August 14, 2012

Photo Essay: The Road That Google Maps Forgot, Old Hwy 62

California State Route 62 - now dubbed Twentynine Palms Highway, or, in one stretch, the CHP Officer Daniel J. Muehlhausen Memorial Highway - is the main gateway from Joshua Tree to the Palm Springs area, the main conduit between the low and high deserts. Intersecting with the 10 freeway just north of Palm Springs, it runs throughout the Morongo Basin, past Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms all the way to Parker, Arizona.

If you've been to Joshua Tree, you've driven on it. It is both a Blue Star Highway and Main Street USA for the towns of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms.

Between Desert Hot Springs and Morongo Valley, the highway now cuts through a wilderness area and seemingly carves its way between two rocky hillsides (part of the Little San Bernardino Mountains) along an elevated ramp called the Morongo Grade. But Highway 62 didn't always run along its current route. And although you can still trace the route of Old Highway 62 alongside the Morongo Grade - and even passing under it - you can't find it on Google Maps.

Google Maps does include plenty of "Old" highway routes, but usually because the main highway was simply rerouted to a new freeway - a classic example being Route 66, where the roads still exist, but as "Santa Monica Boulevard" or "National Trails Highway" - rather than being decommissioned.

Old Highway 62 was closed altogether, left for nature to take over. In parts, it appears as though it was meant to be buried.

And so either it was erased from current-day maps, or modern cartographers just forgot about it...or maybe never knew about it at all.

But if you're physically in the area, and can find its starting and ending points as I did, you can hike along it, trespassing through some private lands but legally traversing public lands as well. Although it's no longer a real road (at least according to Google Maps), there are fresh tire tracks in the dirt and sand, as well as traces of an animal with very large paws.

The northeast starting point of Old Highway 62 can be found off of Canyon House Road, which follows SR62 in a southwesterly direction from the Hess Street exit.

A "Road Closed" sign at the end of Canyon House Road and some charred posts seem to indicate the start of Old Hwy 62, but that's not it.

That's private property, though an "Open to Hikers and Equestrians" sign later down the dirt road seems to contradict the warnings at the start.

The actual start to Old Hwy 62 is just before the gate, marked by two posts that look like they've been chopped in half.

The road is paved nearly the entire way to the Morongo Grade...

...though as you approach the overpass, the asphalt begins to crumble rather than just crack.

There are still signs of the original double yellow lines indicating the old highway...

...though they will be soon submerged by the encroaching earth drifting towards them.

The Morongo Grade overpass occurs exactly at the county line between Riverside and San Bernardino counties...

...whose signs are visible from both sides.

On the other side of the Morongo Grade, the road practically disappears...

...consumed by gravel, rocks, debris, runoff, etc.

Another gate seems to try to restrict access for any motorized vehicles, but has a cutout on the left side that's easy enough for a hiker to step over.

As you pass electrical poles, the road beneath your feet essentially becomes a wash...

...though occasionally bits of asphalt and other remains emerge.

The old, decommissioned Highway 62 then parallels and nearly becomes level with the new Highway 62...

...and continues along its rough path until it reaches the end of Worsley Road, off Indian Canyon Road.

The paved road begins again, though it appears as though all the layers of dirt and sand had been bulldozed on top of it.

Again, it diverges from the current Highway 62 at the base if the Morongo Grade...

...showing its cracks...

...and traces of white paint.

Old Hwy 62 is no longer navigable by passenger car, but that doesn't stop Google Maps from including other non-navigable roads (such as the treacherous Cactus Road which imperiled my passenger car near Big Bear Lake) in its maps of local areas and driving directions.

But curiously, my Garmin did recognize its starting point with a dot, a nice little historical marker.

Fortunately it didn't try to send me driving down it.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Abandoned Mine, Off 29 Palms Hwy
The Ghost in Me
Turning Yellow
Scenes from the Hi Desert
Scenes from the Hi Desert 2
Where the Road Ends

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  1. desert magazine sez' awsome !

  2. Love this and your pics from Ridge Route, just discovered this morning Sept 9. I live a couple miles up from dead man's curve at Ft. Tejon. Thank you for doing such a good job and sharing.