Reprinted from Outing magazine, Vol. 78 No. 3, June 1921, p.122
By Jehiel S. Davis
Member of Advisory Board, Travel Club of America
Anyone coming west must realize that they must leave the train to get any sort of an acquaintance with the country. This is especially true south of the Great Northern - Northern Pacific - St. Paul lines and most true in the desert, which impresses most eastern rail travelers as an uninteresting, repulsive waste.
On the southern routes one misses practically all features of real interest. Arizona is probably the greatest museum of wonders contained in so small a space, yet the main line transcontinental trains do not reach many things of interest to the person who has not learned the charm of the desert from living in it. Most of the irrigated farm land is also off the main railroad lines.
Three national automobile highways pass through this section and they are the only ones which are open all the year round. Even the National Old Trails Road is closed with snow for some days now and then during the winter. The southern roads are practically always open and in most places in fair condition.
It is necessary to turn off from the main auto roads to get full benefit of a trip. Anyone traveling in this country or any desert country should carry food and extra water whether expecting to camp or not and no matter how good a machine they drive. They should be armed and have their gun handy.
It is well also to carry a little potassium permanganate as a remedy against poison bites, especially snake bite. Rattlesnakes are very scarce out here, but they live here and in case of a bite there is no good remedy like KMnO4. Liquor is worse than nothing and especially dangerous in this hot section (maximum temperature this April 108° in the shade).
Those not familiar with desert conditions should stay on the main roads or frequently traveled roads or else wire ahead to the Automobile Club of Southern California nearest office, advising them of the schedule. In case of breakdown one should not leave his car unless he has had experience in desert country on foot. If these things are followed out there is nothing to fear and a great deal of interest in this section even in the hottest weather.
The National Old Trails Road is paved from Los Angeles to the summit of the mountains in Cajon Pass, elevation 4,000 feet, and is good dirt and surfaced road to the Colorado River at Topoc, Arizona, then there is usually fifteen miles of bad road followed by a long strip of good road which grows poorer as one goes east and to higher elevations. East of Nelson Canyon one is apt to encounter heavy mud from rain in the summer or this or snow in winter, especially near Flagstaff, which is nearly 7,000 feet in elevation.
The road runs close to the Santa Fe Railroad as far as Holbrook, Arizona, and crosses the Colorado River on a free public bridge. One may add much to the trip by turning off south just west of Ash Fork and going to Prescott, whence many things of interest, including cliff ruins, mines, scenery, the rodeo, etc., may be reached. One can continue from Prescott without returning to the National Old Trails Road by going through Wickenburg over a very interesting road and on to Parker, joining the main road near Cadiz, California. This road has the advantage of being much more interesting and heavily traveled.
It is also possible to go to Phoenix from Prescott over the Black Canyon Road. This remarkable and interesting road is usually in fairly good condition and takes one through the heart of Arizona. From Phoenix one road goes back through Wickenburg, and the other now most used goes through Buckeye to the Ehrenburg Ferry, then to Blythe, Cal.; Mecca, Riverside, and Los Angeles. From Blythe there is also a road southwestward to Imperial Valley. This is new and in good condition.
The two transcontinental roads coming to Phoenix from the east are the Apache and the Borderland Trails. The Apache Trail comes through Deming, N. M., and Globe, Arizona. The Borderland Trail comes through Hatchita, N. M.; Douglas, Bisbee, Nogales, and Tucson, Arizona. The latter comes through the important cities and is the best road, but the former passes through Globe, near Tonto National Monument, by Roosevelt Dam, and through the Mazatzal Mountains, making a road worth much in the way of marvelous scenery and charm. It is in fairly good condition and is more uniform than most roads as, being of rock, it is not so much injured by wet weather except in cases of sufficient rain to flood the fords. The larger streams are bridged. The Ehrenburg Ferry, and I believe all other Colorado River ferries, are high in their charges and are just as well avoided.
The road from Phoenix to Yuma is traveled even in the summer, although many people are wrongfully frightened off it by wild tales of heat and sand. It is a good road from Phoenix to Agua Caliente if the mountain road, the right hand signed road, is taken two miles out of Arlington. It is fair to Palomas, where one would turn north to go to Ehrenburg, and not bad although somewhat rutty through Norton's Ranch to the crossing of the Gila River. This, however, is empty country, and one must carry water and supplies to be safe.
There is a fine bridge over the Gila, but the last time I came over that road, and the last I heard, the river had left the bridge and cut the road, requiring a ford. This can usually be made with any good car and leads to a good road which extends to and along the Southern Pacific Railroad to Blaisdell, twelve miles from Yuma. It is only a matter of time until they will have the Gila back under the bridge and the road repaired and they are constantly improving the heavy sand road from Blaisdell to Yuma. This bad stretch is in a section where there are numerous ranches so that it is not dangerous.
This side of Yuma in California the road is heavy with sand and there are bad places at intervals along nearly to Niland on the Southern Pacific in the irrigated section of Imperial Valley. A branch leaves this road some miles out of Yuma, which crosses the sand dunes to Holtville and is planked for some distance. This road is much shorter, but is unsafe except after a rain and in cool weather.
After reaching the irrigated parts of the valley one has irrigated roads everywhere, even far into Mexico. These roads are good except right after a rain. The laying of concrete pavement is in progress from Niland to Calexico on the border, and from this pavement to San Diego and Los Angeles, while these two cities are already connected by paved road. The San Diego road leaves the valley from El Centro and is all paved but about forty miles in the mountains near San Diego, which is fine dirt road. The other road leaves from both Brawley and Calipatria, both branches joining before leaving the irrigated land.
Pavement begins where the road leaves the inhabited section and extends nearly a hundred miles with but two short gaps, which will be closed before summer. The unpaved road which is then encountered and which extends through Palm Springs is a good road in all weather. There is pavement for some fifteen miles east of Whitewater, and between Beaumont and Banning, then from a short distance west of Beaumont to every important coast section in the state. Provision has been made by California and Arizona for a paved road from Los Angeles through Riverside, Calipatria, Niland, Yuma, Phoenix, and on into New Mexico.
Jehiel S. Davis.