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Cajon Pass
Cajon Pass, wide angle.jpg
I-15 passing over Cajon Summit in the Cajon Pass area
Elevation 3,777 ft (1,151 m)
Traversed by I-15
Union Pacific Railroad/BNSF Railway
Location San Bernardino County, California, United States
Range San Bernardino Mountains/San Gabriel Mountains
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Cajon Pass (/kəˈhn/; elevation 3,777 ft (1,151 m)) is a mountain pass between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California in the United States. It was created by the movements of the San Andreas Fault. Located in the Mojave Desert, the pass is an important link from the Greater San Bernardino Area to the Victor Valley, and northeast to Las Vegas.

Cajon Pass is at the head of Horsethief Canyon, traversed by California State Route 138 (SR 138) and railroad tracks owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. Railroad improvements in 1972 reduced its maximum elevation from about 3,829 feet (1,167 m) to 3,777 feet (1,151 m) while also reducing the curvature. Interstate 15 does not traverse Cajon Pass, but rather the nearby Cajon Summit, 34°20′58″N 117°26′47″W / 34.34944°N 117.44639°W / 34.34944; -117.44639 (Cajon Summit), elevation 4,190 feet (1,280 m). However, the entire area including Cajon Pass and Cajon Summit is often collectively called Cajon Pass. Sometimes the entire area is called Cajon Pass, but a distinction is made between Cajon Pass and Cajon Summit in detail.

Mormon Rocks-1
Mormon Rocks

In 1851, a group of Mormon settlers led by Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich traveled through the Cajon Pass in covered wagons on their way from Salt Lake City to southern California. A prominent rock formation in the pass, where the Mormon trail and the railway merge (at 34°19′06″N 117°29′31″W / 34.3184°N 117.4920°W / 34.3184; -117.4920, near Sullivan's Curve), is known as Mormon Rocks.

MORMON ROCKS San Andreas
Located at the Highway 138 and Interstate 15 junction, the Mormon Rocks are visual evidence of the San Andreas fault lying beneath the California surface.

Name

In Spanish, the word cajón refers to a box or drawer. The name of the pass is derived from the Spanish land grant that encompassed the area; it was first referred to in English on a 1852 map.

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail goes directly through Cajon Pass, and during the hiking season up to several hundred transient hikers will pass through this area after walking one of the hottest, driest, and most grueling sections of desert on the trail. The McDonald's restaurant at the pass happens to be very close to the trail, and it is famous among hikers, who often arrive dehydrated; most will stop here for water and salty food. Many hikers also spend the night in the one motel at Cajon Pass.

Natural hazards

During October and November 2003, a number of wildfires devastated the hills and mountainsides near and around the pass, forcing the closure of Interstate 15. The following winter, rains in addition to burnt vegetation caused a number of landsides to further close the freeway pass.

On July 17, 2015, during severe drought conditions plaguing the whole state and creating extreme fire hazards, a fast, wind-whipped wildfire swept over Interstate 15 between California State Route 138 and the Oak Hill Road exits, sending drivers running for safety and setting 20 vehicles ablaze, officials said. The vegetation fire, which closed the I-15 southbound lanes and restricted the northbound side to 1 lane, overtook stalled cars.

The following year, the Blue Cut Fire again forced the closure of the freeway for several days starting on August 16, 2016. The fire closed the I-15 north and southbound lanes due to the intensity of the fire. It destroyed a number of outbuildings and homes, and destroyed the Summit Inn Restaurant in Oak Hills. A McDonald's restaurant was also burned but the damage was minor. The fire threatened homes in Lytle Creek, Phelan, Oak Hills and Wrightwood and burned 37,000 acres

In addition to wildfire hazards, Cajon Pass is notorious for wind hazards. In gusty conditions it is especially difficult to navigate through it as the Santa Ana winds usually push through that area. The winds sometimes reach gale-force strength. As a result, there are usually high wind advisories as well as road signs posted throughout the area. It is not uncommon to see overturned trucks during such windy weather there.

Cajon Pass gets snow occasionally, sometimes enough to close the pass temporarily. When there is snow, the California Highway Patrol will set up checkpoints on the freeway. Since most southern Californians are without snow tires or snow chains, they are forced to turn back, or wait until the snow has stopped and the freeway has been cleared of snow.

When there is high wind or snow in the Cajon Pass, it is fairly common for weather forecasters or reporters for San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles-area televisions stations to do location reports from the Cajon Pass.

The San Andreas Fault passes through the Cajon Pass (crossing I-15 on the south side of the summit) and is responsible for the unique local geography.

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