San Diego to Yuma – Then

The first section of the project will be to research and ride Baker’s route of May 3, 1914 from downtown San Diego east over the mountains to the desert and ending up that first night in Yuma, Arizona. As we will do throughout the project, we located some maps of the area from that period of time. In Map 1 we see that the route east to El Centro left downtown San Diego on Imperial Avenue heading east to La Mesa. In Map 2 we see the route turned south east on what is now Highway 94 towards Campo and on to the desert. Highway projects in 1914 had the road improved through Mountain Spring. From there east to El Centro was still a rough sandy trail. More on this section later.

Map 1


Map 2

There was an auto “stage” service at the time that would transport people from downtown San Diego to El Centro. Here is a chart showing the route and arrival times. From San Diego Historical Society.

Leaving Pickwick Theatre Bldg.,
1027 4th, Between C & Broadway

Leave San Diego 8:00 A.M.
Arrive Jamul 9:00 A.M.
Arrive Dulzura 9:30 A.M.
Arrive Cottonwood 10:00 A.M.
Arrive Potrero 10:30 A.M.
Arrive Campo 11:00 A.M.
Arrive Warner’s Ranch 12:30 P.M.
Arrive Boulevard 1:00 P.M.
Arrive Jacumba 1:15 P.M.
Arrive Mountain Spring 1:45 P.M.
Arrive Dixieland 3:15 P.M.
Arrive Seeley 3:35 P.M.
Arrive El Centro 4:00 P.M.

Stage also leaves San Diego for El Centro at 4:00 P.M. daily


Looking west at downtown San Diego circa 1914 when Erwin Baker left there at 9:00 am on May 3rd, 1914 en route to New York City.

The U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego was only four years old when Baker rode east through town towards the desert and his planned first night stop in Yuma, Arizona.

This period photo shows what the road would have been like when Cannon Ball reached the eastern section of San Diego county on the first day of his 1914 ride. This is near Mountain Springs close to the Imperial County line heading east towards El Centro. Photo: San Diego History Center.

Farther east than the first photo, Baker had to navigate his way on a sandy two-track trail through the rocky Mountain Springs Grade down to the desert floor. Photo: San Diego History Center.

A massive construction project begun in 1911 eventually created an established route through the mountains east of San Diego to El Centro. This is at Devil's Canyon, the doorway to the desert. Baker went right down this road in 1914. Photo: San Diego History Center.

This photo should explain why the maps -- both Then and Now show the route going north around the Great California Sand Dunes at Glamis. My family has lived in the Imperial and San Diego Counties since the late 1800s and my great-grandfather David Harbison took this photo in the early 1900s. It shows the sand dunes that are directly east of El Centro and Brawley. Cannon Ball Baker's ride in 1914 was before the Plank Road was built in that area of the desert, which is why he had to ride north from El Centro to Brawley, then north east to Mammoth Wash where he got onto the railroad tracks and rode south to Yuma.

Here is a circa 1914 postcard of the bridge that separates Arizona and California at Yuma. Read Baker's Route and his written account of his ride to Yuma. He got on the railroad track at Mammoth Wash, approx. 60 miles north.

Seen from the east side of the river is the hotel at the Yuma Station. Baker didn't specify where he stayed that first night, but it seems likely he would have pulled in here after crossing the river.