Desert Companion
 
Subscribe now
Current Issue
NOVEMBER 2014
Click the cover to read the complete digital edition
Features
The Radioactive Activist

Departments
All things to all people
Art
Dining
Editor's Note
End Note
Health
History
Notes and letters
Take 5
the guide
upcoming events
Take 5
Through Oct. 31, Fri-Sat, 7p. Drink with celebrity keg-tappers, enter drawings for free meals, compete in stein-holding contests and enjoy live...   
Through Oct. 31. Stacy Rink’s exhibit is a funny and brazen look at how Sin City’s sexy-glam dream-factory jostles our everyday lives....   
Oct. 3-31, opening reception Oct. 17, 7-9:30p. The Annual Traveling Show provided by the Society of Illustrators will feature 58 pieces of the most...   
  0

The highway we know today as I-15 got its start as a rough, raw, dusty — and sometimes dangerous — road. (Keep an eye out for horse thieves)

Arrowhead Trail

Interstate 15 is an umbilical cord to Southern California, bringing countless party-minded tourists and profit-driven business trips from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But long before I-15 became such a lifeline, a decidedly rougher road connecting L.A. to Las Vegas went by another name: the Arrowhead Trail Highway. (Today, its most recognized vestige is Las Vegas Boulevard.) Indeed, I-15 is just the latest version of a highway that was developed to provide a well-maintained (or at least tolerably drivable) road from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City through Southern Nevada. It’s interesting to consider that I-15 we know today was born as a rough passage that has been a trading route, a desert driving challenge and even an irresistible draw for horse thieves.

Arrowhead trail mapBut before any of that, the Arrowhead Trail was the Old Spanish Trail — which, actually, was neither old nor Spanish. It would have been more accurate to call it the Mexican Trader Trail. Attracted by the valley’s springs, in 1829, Mexican traders gradually developed a new trail through the harsh Mojave Desert. Having found the abundant water available in the Vegas Valley, the dogged explorer and merchant Antonio Armijo blazed the original trail to California with his team, braving desert heat, unforgiving terrain, thirst and hunger (sometimes allayed by eating one of their mules) to trade wool goods for horses, which he then sold in New Mexico.

But horse thieves soon caught wind of the trail, tempted by the California missions and ranchos that frequently used the Arrowhead. These thieves were known as Los Chaguanosos, and began their depredations about 1832, when Juan Jesus Villapando led the first band over the trail to California, posing as horse traders to gain trust before making off with their victims’ stock. Horses stolen by these Chaguanosos bands were often led back over the trail and sold for a fat profit in Santa Fe. Sometimes, the thefts were brazen in their ambition and scope. In 1840, a group of Chaguanosos led by Tennessean Philip Thompson made quite a haul, stealing more than 3,000 head from missions and ranchos ranging from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles. The Chaguanosos drove the horses and mules over the trail through the Mojave Desert — with an angry posse not far behind, intent on getting their property back. Alas, the members of that posse should have known when to cut their losses: Near Cajon Pass, the Chaguanosos ambushed the posse and killed two of its members, dissuading the rest from continuing pursuit.

St. Thomas NV

The rugged Arrowhead Trail was the focus of, let’s say, more heavenly pursuits as well. With the move of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the promised land of Utah and the Great Salt Lake, the borders of this promised land were ill-defined. Brigham Young considered all the area that is today’s Nevada — and that part of California east of the Sierra Nevada — as part of his new land. With movement to settle the land, it was necessary to have routes that provided access, and the Old Spanish Trail became a part of that trail system.

Welcome to Nevada

Growing up fast

The Old Spanish Trail would grow up fast as America settled the West. By the early 20th century, the business-led movement for transcontinental highways discovered the route and saw in it a vital piece of America’s slowly developing transportation network. Boosters in Utah, Nevada, and Southern California began promoting the route through Southern Nevada. The Automobile Club was supportive of the effort to have an all-weather highway, since the Lincoln Highway, which ran through the northern part of the state, was typically closed during the winter. With a lot of hype, the Arrowhead Trail Highway association formed in 1916 and got to work on transforming the trail into a full-fledged roadway. Celebrity endorsements certainly helped. Between 1915 and 1916, race-car driver Charles Bigelow drove the entire route many times in the twin-six Packard he named “Cactus Kate.” By 1917, the Goodrich Tire Company had gone over the road, setting up its familiar signposts to help travelers. These signs (you can see an example in the Clark County Museum) consisted of a heavy steel plate with a center circle in red and white, and arms in black with the names of towns and mileages noted in deep drilled dots on the black surface. These signs were meant to survive in the harsh desert climate, and many did.

Arrowhead trail mapsThe road was eventually rerouted many times, and today’s Interstate 15 and Las Vegas Boulevard follows only a few parts of the road. Between Barstow and Las Vegas, the final route was in contention for a number of years, eventually settling into something closer to what we know as I-15 today. The 1920 Automobile Blue Book, which gave exact directions for someone trying to follow the road, is interesting to review. Just to get out of Las Vegas going north you had to go from “Fremont and 1st Streets, bank on the left. Go east on Fremont four blocks. At .3 miles, 5th Street (end of pavement); turn left. Thru irregular 4-corners at cemetery 1.7. Follow winding but direct road across desert. Pass well on right 11.1, running onto rough stretch across flats 28.4” And this just got you out of town.

As the routes for the road changed, the newspapers covered the attempts to drive the route that took the shape of publicity stunts. A spectacular trip by a U. S. Army vehicle in 1917 showed what could be accomplished over the new road. To test how long it would take to get to Salt Lake City from Los Angeles in case the telegraph and railroad were both knocked out, Captain O. R. Bird and three others drove a truck with a mounted machine gun over the proposed Arrowhead Trail Highway route. In spite of road troubles, including a broken axle at St. George and torrential rain south of Salt Lake City, the actual driving time was 36 hours and 14 minutes — almost 60 hours less than the previous record.

Road to NV

Estimates of 2,000 travelers over the highway in 1919 led to renewed efforts to lock in the route and build the roadway. (The highway was not paved, but the effort was initially to build a gravel roadbed over the finalized route.) Autos in the 1920s were still not the most reliable overland transportation. They tended to overheat in the desert, and many entrepreneurs would build service stations in the open stretches between towns.

The Arrowhead Trail Highway eventually became known as the Salt Lake Highway, and when the federal government began numbering highways rather than naming them, it became Highway 91. Until the creation of I-15 in the early 1960s, it was the only sensible route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and on to Salt Lake City. Our own “all-weather” highway helped Las Vegas become the destination it is today. If you get a chance, try driving a piece of it — even if it is only the Strip.


Comments





























































 

Recycle
Photo Tour

DC Scene
Recent Posts
10/30/14  
Days of butterflies, days of rage
10/20/14  
Strip: a poem
10/24/14  
Another roadside attraction
{more posts...}


Archives
Archives

Newstand Locations
Pick up your Desert Companion today at one of these Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or Jamba Juice locations.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf LAKE MEAD & TENAYA
7291 W Lake Mead
Directions


PALMS CASINO
4321 W Flamingo Rd
Directions


UNLV
4550 W Maryland Pkwy Suite A
Directions


CARNIVALE
3377 Las Vegas Blvd
The Venetian Food Court
Directions


THE LAKES
9091 W Sahara Ave
Directions


THE DISTRICT
2220 Village Walk Dr Suite 140
Directions


MIRACLE MILE
3663 Las Vegas Blvd S Suite 45
Directions


CANYON POINT
10834 W Charleston Blvd Suite 200
Directions


TOWN CENTER
3645 S Town Center Dr Suite 101
Directions


PATRICK
6115 S Rainbow Blvd Suite 101
Directions


PALAZZO
3265 Las Vegas Blvd, Suite 1600
Directions


TOWN SQUARE
6599 Las Vegas Blvd, South #P-8149
Directions


BRIDGE
3377 Las Vegas Blvd
The Venetian
Directions


BOULDER CITY
Boulder Dam Credit Union
530 Avenue G
Boulder City NV
Directions

Jumba Juice

PEBBLE
1500 N. Green Valley Pkwy Suite 240
Directions


SAHARA & EASTERN
2675 S. Eastern Ave Suite 400
Directions


MCCARRAN MARKETPLACE
5905 S Eastern Ave Suite 108
Directions
NORTH MESA PLAZA
1829 W. Craig Road Unit 3
Directions


CANNERY CORNER
2546 E. Craig Road Suite 135
Directions


WESTLAND FAIR
1121 S. Decatur Blvd
Directions



Also available at Clark County and Henderson libraries.
Emerald City Smoothie

ST GEORGE
2376 East Red Cliffs Drive #502
St. George, UT 84790
Directions


Desert Companion