Saturday, February 5, 2011

Driving 99

My interest in old roads goes back to my childhood when I would pack up into the backseat of the 57 Chevy and we'd travel US 66, the Mother Road, from LA to Detroit.  Those trips were epic multi-day journeys on mostly two-lane highways across an ever-changing landscape.  The gas stations were full service.  Stops at Stuckey's yielded their famous pecan logs to enjoy in bits and pieces passed back to me by my mother from the front seat.

On a recent family trip across the western US, we drove the section of Route 66 westward from Seligman to Kingman, Arizona. Once past the kitsch and overly restored Route 66 nostalgia of Seligman, the trip did bring back fond memories of wide open desert valleys and distant mountain ranges as the passing telephone poles counted the way.

Old Highway 99 is the north-south version of the east-west Route 66.   Before Interstate 5, US 99 was the principal north-south highway between Los Angeles on up past Seattle to the Canadian border.  This was the other highway of my youth for our family camping trips to Oregon and Washington.

I get down to Portland occasionally which entails driving Interstate 5 from my homebase in Pugetopolis.  Given time, I'll try to drive a segment of Old 99.  Recently I drove a section of the Old Pacific Highway (99) northward from Kelso to just past the Toutle River reconnecting to I-5 at Exit 52.  The route follows the Cowlitz River and passes through the small town of Castle Rock.

I paused and made a stop where the road crosses the Toutle River to indulge my other interests, bridges and rivers.  The bridge here was constructed in 1935 and was the main route of US 99 until Interstate 5 was completed here in 1969.   With that, the US 99 designation was abandoned in Washington State.

The 1935 bridge is a classic "camelback" truss bridge, specifically a riveted, 10-panel Pennsylvania through truss, a modification of the basic Pratt truss structure.  Evidence of an earlier bridge includes a large piece of concrete pier visible to the left and a stone masonry bridge abutment on the right bank, both in front of the 1935 bridge.  I have been unable, so far, to find any information on an older bridge.


 Cowlitz County GIS

When Mount St. Helens erupted on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, it sent a surge of steaming mud and debris down the Toutle River.  Our 1935 bridge was spared but another road bridge upstream on the North Fork Toutle River was taken out by the mudflow.  The following photo (USGS) was taken from our 1935 bridge shortly after the eruption and looks downstream to the Interstate 5 bridges constructed in 1969.  A mudline left behind on trees shows depths reached by the mud.


Before heading home, I picked up a few nice, rounded, river rocks for the home landscape.  The rocks are beautiful porphyritic volcanic rocks washed down from Mount St. Helens.


  1. Nice write up. I enjoyed it very much and it is nice to get off I-5 sometimes. I have developed a preference for Highway 30 from Portland to Longview.

  2. Thanks Dan. It's been a great many years since I drove Hwy 30. I'll drive it on my next trip to Portland, time permitting.