Truckin’ Through California

On February 12, 2013 · 1 Comments

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Grateful Dead although they were indeed from California and noted for Truckin’. It is literally about trucks in California. Feel free to listen to Truckin’ in the background if that would make you happy though.

It all started out more grandiosely. I recalled a particularly awful drive on Virginia’s Interstate 81 last November where it seemed like every other vehicle on the highway was a truck. Some were driving with extreme aggression and well above the posted speed limit. The rest were poking along well below the limit. I grew increasingly aggravated as I slalomed between them.

That incident later inspired an online quest to find a highway with the highest percentage of trucks primarily so I could forever avoid it. That quest continues. I haven’t given up that search. Meanwhile I do have an answer for California. I found a great page from the California Department of Transportation. I was able to download a spreadsheet of annual average daily truck traffic in 2011, which I then sorted appropriately to determine all California state highways with more trucks than cars. It happens rarely. Only a small handful of places throughout the state met that standard. Imagine the nightmare of routes where more than half of all vehicles are trucks, not "seems like it" but genuinely so, consistently, day after day, forever.

Of course I plotted the offending locations. I found it fascinating that almost all of them happen near borders.

View California Truck Routes in a larger map

I examined each area and I tried to determine what might account for an overabundance of truck traffic, paying particular attention to apparent clusters.

Calexico/El Centro

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The top spot went to Rt. 115 at its junction with Rt. 78 in Imperial County. Trucks composed an astounding 81.9% of recorded vehicle traffic passing this point in 2011. That is such an amazing statistical outlier — no other point in the California managed to crack even 60% — that I had to wonder if it might have been a typographical error. I checked the math and it seemed to work. Nearby, Route 98 at Cole Road in Calexico also scored high with 56.36% trucks.

All truck traffic crossing from Mexico into the United States along this particular stretch of the border uses the "Calexico East" Port of Entry. That might explain Route 98. I’m not sure it explains Rt. 115. It doesn’t seem to follow a logical path between the port of entry and the outside world. Farms and fields surround the junction. Maybe trucks address some sort of agricultural purpose here instead?

Los Angeles/Long Beach

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This one seemed more straightforward. The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest container ports in the United States. Add their volume together and they handle three times the cargo of the next busiest port, New York/New Jersey.

Two spots nearby both hit 57.52% truck traffic, on Rt. 47 where it crosses the Commodore Heim Lift Bridge and shortly thereafter where Rts. 47 and 103 split. Notice their placement on the map above. They are practically equidistant between two very active ports. A massive volume of containers heads in-and-out at any given time and this route serves a good option. It’s a wonder truck percentages weren’t higher.

Maybe the brief stretch of Interstate 40 from Needles, California to the Arizona state line falls within this same cluster, even though it’s completely across the state? The highway provides a straight shot between the ports and several distant metropolitan areas including Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo and even Oklahoma City. The southeastern interior of California wouldn’t account for much local traffic, and containers originating in Asia would need to roll east in a steady stream to distant inland cities.


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I was going to guess that truck traffic near Bakersfield might be serving agricultural needs until I drilled-down to the exact spot. The junction of Rts. 58 and 33 happens in McKittrick, which falls outside of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The terrain looked rather rough and pretty much dug-up by human activity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and the likely explanation:

The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region in western Kern County. Along State Route 33 to the south of the town is the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the second-largest oil field in the contiguous United States; within the town itself, as well as to the west is the McKittrick Field; to the northwest is the huge Cymric Field; and along Highway 33 beyond Cymric is the large South Belridge Oil Field, run by Aera Energy LLC. East of McKittrick is Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Field, formerly the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.

I don’t know if every truck passing through here serves the oil industry, however it seems like a plausible reason for much of the 55.55% truck volume, absent further evidence.

National Forest

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Of all roads with greater than 50% truck traffic, only Route 161 in Siskiyou County fell outside of southern California. It’s about as far away from the others as possible. The anomaly recorded 55.25% truck traffic at the far northern extreme of the state. There might be an agricultural reason because of nearby farms. There might also be another reason, forestry: Winema National Forest, Fremont National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Shasta National Forest and Klamath National Forest are nearby as are areas accessible to commercial logging. Maybe the trucks are hauling logs?

The Final Leg

On July 24, 2012 · Comments Off on The Final Leg

The adventure ends. This article will post automatically as I’m flying somewhere over the vast interior of the United States assuming my WordPress blogging software operates correctly. I will likely be home by the time many of you read this. It’s been a great two weeks of traveling through corners of Washington and Oregon I’d never experienced before. Now I need to finish this vacation and readjust to reality. I plan to take a couple of days off from blogging and I’ll see you all next week after I catch-up on job responsibilities and household chores. Hopefully this final article within the Pacific Northwest series will provide sufficient 12MC goodness to see you through.

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This map, unlike the previous ones actually describes our route accurately, albeit we didn’t complete everything in a single day.

Mount Hood View

We’ve been blessed by great weather. Our drive past Mount Hood — the tallest peak in Oregon at 11,249 feet (3,429 metres) — was no exception. We’d been spotting glimpses of it all day as we traveled north out of Bend on a route towards Hood River. I don’t generally backtrack although I made an exception here. I had to stop the car and turn around briefly after this view of Mt. Hood appeared in my rear-view mirror.

I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest enough times to understand that this wasn’t an everyday sight.

Multnomah Falls Portland Oregon

I broke another one of my ironclad cardinal travel rules a couple of hours later: avoid the tourist hordes at all costs. There wasn’t an option. My wife and I had been to Multnomah Falls on our 1998 trip and were suitably impressed. We felt the kids needed to experience them too. Perfect summer weather. On a weekend. Right off an Interstate highway. Directly outside of a major metropolitan area (Portland). This wasn’t going to be a pretty traffic situation.

We prepped the boys that this might by a drive-by visit only. We left Interstate 84 and nudged down a narrow roadway at the base of the cliffs, the Historic Columbia River Highway. Near gridlock, bumper-to-bumper traffic greeted us as we closed-in on the falls. We drove past slowly and told the kids to look up towards their left. This would be their only opportunity to view of the falls, or so we though. Unexpectedly, right as I was about to exit towards the Interstate, a parking spot opened directly in front of me. What’s that old expression? "It’s better to be lucky than to be good?"

Columbia River Ferry

Regular readers know that I can’t bypass a ferry. Only one ferry remains on the lower Columbia River, the Ferry Wahkiakum, running once an hour between Washington and Oregon. Wahkiakum County, Washington operates its eponymous ferry as it has since taking over operations in 1962. It’s the only direct automotive connection between Wahkiakum County and Oregon, which is why I suppose the ferry continues to exist even though bridges can be found to the east and the west.

Astoria Oregon

Astoria is a quaint town near the mouth of the Columbia River on the Oregon side of the border. It has roots going all the way back to a fort established in 1811 by the American Fur Company, and named after the company owner, John Jacob Astor. Bear in mind that this occurred only about five years after Lewis and Clark first covered the expanse of North America to a spot very near this point.

Furs are long gone. Tourism seems to be the dominant industry in Astoria today with all of its art galleries, gingerbread Victorian architecture and Bed-and-Breakfast inns. It’s a great little weekend getaway for people living in Portland.

I took this photograph from the Astoria Column, a 125 ft. / 38m. tower atop the highest hill in town. Notice the bridge that spans the Columbia River with the state of Washington on the far side. It’s only about 20 minutes from Ferry Wahkiakum which is why the old ferry felt like such an anachronism, albeit a pleasant one.

Long Beach Washington

We’d been chasing Lewis and Clark since the Tri-Cities almost two weeks earlier, and we arrived at the Pacific Ocean in a similar location. We toured Cape Disappointment on the Washington side of the border where the Corps of Discovery Expedition observed the ocean before crossing back to Oregon and settling-in for the winter of 1805-1806.

We went just slightly north of the Cape to present-day Long Beach, Washington.

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I couldn’t help one last bit of geo-geekiness on our final leg towards SeaTac airport. Mason County had long been a "doughnut hole" on my Washington State map of counties visited. I veered from Highway 8 a short distance to clip Mason County and finally capture it. That empty spot on my map had been taunting me for years and I felt this might be one of very few opportunities to resolve that discrepancy. Problem solved.

Now it’s time to return home.

Other articles in this travelogue:

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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