just North of Bishop, California
courtesy Lloyd L. Chambers
2005 Lloyd L. Chambers All rights reserved - ]
the Past in Bodie
Unless otherwise noted, all
black & white Foto Cards are Frasher Foto Cards.
of the El Camino Sierra in 1910
(Photocard courtesy of Rich McCutchan)
of the El Camino Sierra
The modern highway system coursing north and
south along the base of the eastern Sierras through Owens Valley
and the Indian Wells Valley (IWV) has a rich and varied history.
It was, as its origin, a trade route over the ages for resident
and itinerant Native Americans and the confluence with the nearby
Walker Pass route enabling trade with their brethren in the San
Joaquin Valley and coastal regions.
The first Anglo-American to travel in this
region may have been the famous mountain man Jedediah Smith in
1826. However the first recorded passage was by Joseph Walker
in 1834 when he traversed Walker Pass from west to east, then
turned north through the Owens Valley to rejoin his exploration
party on the Humboldt River. Walker made additional crossings
of the Pass in 1843 and 1845. The 1848 Mexican-American War,
the 1849 gold rush, statehood for California in 1850 and the
Comstock lode discoveries in 1859 in Nevada generated a flood
end of Owens Valley - 1924.
end of Owens Valley - 1924.
|flood of prospectors
into the desert areas east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. By
1860 a wagon and stage road wound its way up from Los Angeles
to Inyo country, crossing the IWV along the base of the Sierras,
following the ancient trail.
The 1860's and 70's saw the passing of many prospectors through
the Indian Wells Valley. Major silver and gold mines were established
at Coso, Cerro Gordo, Panamint, Darwin plus others in the Inyo
and Argus mountains. The north - south Los Angeles to Inyo road
in western IWV was a principal "thoroughfare". The
great silver mines at Cerro Gordo, high up in the Inyos, were having
difficulty moving their bullion output to the major market in
Los Angeles. In 1873 the freighter Remi Nadeau came to their
rescue. He improved the roads and way-stations and moved the
bullion down from Cerro Gordo, around Owens Lake to Olancha,
then south on the Los Angeles-Inyo road through Little Lake,
the Indian Wells Valley and Mojave to Los Angeles. This route
became known as the historic
of days gone by.
|"Bullion Road". In reverse, he carried
up a great volume and diversity of supplies from Los Angeles
to the Inyo mines. This trade: bullion down, supplies up, was
of enormous economic value in transforming Los Angeles from a dusty pueblo to a thriving,
The next big boost to the "Bullion Road" was the construction
of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1908 - 1913. The line
of the aqueduct down from the Owens Valley generally followed
the route of the Bullion Road, which served as the principal
route for movement of material and personnel. Improvements were
made to the road (but still dirt and dusty) and the construction
of a railroad from Mojave up to Owens Valley greatly helped the
logistic efforts. At the same time came the automobile!
El Camino Sierra in Independence - 1911.
moving freight along the Bullion Road, as this section of the
El Camino Sierra was aptly referred to for a brief period of
time, from Cerro Gordo to Mojave and Los Angeles.
- Mrs. Jack Gunn]
Sierra at Casa Diablo Hot Springs.
|In response to pressures
from automobile owners for better roads, the State of California
floated a bond issue in 1919 for highway construction. This included
improvements of the route from Los Angeles to Bishop. The Lancaster
to Mojave segment was paved in 1922. Other segments north in
IWV to the Inyo County line were paved in 1927 and 1929. The
final segment, through Red Rock Canyon, was paved in 1931. This
stretch from Los Angeles to the IWV where it merged into U.S.
Highway 395 near the Inyo County line was designated State Highway
23. It generally followed the old Bullion Road, with some realignment
in the IWV to more favorable terrain. In this same time frame,
highway improvements were continuing on U.S. 395 up into the
Owens Valley to Bishop. There the road split; Highway 395 to
the northwest, U.S. Highway 6 starting and continuing north into
Nevada and points beyond. In 1937 U.S. 6 was extended south from
Bishop to Los Angeles and cosigned with Highways 395 and 23.
With these highways now paved, traffic through the IWV increased.
Further improvements were made to deal with heavy rain runoffs
from cloudbursts in the Sierra canyons. The flood from Indian
Wells and Sand
Canyons in 1945 had severely damaged the Freeman Wash bridge
and sections of the roadway. The establishment of the U.S. Navy's
major research and development center at China
The El Camino
Sierra along the east face of the
Sierra Nevada - 1927.
|Lake in 1943 and
growth of Ridgecrest generated more traffic. In 1958 and 1960
highway improvements included a new bridge and culverts in Red
Rock Canyon culminating in a 4-lane roadway and elimination of
all creaked crossings.
In 1963: changes in signage. U.S. 6 was shortened back to Bishop.
U.S. 395 stayed the same. State Hwy. 23 was redesignated as State
Hwy. 14 which now starts at its connection point with Hwy. 395
at Brady's Station just NW of Inyokern and runs 117 miles south
to its junction with Interstate 5 in Los Angeles County. Further
highway improvements were made in the ensuing years to where
the present line of Hwys. 395/14 through the IWV is a mixture
of 4-lane expressway and 2-lane road.
What does the future hold? The 2-lane segment of Hwy. 14 in the
IWV starts at the north end of Red Rock Canyon where it transitions
into a 2-lane road and runs 16 miles north to one mile beyond
the Hwy. 178 Inyokern turnoff and becomes a 4-lane expressway
again. CalTrans proposes to upgrade this 16 mile 2-lane segment
into a 4-lane expressway. Engineering, archaeological and historic
surveys are underway, some completed.
The El Camino
Sierra south of Bishop - 1927.
Presumably money is in the pipeline. When will construction start?
Answer: When we see the exhaust from bulldozers and the dirt
by John Di Pol
Ref: SR 14 Improvements, Kern County - Historic
Resources Evaluation Report. CalTrans, 2002.
Archaeological Evaluation, SR 14 Project, CalTrans, 2006.
Silver Seekers, Remi Nadeau, 1999
California - 1928.
Owens Valley. Road north towards Keeler on east side of Owens
leaving Owens Valley - 1927
The El Camino
Sierra ascending Sherwin Grade leaving
Owens Valley - 1927
Inn, Owens Valley - 1931
Cafe & Store at the summit of Sherwin Grade
Plunge just outside of Bishop on the
El Camino Sierra - 1937
Camp, Bishop, California
Nevada along U.S. 395 from Owens Valley
Henderson - copyright David Henderson]