Road Timeline in the Borrego Desert Area

James Dillane and Tom Chester

We put this timeline together to help understand historical botanical collections by understanding what routes collectors could take at any given time. The timeline contains some interesting botanical collections as well as road information.

The timeline was expanded to include some roads / routes before the first botanical collections for completeness.

Of course, there were many native Indian routes present before any of these roads were constructed, and many of these roads probably followed some of those routes.

1774Anza pioneers an inland route from Yuma, Arizona through the desert to the San Gabriel Mission. His route went through Ocotillo Wells SRVA, followed San Felipe Creek to Old Borrego Springs, then up Coyote Canyon to Terwilliger / Anza Valley. Source: Web de Anza.
Road was not used from 1783 to 1824 due to Indian hostilities. Source: Warren, Roske and Patrick 1981.
1832Thomas Coulter is the first botanical collector in the Sonoran Desert of California. He travels from La Pala in the San Luis Rey Valley, where he collected Romneya coulteri, Coulter's Matilija Poppy, to San Felipe Creek. Then he went around the southern end of the Vallecito Mountains, probably following the route of today's S2, into the Carrizo Badlands. He then went on to the Colorado River, where he discovered Lyrocarpa coulteri and Dithyrea californica, and then returned to coastal California. Source: Beidleman 2006, pp. 127-129.
1846William Hemsley Emory was an officer with the surveying team of the Army of the West, charged with preparing a map of the proposed southwestern route to California and to collect information on the region, including the botany. They crossed the Colorado River at Yuma, got bogged down in a thick soapy quagmire southwest of the present-day Salton Sea, and traveled to the Ojo Grande spring at the source of Carrizo Creek. Emory collected for the first time Encelia frutescens, Stillingia spinulosa, and Encelia farinosa.

The Army traveled northwest up the Vallecito and San Felipe Valleys. On the way, Emoryi was the first to collect the California Fan Palm, Washingtonia filifera. The Army camped at the abandoned Indian village of San Felipe, and proceeded north up San Felipe Valley to the pass, where Emoryi collected Prunus ilicifolia.

Source: Beidleman 2006, pp. 188-191.

1847The Mormon Battalion, following the Army of the West, hacks away at the rocks of Box Canyon with just a few hand axes and one or two spades to create space for their wagons to pass. Source: Lindsay 2001, p. 244.
1870Gold discovered and Julian founded.
1872Toll road opens from Banner up to Julian.
1877The railroad is completed through the desert, significantly changing the wagon road network to fit access to the railroad. Source: Warren, Roske and Patrick 1981.
~1890John McCain builds the Wagon Road from Sentenac Cienega to the saddle of Plum Canyon, then down Plum Canyon to Plum Canyon Wash, where it met the Grapevine Canyon Road in San Felipe Creek and continued on to Old Borrego Springs. A wagon with a slip scraper and a few cattle took this road from Sentenac Cienega through Plum Canyon in the winter of 1897-1898, and a chuck wagon went via Grapevine Canyon and the lower part of the Wagon Road to Old Borrego Springs in 1909. For more information on this Wagon Road, see Vascular Flora of Plum Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Sources: Lindsay 2001, p. 273; Reed 1963, pp. 46, 51.
1902Harvey Monroe Hall botanizes from Terwilliger Valley to Borrego Springs via Coyote Canyon, probably by horseback.
1920Jepson notes the road is being graded from Warner's and has almost reached the San Felipe Valley. He is able to cross the San Felipe River near Scissors Crossing in his automobile, but with some difficulty due to the sand.

He drives down the valley and on to Vallecitos indicating that it was passible for autos before the highway was graded. He eventually returns to Warners, then drives down Grapevine Canyon, down through The Narrows, and then north to Borrego, camping and botanizing all the way.

1922First automobile road opens through Sentenac Canyon. The older, rougher Grapevine Canyon road falls into disuse. Lindsay 2001 says construction began in 1917 and completed in "1932" (p. 315). Since Jepson drove through Sentenac Canyon in 1928, the "1932" date is probably a typo.
1925Road is finished past the narrows out to Imperial County. The roadbed beyond the narrows, now the Old Kane Springs Road, is clay with lots of potholes.
1929Honor Farm established at Tamarisk Grove. Work begins on roadbed on the south side of San Felipe Creek. Finished (and paved?) in 1932.
1930The "Borrego Road" from Borrego Springs to SR86 (now part of S22) is completed. It was a "slow road", with top speeds of 20 mph "if that".
1934Construction begins on Yaqui Pass Road, now S3. Paved in 1942, the first paved road into Borrego Springs.
195540 mile segment of S2 south of Scissors Crossing paved. Source: Remeika and Lindsay 1992, p. 140.
1964Montezuma Grade opens, after nine years of construction.

We thank Jane Strong for significant input for this page.

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Copyright © 2013 by James Dillane and Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 5 January 2013