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Caifornia State Route 140 and the El Portal Road

Back in January of 2017 I was looking to make a day trip out to Yosemite for the winter but California State Route 41 and the Wawona Road were under R2 chain restrictions.  With that being the case I headed out from the Central Valley early in the morning and took California State Route 140 through the Merced River Canyon to Yosemite Valley via the El Portal Road.


The El Portal Road from El Portal east into Yosemite Valley follows a portion of the Old Coulterville Road.  The Coulterville Road was one of the original franchise toll roads into Yosemite Valley opening just before the Big Oak Flat Road in 1874.  The Coulterville Road traversed the rugged terrain north of Merced River from Coulterville eastward before dropping to El Portal along the river itself.  From El Portal the Coulterville Road ascended into Yosemite Valley.  Given the alignment and haggard terrain the Coulterville Road traversed it quickly lost it's popularity to the Big Oak Flat Road which had a much more even decline grade into Yosemite Valley to the north.  This 1883 Topographical Map shows the Coulterville Road following the Merced River west out of Yosemite Valley.  The full route between Coulterville and El Portal can be seen on the 1935 California Division of Highways Map of Mariposa County.

1883 Yosemite Area Topographical Map

1935 Mariposa County Highway Map

Franchise toll roads were the order of the day in mid-19th Century California and the dispute of routes to Yosemite Valley is an intriguing one.  On the blog below I touched on the disputes between the organizers of the Coulterville Road and Big Oak Flat Road.

History of the Big Oak Flat Road

The US Department of the Interior touched on the Coulterville Road substantially on a report about the Big Oak Flat Road.

US Department of the Interior Report on the Big Oak Flat Road

The north bank of the Merced River was also used as part of the Yosemite Valley Railroad which ran from Merced to the Coulterville Road in El Portal from 1907 to 1945.  The links below provide excellent background history on the Yosemite Valley Railroad.  The 1935 Mariposa County Highway Map above also shows the route of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in the Merced River Canyon

Yosemite Valley Railroad Timeline

Yosemite Valley Railroad Maps

Ultimately the grade of the Coulterville Road from El Portal east to Yosemite Valley was considered worthy enough to be kept as a viable route of road travel in the automobile era.

In 1909 a new State Highway from Merced to Mariposa was declared by the State Legislature during the First State Highway Bond.  The route from Merced to Mariposa eventually became Legislative Route Number 18.  State Highway travel to Yosemite via the Merced River Canyon began when a new route from Mariposa east to El Portal was adopted as an extension of LRN 18 in 1916.  CAhighways.org offers more history regarding the legislative history of CA 140 and LRN 18.

CAhighways.org on LRN 18

CAhighways.org on CA 140

LRN 18 is shown on the 1918 State Highway Map as a proposed route between Mariposa and El Portal.

1918 State Highway Map

As evidenced by the bridge work alongside CA 140 in the Merced River Canyon LRN 18 was completed sometime in 1926 between Mariposa and El Portal.  The State Highway portion of the route from Mariposa to El Portal is known as the Yosemite All Year Highway due to the low terrain it traverses through in the Merced River Canyon to reach the El Portal Road.

1926 State Highway Map

By 1934 LRN 18 was assigned as part of California State Route 140 which can first be observed on the 1938 State Highway Map.

1938 State Highway Map

Originally in 1934 CA 140 had an implied route through Yosemite that exited the park to the Northwest via the Old Big Oak Flat Road.  In 1940 the new Big Oak Flat Road opened to traffic but the implied route of CA 140 continued to CA 120 northwest out of Yosemite National Park.  The implied route of CA 140 on the Old Big Oak Flat Road can be observed on these maps below.




 
CA 140 met CA 120 which used Evergreen Road to reach the old alignment of the Tioga Pass Road.  The Tioga Pass Road was improved and moved south to meet the new Big Oak Flat Road within Yosemite sometime between 1942 and 1944.  This led to CA 120 being routed into Yosemite via the Big Oak Flat Road and CA 140 being cut back to El Portal.  This change can be seen on the 1942 and 1944 state highway maps.

1942 State Highway Map

1944 State Highway Map

Returning to my winter trip to Yosemite, oddly at the time Yosemite Valley wasn't under chain restrictions which I thought was a little inappropriate given how much ice was caking the park roads.  After having my fill of the Valley I tried my hand at replicating Ansel Adam's Wawona Tunnel View monochrome.


Ansel Adam's Wawona Tunnel View

Really though I think the Wawona Tunnel looks great covered in snow and ice.


Yosemite National Park has a weird interpretation of the California Highway Spade.  Traffic is directed to the Park exits in Yosemite Valley, I followed the signage leading to CA 140 and via the El Portal Road.




Yosemite Valley is truly something to behold in a snowy winter.



As the 9 mile long El Portal Road begins there is signage directing traffic west towards the start of CA 140 and north on Big Oak Flat Road to reach CA 120. There is also a MUTCD compliant US Route 395 shield which directs traffic on a "To" route via Tioga Pass.


The El Portal Road is a sustained 8% grade exiting Yosemite Valley.  Yosemite Valley is generally at 4,000 feet above sea level and the village of El Portal at the start of CA 140 is at about 1,950 feet.



The El Portal Road ends at CA 140 in El Portal.  El Portal was the terminus of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.  Mariposa is signed as 30 miles to the west of El Portal on CA 140, the highway is signed with Scenic Placards to Midpines Summit.  In total CA 140 is 102 miles long stretching from El Portal in Mariposa County to Gustine in Merced County.


CA 140 mostly runs on the south bank of the Merced River while the Yosemite Valley Railroad Grade is on the north bank.  Just west of Incline is a series of buildings which used to be a place called Clearing House.  Apparently the site was named for the Clearinghouse Mine and had a post office from 1913 to 1933.


Immediately west of the South Fork Merced River along a bend is the Ferguson Slide.  The Ferguson Slide took out a large portion of CA 140 back in 2006.  Apparently there was temporary bridges put up in 2006 but those were replaced in 2008 by the current single lane bridges.  CA 140 temporarily is rerouted onto the Yosemite Valley Railroad Grade utilizing a one-way timed traffic light.  Apparently the slide will be repaired and will utilize a rock shed to prevent future damage to CA 140.





West of the Ferguson slide there are a series of bridges dating from 1926 when LRN 18 through the Merced River Canyon was completed.  First is the Sweetwater Creek Bridge followed by the Slate Creek Bridge.





There are plenty obvious bridge pilings and structural ruins from the Yosemite Valley Railroad which can be observed from CA 140.


At Briceburg there is another bridge from 1926 that I'm unsure of the name.


Briceburg was the location of a store that was built along LRN 18.   The really interesting thing about Briceburg is the suspension bridge span crossing the Merced River to the Yosemite Valley Railroad bed.



Briceburg Road runs on the west on the former bed of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.  I actually did some hiking up the 4WD/high clearance road known as the Burma Grade to get a view of the Merced River Canyon.  CA 140 can be seen climbing south out of the Merced River Canyon towards Midpines Summit.






The climb out of the Merced River Canyon to Midpines Summit is fairly quick.  CA 140 crosses Midpines Summit and through the community of Midpines before reaching Mariposa at the junction of CA 49.  Mariposa is located at approximately 1,950 feet above sea level.



Mariposa was settled during the 1849 California Gold Rush and was located originally approximately 6 miles to the west along Aqua Fria Creek.  Following floods and fires in the winter of 1849/50 the town site of Mariposa was moved east to Mariposa Creek where it presently stands.   Mariposa County was one of the original counties in California created in 1850 and Mariposa was selected as the county seat in 1851.  Originally Mariposa County was by far the largest county in California with it's jurisdiction stretching at least partially into modern day; Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, San Benito, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

CA 140 west and CA 49 south multiplex through downtown Mariposa before breaking away at Mariposa Creek.




South of downtown Mariposa the original alignment of LRN 18 was on Old Highway.  Old Highway was part of LRN 18 at least until 1932 as it still appears on the state highway map along with the modern route of CA 140 to the north.

1932 State Highway Map 

This map below shows the original alignment of LRN 18 over Old Highway compared to modern CA 140.


Catheys Valley is signed as 10 miles west of Mariposa on CA 140 and Merced is shown as 37 miles west. 



CA 140 ascends a small summit with a passing lane before descending into McBrides Gulch.




In McBridges Gulch there is two historic markers for the Agua Fria ghost town on the westbound lane of CA 140.





Agua Fria was located just north of modern CA 140 along Agua Fria Road in Mariposa County.  Agua Fria is significant in that it was the first County Seat of Mariposa County between 1850 to 1851 before it was moved to Mariposa.  Agua Fria apparently had two sections called "Upper" and "Lower" Agua Fria which were centered around two springs.  Apparently the gold claims in Agua Fria quickly exhausted and frequent fires in the 1850s did the town in.  Agua Fria apparently had Post Office Service until 1862.

Agua Fria Road is located immediately west of the above monuments on CA 140 west. 



At Postmile MPA 15.5 there is another passing zone on CA 140 westbound. 



CA 140 westbound next intersects Mount Bullion Cut-Off Road which provides quick access to CA 49 to the north.


West of Mount Bullion Cut-Off Road CA 140 westbound begins to descend the Sierra Foothills into Catheys Valley.  Catheys Valley is located at 1,325 feet above sea level. 





In Catheys Valley CA 140 westbound passes by Catheys Valley County Park and intersects Hornitos Road.  Hornitos Road continues north the village of Hornitos and Signed County Route J16. 




CA 140 west of Hornitos Road opens up into another passing zone before intersecting the western end of Old Highway. 




CA 140 westbound continues to snake through the terrain of the Sierra Foothills and crosses two small bridges from the 1920s.  There is an obvious older alignment of LRN 18 which can be seen snaking the terrain next to modern CA 140.





CA 140 westbound opens up into another passing zone before reaching the Merced County Line. 




The Mariposa/Merced County line on CA 140 is notable due to it crossing over the former Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road is at times called the Millerton Road and was created in 1853 during the Kern River Gold Rush to replace the El Camino Viejo.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road mostly stuck to the Sierra Foothills east of San Joaquin Valley whereas the El Camino Viejo stayed near the foothills of the Diablo Range roughly along modern CA 33.  Looking north onto a ranch road on the former Stockton-Los Angeles Road alignment it isn't difficult to envision wagons traversing the landscape on the way to new gold claims. 




West of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road CA 140 enters San Joaquin Valley and Planada.  Planada dates back to the 1890s as a railroad siding originally under the name of Whitton. 



CA 140 west of Planada is signed as the "Special Agent Richard Oules Memorial Highway."  Merced is shown as 9 miles to the west and Gustine 40 miles west. 



CA 140 westbound enters the City of Merced and crosses over the railroad at Santa Fe Avenue.  Merced is the County Seat of Merced County and is one of the fastest growing cities in California.



CA 140 continues as a surface highway until meeting CA 99.  CA 140 westbound jumps onto the CA 99 freeway and bypasses downtown Merced. 


At exit 187B CA 99 north/CA 140 pick up CA 59 northbound CA 140 west and CA 59 north quickly exit the CA 99 freeway at Exit 188.  CA 59 north turns right on V Street whereas CA 140 west turns left towards Gustine. 











CA 140 west of Merced likely once multiplexed US Route 99 to Westside Boulevard which now part of Signed County Route J18.  On my previous J18 blog I noted the following:

"Interestingly it seems that most of CR J18 was once likely part of CA 140.  The 1935 Division of Highways maps for Stanislaus and Merced Counties show Legislative Route 122 running from CA 33 in Newman east to US 99 in Livingston.  The route of this highway is exactly the same as CR J18 aside from using Main Street north from Westside Boulevard to reach US 99 in Livingston and utilizing Hills Ferry Road to CA 33 in Newman.  I'm uncertain if this stretch was signed as CA 140 but the new section definitely was by 1938. 

1935 Merced County Highway Map 

1935 Stanislaus County Highway Map

CA 140 appears on the J18 alignment on the 1936-37 edition of the state highway map but is no longer state maintained on the 1938 map.

1936 State Highway Map

1938 State Highway Map"

My previous blog on J18 can be found here:

Signed County Route J18

CA 140 continues west out of Merced on the 1938 LRN 122 alignment.  There is a guide sign which shows Gustine 30 miles away and I-5 an additional 5 miles west from there.  The guide sign is obstructed by local yard growth.







CA 140 westward has an almost straight grade 20 miles westward to a junction with CA 165.










Traffic on CA 140 westbound is notified at the CA 165 junction that the truck route ends 10 miles away in Gustine.


CA 140 westbound begins to wind through the terrain as it approaches the grass lands of the San Joaquin River.  CA 140 enters Great Valley Grasslands State Park at the San Joaquin River.


At Los Banos Creek CA 140 westbound intersects the Kesterson Unit of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.


As CA 140 westbound progresses out of the San Joaquin River grasslands it approaches Santa Fe Grade Road which was intended to be used as a railroad line.  The Santa Fe Grade Road traverses almost entirely unbroken largely as a dirt road southeast to South Dos Palos near CA 33.


CA 140 westbound emerges from the San Joaquin River grasslands at Gustine Municipal Airport and takes a direct westward swing crossing a set of rails where it meets CA 33. Oddly there is a CA 140 "Junction" shield which should display CA 33.






CA 140 westbound multiplexes CA 33 southbound through downtown Gustine on 4th Street, 6th Avenue, and South Avenue to Sullivan Road.






CA 140 westbound follows Sullivan Road five miles where it terminates at I-5.








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