|US 99: Ridge Route
The original alignment of US 99 down Three Mile Grade is closed to vehicular traffic beyond Frenchman's Flat. The only way to continue beyond the gate at Frenchman's Flat is to either go on foot or bicycle. It is well worth the trip since there is a lot of old US 99 that is well preserved. This includes a steel bridge over Piru Creek that looks like the others that are now under Pyramid Lake, remnants of the original 1933 alignment and Pyramid Rock, long a famous landmark to travelers and the namesake for the lake.
At first glance old US 99 beyond the gate looks like any other surface street. It has double sets of double yellow lines and has four lanes. However, this is what a lot of US highways looked like in the late 1940s and early 1950s when they were converted into high speed expressways. Interestingly, this road is built to interstate standards in some ways. The lanes are 12 feet wide the divider is six feet and ample shoulders were provided to allow for emergency stops. The best part about this section is that it passes through Piru Gorge, the most scenic portion of this highway through the mountains.
|The bridge is about half of a mile beyond the gate. It has two distinct sides: the original 1933 half and the 1951 addition. Both sides use a steel girder superstructure built on concrete columns with a concrete slab deck built on top . This bridge, when it was built in 1933 was a bit of a departure from other bridges built during the same era on US highways as it used steel rather than timber or concrete for the superstructure. It also accommodated three lanes which made it wider than many others built at the time. However, like many other bridges at the time it used wooden guardrails which were painted white. The 1951 addition was integrated fairly seamlessly and maintains continuity. The only visible differences are the metal guardrail, painted white, and a different type of concrete columns. This bridge is identical to several others to the north that were submerged by Pyramid Lake.||
Piru Creek bridge showing the 1933 side.
US 99 entering the Piru Gorge.
|There are several other points of interest before the dead end at Pyramid Lake. The remains of a rest area lie beyond the bridge. By today's standards this rest area is tiny, but it does reflect the change in road building philosophy, showing how highways were not the huge public works we know of today. There are several cottonwood trees remaining that overlook a stone wall. Continuing north, the road continues its gradual climb through Piru Gorge, passing through beautiful scenery that has been lost on I-5. Toward the end there is a planted divider along the median; however this was added well after this section of road was decommissioned as US 99.|
The road ends abruptly at a turnout that was once a parking lot. The surrounding area was radically modified with the construction of the lake and the dam. Fortunately, Pyramid Rock has remained untouched and lies across the creek. This rock was formed in 1933 when crews blasted away the hillside to make a cut for US 99. There was originally a bridge that carried US 99 across the creek at this point, but it was removed and replaced by fill in 1951 as a cost cutting measure. Upon the completion of the dam, this fill was removed, leaving the beleaguered creek to flow along its original course
It is possible to go to the other side to have a closer look at Pyramid Rock, which is done by way of the contemporary bridge built by the State Water Project. A tiny bit of the 1933 concrete road has been preserved for use as a base for some saucer shaped black object that resembles a UFO. Pyramid Rock is comprised of shale, which is why it exists. Shale is fairly tough to blast out and the road builders only wanted to blast out what they needed for the road. The ridge that was blasted through was roughly triangular, which caused the remaining portion on the left to be shaped like a pyramid, hence the name. If left alone, it may even outlast the pyramids of Egypt.
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|South of Gorman, the more modern incarnation of US 99 has been covered by I-5, but a pristine section of the Old Ridge Route still exists to the east of I-5. It can be reached by exiting at SR-138 east and going for about one mile to the intersection with Gorman Post Rd. and turning left. Immediately to the right, an impossibly white section of single slab concrete becomes visible; this constituted a portion of the Ridge Route and SR-138 from 1934 to 1967. It is fairly short since it is now covered by the newer alignment of SR-138, but it still is worth having a look. A faint white line is visible down the middle and gives an idea of just how narrow and treacherous the Ridge Route really was. Make a U-turn and continue along Gorman Post Road. As mentioned before, this was part of the Ridge Route as well as later being part of SR-138. The only modification to this road is the asphalt overlay; originally it was concrete. Aside from that, the road follows exactly the same grade it did as the Ridge Route, again offering an idea of how dangerous this road was.||
US 99 Expressway through Gorman looking west, 1958. The 1933 alignment is visible to the right of the expressway going through the town.
|Once the road hits the edge of Gorman, it deviates from its original course. This is near the point where the Ridge Route and US 99 reunited. While its not visible now, the main road was once the three lane "suicide lane" road built in 1933. Gorman was bypassed in 1951 by the construction of the US 99 expressway and again in 1966 by I-5. Amazingly, this town has managed to survive and has several thriving businesses. Continue to the north to see a virtually untouched section of the 1933 alignment. This alignment is three lane concrete, which again is in excellent shape. However, it merges under I-5 after 1/4 mile.||
The surviving 1933 alignment north of Gorman showing the "suicide lane." At the time, the shoulders were oiled, and today the remnants can still be seen in the picture.
The concrete section of the Ridge Route can be reached by exiting from I-5 at SR-138. Continue about one mile to just beyond the east end of the interchange and turn left on Gorman Post Rd. (the first left). The concrete section is immediately to the right. The road continues to the left to Gorman, following the exact alignment of the old Ridge Route. Once in Gorman, the road turns into the 1933 alignment, which has the three lane concrete.
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|US 99 Side Trips:
Tejon Summit and Grapevine
Return to the US 99: Ridge Route Guide
Go to the Historic California US Highways Main Page
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If you have any questions, comments, or if you would like to send me any updates or pictures, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.