With news that the Border Patrol checkpoint on highway I-15 between San Diego and Riverside Counties is back open, it gives me a good reason to finally write about one of the interesting oddities facing tourists and newcomers to San Diego.
I remember scratching my head as I approached my new hometown of San Diego after driving 3,000 miles cross country. I was making my way through the mountains on highway I-8 passing signs that were counting down the miles remaining on my journey to San Diego. I was ready to release my grip from the steering wheel and soak my feet in the Pacific Ocean.
And then, I saw a traffic jam ahead. Upon closer look, I realized it was a Border Patrol checkpoint. Questions started racing through my head. Had I accidentally driven into Mexico? Did I need a passport to get through? Were they going to rummage through all the belongings I had stuffed into my car for my new life in San Diego?
It turned out I hadn’t left the country, I didn’t need a passport, and no, they didn’t rummage through my belongings. All they did was take a good look at me as I made a rolling stop and waved me on my way.
That’s the way life is entering and exiting San Diego County. Whether you are crossing the border with Mexico or traveling to and from Arizona to the east, Temecula Wine Country to the north, or Los Angeles to the northwest, every major highway in and out of San Diego has a Border Patrol checkpoint.
You even drive through a one in the middle of the desert on the S-2, which winds its way out through a checkpoint to adjoining Imperial County before you reach I-8, which brings you back to San Diego County and through the checkpoint I encountered on my first drive through San Diego. (Yes, you have to drive through two separate Border Patrol checkpoints when returning from a day of relaxing at the hot springs in a San Diego County Park or hiking through the mud caves in California’s largest state park.)
The checkpoints are not open all the time. Sometimes, they close down for a few hours, a few days, and even a few months, as was the case with the I-15 checkpoint when more personnel were needed to patrol the border with Mexico. Come to think of it, it’s been a few years since I’ve had to stop on the I-5 on the occasional trip up to Los Angeles.
Despite the traffic delays, having the Border Patrol checkpoints to cross from one county (not country) to another is one of the unique aspects I love about San Diego. How many people get to say they had to pass through a couple Border Patrol checkpoints on their way home from the county park?!