Where US 50 begins

3,073 miles. That’s how long US 50 is. And it begins — or is it ends? — right here, in Ocean City, Maryland.

Its other end is in West Sacramento, California, not in Sacramento as the sign promises. A sign in West Sacramento tells drivers that Ocean City is 3,073 miles away. It’s a famous sign pairing among us roadgeeks. It was even more famous during a time when the West Sacramento sign erroneously read 3,037 miles.

US 50 is one of the original US highways, designated in 1926. But where it has ended has changed several times. Originally, it stretched from Sacramento to Annapolis, MD. Its west end was moved to Hayward, CA, in 1932, and to San Francisco in 1935. Its east end moved to this location in Ocean City in 1948. Finally, in 1972 its west end moved to its present location in West Sacramento.

The route in between has changed many times over the years thanks to various upgrades and bypasses. The changes keep coming, such as one being built now around North Vernon, Indiana. It will add two miles to the route. It makes me wonder how these 3,073 miles are counted. When the new North Vernon alignment opens, will the signs be amended to 3,075 miles?

I’ve driven US 50, including its old alignments, across Indiana and most of Illinois; see everything I’ve written about this road here. I’d like to drive the rest of it someday, on one giant road trip.

If I set my trip odometer at one end and check mileage at the other, do you think the Departments of Transportation in California and Maryland will be interested to know?

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Road Trips

Where US 50 begins (or ends, depending on your perspective)

I wax a little too philosophical about US 50 and its ends. I got to see one of them: the eastern end, in Ocean City, MD.

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On the beach in Ocean City, MD

On the beach in Ocean City
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

Our day on the Atlantic Ocean was cold, and once or twice we felt raindrops. This only meant that we had the beach largely to ourselves, which is the way this family of introverts likes it.

We split our beach time between Ocean City with its boardwalk and (probably) trucked-in sand, and Assateague with its grasses and wild horses. This photo is from the former place.

More photos from this day to come.

Photography, Travel

single frame: On the beach in Ocean City

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The view from Gilpin Road

The view from Gilpin Road
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

My sons and I were driving the National Road across Maryland. As we ascended Polish Mountain, the view of modern US 40 and I-68 below was arresting.

Photography, Road Trips

Photo: The view from Gilpin Road, part of the National Road in Maryland

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Road Trips

Scenes from the National Road in 1920

Long about March I’ve been cooped up so long that I start to itch for my first spring road trip. The guys over at the American Road forum have been talking about the National Road a lot lately. One fellow there has started an ambitious online project to capture the road’s history. It has me coming out of my skin to hit the old alignments!

I won an eBay auction recently for a stack of little cards, printed in 1920, showing scenes from the National Road in Maryland and Pennsylvania. They reminded me of my trip last spring along the same route, and only made me want to get out on the road even more!

This card shows the Wilson Bridge, my favorite bridge on the Maryland portion of the road.

National Road, 1920

This bridge isn’t as white today, but she’s still a real beauty. I took the photo below from the shore at about the center of the card’s right edge.

Wilson's Bridge

The road has been rerouted several times over Polish Mountain since 1920. This is what it looked like then.

National Road, 1920

This is the view from the old road on Polish Mountain now. I-68 certainly wasn’t part of the view in 1920!

The view from Gilpin Road

Maybe it was because Maryland was a tough act to follow, but I wasn’t very impressed with the views in Pennsylvania. This card makes me want to give that state a second chance.

National Road, 1920

You can check out all eight of these cards in my Flickr space.

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Road Trips

Three National Road/US 40 bridges over Maryland’s Casselman River

Casselman River bridge

I didn’t plan for our trip across Maryland to become the 2009 Grey Family Old Bridge Tour, but that’s how it turned out. I enjoyed it, of course, but I worried that my sons’ enthusiasm would quickly wane. How many old bridges can 10- and 12-year-old boys stand to see in one day? But somehow they didn’t run out of “Wow!” and “Cool!” and they never tired of running along every old bridge we stopped to explore.

One stop was left before we crossed into Pennsylvania. My youngest son was stoked because we had just come from photographing him next to a sign welcoming us to a county with which he shares a name. He was more than ready to see the 1813 Casselman River Bridge.

Do just a little research into the National Road and you’ll soon find photos of this bridge. It seems to be the best-known bridge on the National Road. At 80 feet long it was the longest stone arch bridge ever built in the United States. I had trouble backing up far enough to get the whole bridge into a frame.

Casselman River bridge

Photos hardly do justice to how tall this bridge is. The top of the arch is 30 feet above the waterline! It creates quite a peak on the road’s surface. Some modern sporty cars might scrape their undercarriages when they crest it.

Casselman River bridge

Early automobiles had enough ground clearance that this was not a problem, as this 1916 photo shows.

CasselmanBridge1916

No cars travel this bridge today. While it became a part of US 40 in 1926, it was left behind when a new bridge was built nearby in 1933. Today, the old bridge is part of a state park, and the approaching road has been removed on each side.

Casselman River bridge

The 1933 bridge built to carry US 40 has become historic, too. Many steel bridges like this one (a Pratt through truss design, in case you’re curious) have been demolished in favor of more modern bridges.

Casselman River bridge

Even this bridge has been bypassed. US 40 (and I-68) now use the bridge in the background, a plain “slab and pier” design that bridge fans call a UCEB – an Ugly Concrete Eyesore Bridge. The 1933 bridge has to be content to carry Alternate US 40.

Casselman River bridge

Okay, bridges can’t feel contentment. At least I was content as we drove over this bridge that it still carries traffic. Check out its skew!

Casselman River bridge

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Road Trips

The National Road view from Maryland’s Polish Mountain

This map shows three alignments of US 40 about 15 miles east of Cumberland, Maryland. The newest dates to 1991, when I-68 was completed and US 40 was moved to it. The next, which dates to 1958, is now Maryland Route 144. The oldest, now called Gilpin Road, is actually the National Road.

My flatland Hoosier sons and I were very surprised to turn onto Gilpin Road and find ourselves going sharply uphill. My little car struggled all the way, never besting 45 miles per hour. That’s probably just as well, not just because the road is also winding and very narrow, but also because we wanted to enjoy the breathtaking view as long as we could. Check this out:

The view from Gilpin Road

Clearly, the map doesn’t show the differences in elevation among the three roads! We found one spot along Gilpin Road wide enough for us to pull over and looked over the landscape, agog. We said “Wow!” over and over for several minutes before we realized we should get out our cameras. A bit of Maryland Route 144 is visible in the lower third of the photo, and beyond it I-68 stretches across the Maryland countryside on its way to West Virginia. I took several photos from here which Photoshop linked together into this panorama.

The view from Gilpin Road

Extending the National Road east from Cumberland to Baltimore required building over and around this rugged terrain, creating the steep climbs and hairpin turns of Gilpin Road. Some of those turns were made slightly less harrowing in the 1920s and 1930s; Christopher Busta-Peck shares some vintage photos of that reconstruction in his excellent National Road blog. Those realignments were minor compared to the cuts and fills in the 1958 alignment, which have been called the meanest feats of road engineering in Maryland to that time.

I-68 soundly trumps both roads, cutting deeply through the hills. Notice the deep cut on the panorama’s right side. I-68’s most amazing cut into the terrain is a bit east of here at Sideling Hill, from which a 340-foot-deep wedge was removed. This page shows the hill shortly after the road was completed, before the rock’s colors darkened to shades of brown.

I actually haven’t seen the Sideling Hill cut in person. Maybe one day. Given the short time I had to drive through Maryland, I chose the National Road all the way. Given another opportunity for a short trip through Maryland, I’d choose the National Road and Polish Mountain again.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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