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Caifornia State Route 140 in the Merced River Canyon (The El Portal Road)

Back in January I was looking to make a day trip out to Yosemite for the winter by 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 CA 140 through the Merced River Canyon to Yosemite.

Oddly 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.

Nothing like the weird interpretations of the California Highway Spade heading out of the park towards the El Portal Road.

I'm not sure how high the flood waters got this past year in the Merced River with the winter storms but they don't appear to have surpassed what happened in 1997.

As the 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.  I didn't find in the winter but there is a MUTCD compliant US 395 shield posted on the El Portal Road as well.

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.

CA 140 west begins in El Portal and is signed with scenic placards.  El Portal was the terminus of the Yosemite Valley Railroad which ran from Merced from 1907 to 1945.

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.  I wasn't happy with my westbound photos of the slide so I substituted eastbound photos instead.

West of the Ferguson slide there are a series of bridges from 1926 when the highway 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 being built along the new highway that became CA 140.   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 from the Burma Grade.

The climb out of the Merced River Canyon is pretty quick.  Briceburg is at about 1,200 feet above sea level and if I recall correctly the summit prior to Mariposa is close to 3,000 feet.  CA 140 typically is touted as the "Yosemite All-Year Highway" which really is due to the low elevation compared to the other routes enter the National Park lands.

The portion of CA 140 east to El Portal was part of Legislative Route Number 18 and was defined in 1916.  It took until 1926 for LRN 18 to reach El Portal which is evident from the bridge construction dates on CA 140.  CAhighways has stubs on CA 140 and LRN 18: on LRN 18 on CA 140

Originally in 1934 CA 140 had an implied route through Yosemite that exited the park to the Northwest via the Big Oak Flat Road.  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 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

The following are really good links for information on the Yosemite Valley Railroad.

Yosemite Valley Railroad Timeline

Yosemite Valley Railroad Maps


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