U.S. Highway 91

Whether you live in Bakersfield or Los Angeles, the drive to Las Vegas seems to take mere minutes.  The drive home, however, can be compared to a life sentence.  And it’s small consolation that thousands of other travelers are suffering your same indignities on that fateful Sunday afternoon trip.  They are, after all, one of the reasons why the trip takes forever.  Traffic jams.  They seem to start at the “Spaghetti Bowl” in Las Vegas, and stay with you until you’re fortunate enough to leave I-15 in Southern California.

When the homeward traffic grinds to a halt, it’s natural to look around for an alternate route.  Unfortunately there are very few between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  The few which exist, however, can provide a reassuring sense of progress (“shaddup, at least we’re movin’”) as well as some surprising and delightful glimpses into the past. 

Before the construction of I-15, U.S. Highway 91 was the link from Las Vegas to Barstow.  As was the custom at the time, the “highway” was not a discrete ribbon of concrete as most are today.  Rather, it was comprised of a series of local roads, usually including “the main drag” through each of the small towns along the way.  As I-15 was built out, many of these roads were subsumed by the freeway, but others remain.  They can and do provide the “alternate route” one so desperately seeks when the halted traffic seems to extend from here to Tuesday.

One of the Sunday afternoon bottlenecks is the Agricultural Inspection Station at Yermo.

It blocks the southbound lanes and is capable of causing massive traffic jams that become apparent from as far north as Field Road, especially when the station is staffed.  Fortunately, most Sunday afternoons it is not, but depending upon the time of day, traffic can still come to a complete stop for miles.  One of the easiest ways around the Inspection Station traffic is to simply leave I-15 at the Field Road, Harvard Road or Minneola Road exits, take Yermo Road (Old U.S. 91) south, and rejoin I-15 at the Yermo Road onramp south of the Inspection Station (turn right at the stop sign and follow the “Freeway ->” sign).  If you’d like to soak up a bit of early-60’s desert culture, bear left at the stop sign to stay on Yermo Road and follow it for a couple of miles until you reach Ghost Town Road, and rejoin the freeway there.  Or stay on Yermo Road and follow it up the hill to its final exit at Fort Irwin Road. 

It’s a lot easier to see this shortcut as you’re driving north to Las Vegas.  After you pass Fort Irwin Road, look for the USMC Nebo “hot pillow joint” (aka The Oak Tree Inn) and draw a mental sight line to the right of the hotel looking north.  You’ll see an obvious intersection and a road that parallels the freeway.  This is Yermo Road/Old U.S. Highway 91. The Oak Tree Inn is on the left in this photo: