Ortega Highway

There is a state route that directly connects the Southern California Inland Empire area to the San Luis Capistrano area of Orange County.  This route is 74….otherwise known as Ortega Highway.  It’s a two lane road that on the eastern side (Lake Elsinore) winds its way up the Santa Ana Mountains before taking a gently winding journey through the Cleveland National Forest before ending near the coast in Orange County.

The good news about this journey is that it is VERY scenic!  The bad news is that there is an east-to-west section, about a mile or so in length, that is beyond excrutiating for me.  Once I’m past that, the rest of the 20+ mile drive is awesome! 

So, why the stressful mile?  Here’s what happened to me this past Saturday during the drive…

I made a right hand turn onto Ortega Highway and proceeded up the next two miles fine and dandy.  Then I encountered the yellow and black sign with 25mph in the middle of a circular line with an arrow at one end, signalling a change in direction involved than a U-turn, and one that also meant I was now going to be in the outside lane instead of the inside lane.

That’s when “it” happened….

My heart started thumping, sweat made itself known, the CD player was silenced, the A/C was turned on, the steering wheel was clenched (ditto for my teeth), my ears began popping, my eyes focused on the double yellow line and the realization that I had coffee but no breakfast was recognized as a very bad decision as nothing was calming the caffeine racing through my veins.

Why was all of this happening?

Along that infamous west-bound mile, there are very few, if any, guardrails.


Let’s just say that a mis-judgement of 4 feet could make me nothing more than a memory.  These photos I took a couple years ago when I had pulled over to one of the many look-outs and…well…looked out!

North Lake Elsinore

North Lake Elsinore

South Lake Elsinore

South Lake Elsinore

The key here is that these views are awesome because the mountain side is pretty much vertical, it’s not one of those nice sloping kind, so when you’re driving in the outside lane, the road curves left and all you see in front of you before you follow the road is blue sky, you know that there is no hope if you make any error either on your own or with the help of another driver.

After surviving that scary mile, driving the interior portion of the highway is a blast!  Twists and turns that engage the driver rather than lull said driver offer incredible opportunities for sightseeing (and picture taking even while driving) as well as a just plain fun driving experience. 

Driving West on Ortega Highway

Driving West on Ortega Highway

Driving East on Ortega

Driving East on Ortega

Though easily tempted, there is no need for any bravado other than that which is recognized when one safely reaches a destination at the other end of the road.  The windy nature of this road, the false sense of ease that accompanies all but that fearfull mile and the awesome scenery that draws ones eye from the road sometimes pull together to create “vehicle over the side” alerts on Sigalert.  Yep, as in over the edge, off the road, down the cliff…whatever phrase you prefer. 

Remembering that this is a two lane windy road, tempers can be riled if slow drivers don’t pull over into any of the numerous turnouts and let the faster drivers pass.  The end result?  More activity on Sigalert for accidents caused by passing on a no-passing road.

If the beginning of this road bothers me so much you may wonder why I drove on it.  This past Saturday I took a gardening workshop at a nursery on this road so it’s the fastest and most direct way to get from here to there.  There are additional workshops on each of the next seven Saturdays that I’m going to attend, and I’m going to get there by taking Ortega.  Hopefully after another week or so I’ll enjoy driving the ENTIRE highway, nasty mile included.

One thing for sure, I’ll have a good breakfast before I head out, not just coffee.

5 Responses to Ortega Highway

  1. A Donna says:

    In the picture, South Lake Elsinore, is the road down below kinda running from the middle towards the right, part of what you are talking about, just not as high? I think you should rent a boat, get in the middle of the lake in the area of the picture and take a telephoto pic of the spot you are at now.

  2. A Donna says:

    Sorry, I should have said take a telephoto pic of the spot you were at when you took that picture. I know you, you would send me a picture of you at home.

  3. […] Highway Part II A comment was made on my original post about seeing my photo op location from an area which is IN the photos I took.  I couldn’t […]

  4. everybody ! i mean everybody.. slow the damn down. its a 2 lane hwy, you gonna get to where you are going no matter what, just slow down and dont split lanes. slow the hell down. It’s not even about other motorist, it also about the animals you encounter on the road, SLOW DOWN !

    • ordinarybutinteresting says:

      I agree Mark! BUT…I also must add a request that drivers who prefer to drive slower than others should use the turn-outs and let those pesky speed-demons pass by. There’s nothing wrong with pulling over and letting others pass — I do and it makes my drive MUCH more relaxing when I don’t have faster drivers on my butt! ;-)

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