The Ditches of San Berdoo County

Wild Wash Road
Wild Wash Road on Interstate 15 near Barstow, California
Write what you know.

If this truism is really true, then the more you know, the more you’ll have to write. So, yes, I’d like to go to Rome right now, please. Or Paris or Bangkok. For now, though, the travel opportunity I do have each month is driving to Los Angeles. This journey pretty much guarantees a return trip to Las Vegas on the same road, because the only other realistic option (through Death Valley) takes many more hours.

This means I know Interstate 15 between Devore, California and Sloan, Nevada pretty darn well. I could have told you that when the highway was built, it was necessary to construct ground-level bridges over depressions in the landscape between Barstow and Halloran Pass. I even could have told you that these depressions have names. But until I took a closer look on my last journey over this thoroughfare, I could not have told you how many there are. Heretofore, I would have said there were five or six, which just goes to show how much you can still learn about things you thought you already knew. I now have photographs of 17 of the named ditches of San Bernardino County. I may have missed a few.

Ditches aren’t the only geographical features with names on I-15. Washes and rivers (usually dry) have names, too, and so do overpasses. But ditches remain the most unusual, the most eye-catching, and perhaps even the most likely to have a blockbuster novel named after them.

So here you go. Just like I’m taking virtual visits to Rome and Paris and Bangkok these days, you can soak up the essence of the ditches of San Bernardino County right here online, courtesy of my blog. Note especially Mobi Ditch near Baker (home of the World’s Tallest Thermometer). That’s a name with a nice literary ring, too.

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14 thoughts to “The Ditches of San Berdoo County”

  1. When I was working on the Devore to Sloan — Highway to Las Vegas book (never completed, sigh) I spent a day with a road engineer who had worked for Caltrans (California Division of Highways) for 25 years building highways all over California. He said that in career, he had never seen any highway with so many named ditches. In fact, very few Interstate Highways anywhere in the USA have so many named ditches. Every major highway has lots of bridges crossing ditches or small washes, but they usually just have a bridge designation number.

    So, the next time you drive on I-15, pay attention to this little-known attraction found only the Mojave Desert.

    1. I don’t recall seeing named ditches anywhere else. I wonder who had the idea and how they got their names. Some are obvious, but ones like Mobi and Tork aren’t. There must be a story…

  2. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to drive a section of I-40 between the Kelbaker Road and Barstow last week and I discovered that there are named ditches along this section of I-40 too.


    1. New Hampshire has notches, Kentucky has licks, and San Bernardino County has ditches… 🙂

  3. For years I’ve driven the 15 freeway to various jobs in LV. Beyond the literary reference the name Mobi Ditch resonated almost obsessively. I named a character in a performance tableau Dr Mobius Ditch. The good doctor speaks secret grammatical/discursive formations to infants using a tin can and string telephone, the kind of thing children played with before the digital age. In messing around with the name itself I discovered it to be a kind of codified anagram combo of my own name, which has delighted me in a weird cathartic Freudian theoretical way.

  4. I have traveled this stretch multiple times before, and always wondered about the background of the ditches. It appears they are man-made and were constructed by Caltrans for the purpose of diverting potential flash floods from torrential desert downpours under the Interstate instead of onto them. Not sure the reason for the names in particular but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they were random.

  5. I’ve gone back and forth on I-15 for business and pleasure many times and I definitely remember “Mobi Ditch” catching my eye a few times. “Hot Wash” and “Telephone Wash” are also some other favorites. Poking around Caltrans District 8’s website, I found a list of every bridge they have in Riverside and SBD counties, and that includes every single named wash and ditch on I-15, I-40, and I-10! I’m just saying it seems like I-10 has even better names than I-15: everything from Happy Gulch and Sad Gulch, Tex Wash, Resurrection Wash and Wide Ditch. I imagine I-8 has some funny names as well.

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