San Diego to Yuma – Now



San Diego to Brawley

Joe and I recently got the project rolling (literally) with our first “research ride” to retrace Cannon Ball Baker’s route from San Diego east towards Yuma, Arizona. Based on our research we know the main route to the desert in 1914 was east from downtown San Diego on “M” Avenue (now Imperial Avenue) which now originates alongside San Diego’s baseball stadium, Petco Park. The route proceeds east on Imperial Ave. towards Lemon Grove and La Mesa to Spring Street, right at Campo Road and east on Highway 94 past Campo towards the desert. There is a brief section that requires getting on Interstate 8, then staying on the original route, once we got to the desert floor, we exited and took the historical old Highway 80 towards El Centro, then north to Brawley.


Our starting point was the waterfront in downtown San Diego. Behind Joe is the famous Anthony’s Fish Grotto restaurant and the sails of the Star of India.

On a previous scouting ride we came across this section of old Highway 80 at Mountain Spring, just a few miles from the floor of the desert. The road was all dirt when Baker went through in 1914. The asphalt seen here covers the cement that had been put down a few years later during a massive road construction project to create a highway through to Arizona and east. The current Interstate 8 is seen in the background.

After passing through Campo, Highway 94 merged into historic Highway 80 and we followed that to the desert. There is a section where the only road though the canyon is on Interstate 8. There are, as seen here, still some remnants of the old highway. When Baker went through here in 1914 the road was dirt, but it was later covered by cement.

Following Baker’s written account from his pass through this area, our route took us north on highway 115 toward Mammoth Wash. Unfortunately, we encountered an irrigation canal that was since put in, and then Private Property signs to keep the public out of a farming area. But we eventually made our way around all that and headed east in a wash until we came out at the railroad tracks that Baker refers to in his writings.

It is pretty cool when we know we are riding where Baker rode. This is our trail between Brawley and Mammoth Wash. In his written account, Baker wrote: "I found good roads...into Brawley and from there on I was riding silt, which was axle deep for 19 miles to Mammoth Wash.

Speaking of Cannon Ball Baker, the AMA sent us his actual Hall of Fame medal and we had it with us on the ride—as we plan to do the whole way to New York City.

In Baker’s account (read in “Baker’s Route”) you will see his reference to getting onto the railroad track at Mammoth Wash and riding it south to Yuma. Behind Joe is that same track where it intersects Mammoth Wash. It is pretty cool when we get to places where we can truly say, “Cannon Ball was here.”

We soon found out why Baker chose to get up on the railroad tracks in this area. Of course we would go to jail if we did it today, so we found the nearest road we could on Google Maps. Unfortunately it didn’t show how deep the sand got in that area. It took a little while to dig out and we did eventually get back on more solid ground.

The big KTM was a handful in the deep sand, but it was fine when we got back onto something that could be described as a road. We are aimed south at this point, a few miles north of Glamis.

Joe and I take a break after our ride through the deep stuff. We were thankful we were back on course. Onward!


Brawley to Yuma

On our previous mapping rides we located a trail from Brawley northeast to Mammoth Wash, north of the huge Algodones Dunes, better known as Glamis. This is where Baker got onto the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and rode 64 miles south to Yuma, Arizona. Since we cannot get to Yuma the same way that Baker did we needed to find a route that we could ride on our motorcycles. As previous photos show, the trail closest to the tracks on the west side had some very deep and challenging sections, so we located on a Google Map a second trail that ran to the east of the tracks and appeared to be an actual road. So the purpose of our more recent trip was to confirm that to be true.

Actor Perry King (left) joined us for this ride. Behind him and Joe is Ted Kipf Road, which we picked up at Niland and rode south. We were pleased to find it to be a fun road, with only a few soft spots along the way and continued south to Glamis, and then on to Yuma. Total distance from Niland to Yuma was approximately 70 miles.

As we go it is always exciting when we get to places where we can truly say, “Cannon Ball was right here.” And this was one of them, where Ted Kipf Road crosses the railroad tracks a few miles north of Glamis. He rode south on these tracks to Yuma on May 3, 1914. Note the Algodones Dunes in the background, which is why Baker had to go north from Brawley to get around that before shifting to the south to get to Yuma, his destination for Day 1.

With the Arizona mountains in the background, Joe and I take a break at the end of Ted Kipf Road at Ogilby, California.

In Yuma, we were directed to the site of the old Southern Pacific railroad station where Cannon Ball concluded the first day of his 11 ½ day ride to New York City. The tracks were relocated in the 1920s to follow the new (at the time) Ocean to Ocean bridge that was built.

Even though the bridge across the Colorado River is no longer there, nor is the train station, the city of Yuma has kept a small section of track and one of the actual Southern Pacific trains that was used during Baker’s time.

Joe checks out the last remains of the old Southern Pacific railroad station that was excavated in recent years. Another one of those “Cannon Ball was here” locations.


The next phase of our project is Cannon Ball Baker’s Day 2, from Yuma to Phoenix, AZ.