic people moving frequently during the year, who made the valley their winter homeland. They raised small crops near the springs in the valley, which provided water and food for the Indians inhabiting the area and later for travelers making their way across the desert.

The Las Vegas Valley would become an attractive place for other European-American settlers as well. One group of settlers looking for a new home was the Mormons–also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–a religious sect organized by Joseph Smith in New York in 1830. Based on the Book of Mormon, which Smith said was revealed to him by heavenly messengers, this religious body felt called to restore the authentic church established by Jesus and his Apostles. The history of the Mormons is dramatic–filled with persecution, an exodus from the eastern part of the United States, and ultimately successful establishment of a thriving religious society in a desert. The Mormons formed in upstate New York, an area where the Second Great Awakening was most popular as the United States underwent a widespread flowering of religious sentiment and unprecedented expansion of church membership. The group was forced to move several times because of conflicts with residents in various places where they settled, including Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. They were accused of blasphemy and inciting slave insurrections. After Smith was killed by an angry mob in Illinois in 1844, it became necessary for the Mormons to find a new home once again.

A new leader emerged to guide the Mormons to a new Zion at the Great Salt Lake. Under the direction of Brigham Young, they began an arduous journey West to what would become Utah, where they arrived in July of 1847. In 1848, after the war with Mexico, the United States acquired the majority of what now constitutes the American Southwest. The Mormons petitioned Congress to become the State of Deseret, a word from the Book of Mormon signifying honeybee which was considered an industrious creature, but they were only allowed territorial status. Congress established the Territory of Utah, named for a local Indian tribe, and President Fillmore appointed Brigham Young governor in 1851. Young also became superintendent of Indian affairs. He oversaw the building of Salt Lake City and hundreds of other southwestern communities.

In the middle of the 19th century, the idea of “Manifest Destiny”–a phrase used to explain continental expansion by the U.S.–was embraced by many American people, including the Mormons. They began an industrious campaign to colonize Utah and beyond, establishing hundreds of settlements throughout the West and Southwest. As part of this process, Brigham Young called on volunteers to create a Las Vegas Mission, which would be strategically located alongside the Mormon Road (a portion of the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California), halfway between the Mormon settlements of southern Utah and the San Bernardino Mission in southern California. There were eventually 96 settlements that included Lehi, Provo, Payson, Nephi, Fillmore, Beaver, Parowan and Cedar City. Meanwhile, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 made southern Nevada a corridor for westward emigrants and gold seekers. A gold seeker wrote in his diary on November 21, 1849 about stopping at the Las Vegas creek. Offering the only reliable supply of water for a 55-mile stretch along the Mormon Road, the Las Vegas Valley’s springs were important for watering the mules, horses and oxen of travelers crossing the region’s harsh desert environment. With the opening of the San Bernardino settlement in 1851, there was an additional need for a way station at the Las Vegas springs to provide supplies and rest. The mission the Mormons established as part of the Church’s westward expansion out of Utah became the first non-native settlement in the area, and the Mormons hoped to bring the American Indians into their flock. Although the Mormons occupied the site only from 1855 to 1858, it affected the development of what was to become southern Nevada.

Source – National Park Service

The Division of Trails

Old Spanish Trail in Victorville, Ca. Mojave Desert

The Division of Trails

There is a book titled “Trails across the Mojave” that describes a fork in the Old Spanish Trail that splits off to John Brown’s toll road on the left and the Mormon Hogback and Sanford’s Pass to the southwest. Now the photo showing the fork located according to the directions provided most likely has no resemblance to what the original trail looked like if it were indeed at this particular point. I would say this fork is basically the same alignment in the same location as the trail was 150 years ago. The left goes to Cajon Summit while the right leads to Phelan to descend into the West Cajon Valley.

There is another important location to be remembered, it is the “Division of Trails”  that goes over Cajon Pass. The word “Cajon” is Spanish and means “box”. The steep sides of the formidable mountain pass made the name appropriate.  The rigors of El Cajon must be faced to arrive in San Bernardino Valley. The high Sierra Mountains were the last barrier to the weary travelers.

Here the trails divided. The left fork was the way used by the pack-trains of the Spanish traders and was called the Old Spanish Road. The other road was chosen by the Mormons for they had wagons which could not be pulled up or down the narrow canyon which the Spanish had followed. So, the Mormons made a bend westward to the right to avoid the higher portion of the mountains.  This division of trails is today a a few hundred yards to the east of Highway 395 at the crossroad of Duncan Road.

The Spanish trail turned back to the left and slowly climbed the summit, entering the edge of Horse Thief Canyon. From there they traveled down grade about 6 miles until reaching Crowder Canyon (earlier called Coyote Canyon), then from Cajon junction the road went south which is located today on the present Highway 66. This section in the 1860s and 1870s was known as John Brown’s toll road.

Trails across the Mojave – Grace Jackson, Lucille Matson – 1970

A Story of Four Boys

Devil's Canyon, San Bernardino National Forest, Old Spanish Trail

Devil’s Canyon

One day a wagon train rolled in off the desert to San Bernardino. On this wagon train there were four sick and hungry Paiute Indian boys.

Each one of these boys was placed with separate families in San Bernardino, and each one of the boys, living in a good Mormon home, got better.

One boy went rabbit hunting with his foster brother. There they ran into the Thomas brothers who were also out hunting. One brother got into an argument with the Indian boy. They get louder and louder then the Thomas boy raised and aimed his pistol at the Indian and the Indian immediately raised his rifle and shot Thomas. He fell over dead.

Obviously, it was self-defense and no matter how they looked at it at trial it came out self defense. The Indian was acquitted and went free.

Sawpit Canyon. Old Spanish Trail

Sawpit Canyon

Life went on and things seemed as if things were forgotten and when it came time for the Indian boys to go home, an escort was provided for them. The escort was made up of one of the Thomas’ and several of his friends.

The party left San Bernardino and rather than going up the Cajon Pass, they took the old trail up Devil’s Canyon to the ridge then dropped down into Sawpit Canyon. The area was heavily forested and the young Paiute that had killed the Thomas boy figured out what was going on and slipped into the woods escaping.

Summit Valley, Las Flores Ranch

Summit Valley

The remaining three boys were brought down into what is now the Las Flores Ranch area and summarily murdered. Then they were decapitated and their heads placed on the top of long poles.

Not much was ever mentioned of the incident afterwards most, likely because the boys killed were Indian.

A few years later a caretaker on the property found two of the skulls. He took them and nailed one to each of the gate posts at the entry to the ranch. Being the braggart that he was, he would tell the story of the Indian skulls nailed to the gate and if an Indian wanted to know what that story was, they were welcome to come and an he would happily show them.

(retold from History of Victor Valley – Lyman)

Huntington’s Station

Huntington’s Station was the first trading post in the area, and although Heber Huntington only owned it from 1873 to 1878, it remained known as Huntington’s Station until the the railroad came through and renamed it Victor. The river crossing with a few modern exceptions as the Narrows Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, and the cement plant looks much the same today as it did in 1872 when Mecham built what has become Stoddard Wells Road.

Mojave River, Victorville

Mojave River at Huntington’s Crossing