Route 66 in the News

El Cajon Pass Used Since Prehistoric Times

2006-01-19 19:00:55

The Cajon Pass has been an important passageway connecting the Mojave Desert with the San Bernardino Valley since prehistoric times.

Throughout the centuries, there have been a number of important roads and trails meandering through the pass that have long since been abandoned. However, a careful observer may be able to pick up some of their traces.

One of these dusty byways that can still be followed is an old stage road connecting Cajon Canyon and Lytle Creek Canyon.

Driving north from San Bernardino on old Route 66, which parallels Interstate 15, you will meet with several old abandoned buildings on your left remnants of the old "Blue Cut" business district. At this point, the stage road can be seen on the mountainside to the west of the Cajon wash.

The events leading to the development of this road began in the spring of 1890, when a petition from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was made for a road leading from the Cajon Pass to the popular Glenn Ranch Resort in Lytle Creek Canyon.

Not a whole lot was accomplished, however, until April 1893, when James Applewhite, owner of the Glenn Ranch, appeared before the Board of Supervisors asking for $300 to build the road, starting at the Keenbrook Train Station and leading up over the Lytle Creek ridge and down to the resort.

In 1903, J.R. Lane, who had taken over the management of the Glenn Ranch when Applewhite died two years earlier, requested an easier road be built. By July of that year, the "new" Applewhite Road was built. Instead of starting out at the railroad station, this improved grade began about a mile above Keenbrook.

Local newspaper ads appeared raving about the Glenn Ranch Resort's fine apple and peach orchards, beautiful meadow pastures and nearby hot mineral springs. As a result, business was going so well that in order to get the free stage ride over the Applewhite Road, one had to send word two days in advance.

Over the next decade or so, the Applewhite Road saw frequent use as families from as far away as Los Angeles, hoping to escape from the intense summer heat, came to stay at the mountain retreat for two weeks and sometimes for a month at a time. Vacationers often arrived with their suitcases and trunks, hammocks to hang underneath the shady trees and fishing gear.

By the 1920s, however, the old stage route fell into disuse as the vastly improved Lytle Creek Road transported rail passengers from Rialto up to the ever-popular Glenn Ranch. Today, Applewhite Road is a seldom-used Forest Service road.

Another interesting place where so much has happened in the past and which still retains some of its old-time integrity, is a narrow canyon located just behind the northbound truck scales on I-15 in the Cajon Pass. Identified by the nearby Santa Fe-Salt Lake Trail Monument, this is a short hike and a wonderfully nostalgic sojourn back in time.

Originally, this winding, rocky gorge was home to an Indian trail connecting a string of villages stretching all the way from Hesperia through Summit Valley and into Cajon Canyon. It wasn't until 1806 that the first known white man made his way through what pioneers often referred to as the Narrows. During that year, Father Jose Zalvidea made a trip by an inland route from Santa Barbara to San Gabriel, looking for promising sites for future missions.

Long pack trains of mules making their way between Santa Fe, N.M., and Los Angeles clomped through the twisting, agonizing passageway during the 1830s and 40s. These caravans closely followed the footsteps of the fur-trapping party of Jedediah Smith in 1827, as well as those of legendary trailblazer and scout Kit Carson two years later.

During the late 1840s, the first wheeled vehicles traversed the canyon, but this was no piece of cake. In fact, when Jefferson Hunt's emigrant party of gold seekers entered the Narrows in 1849, the wagons had to be dismantled and either dragged over the rocky stream bed or lifted and carried on the shoulders of the men.

Addison Pratt described in his diary on Dec. 19, 1849, what a hassle it was on that trip: "We were all jammed together in the narrow pass and all had to be helped but our own wagon. It helped itself up and down the rocks. But the rest had to be lifted and pried to get them up and down. . . . (This was) the roughest place we found between Salt Lake and California."

When mountain-man-turned-businessman John Brown took out a 20-year franchise from the state to build and maintain a toll road through the Cajon Pass in 1861, he really had his work cut out for him. Instead of dealing with the boulder-strewn creek bed in the narrow canyon that the frustrated Hunt party barely conquered years before, he wisely built his road up the side of the canyon above.

After the toll road expired, it was taken over by the county. By 1915, the old route was paved for automobiles while becoming part of "The National Old Trails Road." It was destroyed during the flood of 1938.

Today, you can still see inside the Narrows the cement abutments of an old bridge that was wiped out during the 1938 flood as well as traces of macadam from the canyon's Model-T days. That road bed is now part of the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail, which extends from Mexico to Canada.

~Nicholas R. Cataldo, for the San Bernardino Sun

Nicholas Cataldo is a local historian. Readers can write him at The Sun, 22399 Gannett Parkway, San Bernardino, CA 92407.



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