The Ridge Route (Historic California 99)
The Ridge Route Highway is that section of road that winds over the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountains between Castaic Junction on the south (where I-5 junctions with Hwy. 126 to Ventura) and extends to the bottom of Grapevine Grade on the north where I-5 enters the great San Joaquin Valley. The "Grapevine" is the 6 1/2 mile segment of the Ridge Route that extends from Fort Tejon to the bottom of Grapevine Grade. Many people erroneously believe that the "Grapevine" got its name because the original 1915 highway had a series of "switchbacks" which allowed early vehicles to gain elevation as they climbed the grade heading from Bakersfield toward Los Angeles. The serpentine path resembled a giant grapevine. Although this observation was true, the name actually came from the fact that early wagoners had to hack their way through thick patches of Cimarron grapevines that inhabited "La Canada de Las Uvas," Canyon of the Grapes. Traveling the grade today, look for patches of what appears to be ivy on both sides of the canyon near the truck run-a-way escape ramps. What you see are descendant vines, which date back to the 1800s. The news media Incorrectly refers to the entire Ridge Route as the Grapevine. There have been three Ridge Route highways. The 1915 highway, the 1933 three-lane Ridge Alternate Highway identified as Highway 99 (in 1947 converted to a 4-lane expressway); and today's 8-lane I-5 freeway completed in 1970. The Ridge Alternate was severed with the construction of Pyramid Dam.
Construction began on the Ridge Route in 1910. At this time, Beale's Cut was bypassed by the Newhall Highway Tunnel. Newhall also changed quite a bit then. From 1878 to 1910, Railroad Avenue was the main highway through town. In 1910, the Ridge Route took the straighter alignment of Spruce Street instead of Railroad Avenue. Due to this change, all of the businesses moved onto the new main street.
In late 1915, the Ridge Route was opened to Bakersfield. It was only oiled and graded at this time. This was the segment that gave the Ridge Route its name. The official name for the Ridge Route was the "Castaic - Tejon Route" as it went to the San Joaquin Valley via Tejon Pass. The highway winds over the ridge line hence the nickname, Ridge Route.
Starting in 1917 and ending in early 1920, the Ridge Route was finally paved with a twenty-foot wide slab of reinforced concrete four inches thick. It was later widened with asphalt in the mid 1920's. Many of the deep cuts and tight curves were day lighted, or widened in the inside of the curve to enhance sight distance within the turn, during this time as well.
The highway was notorious for its many and usually dangerous curves. If all of the curves were to be added together, they would make 110 complete circles. Many died along the highway as a result of it being narrow and windy. It was finally bypassed in 1933 by the Ridge Route Alternate (new US 99) but was still used by a few hardy travelers.
Historic photo of one of the hotels along the old
Another stop along the old route
Dead-Man's Curve - Historic Ridge Route