Wednesday, August 21, 2013

S.L. to Los Angeles: The Most Difficult Wagon Road in American History

         A dirt road near the Beaver Dam Wash today follows where wagons used to roll 160 years ago.

By Lynn Arave

THE next time you travel from Salt Lake City, or anywhere in Utah, to Los Angeles, appreciate what an easy drive you have in likely an air-conditioned vehicle.
In Mormon Pioneer times of the mid-19th Century, this was likely the most difficult wagon road in the nation.
In fact, that's the subject of a 2001 book, "The Arduous Road: Salt Lake to Los angeles, The Most Difficult Wagon Road in American History," by Leo Lyman and Larry Reese (Lyman Historical Research and Publishing, Victorville, Calif.)

Why today I can leave my home in Layton, Utah at 4:40 a.m., take two hours of stops along the way and reach Anaheim/Disneyland, California by 4 p.m. Pacific time.
It's a 10 hour and 16 minute non-stop drive of some 690 miles from S.L. to Los Angeles today.
In pioneer times, this was a many weeks trip in some dry, harsh territory -- the deserts of southern Nevada and eastern California.
What's perhaps more interesting is that the pioneer routes used didn't always follow near where today's I-15 goes.
That's because pioneer routes followed water sources, not always direct routes.
For example, while today's I-15 does roughly follow where the pioneers from Salt Lake to Parowan, it changes a lot after there.
Pioneer routes turned west past Summit and headed for Antelope Spring, winding down past Veyo and Gunlock -- by passing St. George. (It wasn't until 1857 that a route through St. George was used.)
                                       The forbidding desert.

After there, today's I-15 route was basically followed, with some deviations of 3-5 miles to the north or south. Next, the route to Las Vegas is pretty close for both routes.
However, it is from Vegas on where the route really changes.
Wagon parties headed northwest for several springs and were at times 30 miles north of today's I-15 in different areas.
 Pioneers missed Jean, Nevada and did not climb that steep hill outside Stateline into California. The old-timers also bypassed Baker, California completely. 
The two roads connect again just north of Barstow.
The pioneer route also didn't descent into the Los Angeles Basin by way of Cajon Pass, as I-15 does today. Wagon routes went down further south by way of Coyote-Crowder Canyon.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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