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Next: Fresno to YosemiteContentsPrevious: Tioga Pass Road (“T”)

Self-guiding Auto Tour of Yosemite National Park (1956) by Richard P. Ditton and Donald E. McHenry


(Total driving distance to park boundary 68.5 miles)

CITY OF MERCED— Located in the San Joaquin Valley just south of the Merced River, this city of about 20,000 takes its name from that stream. It is a center of extensive farming and dairy industry. Merced came into existence on February 8, 1872, when a subsidiary corporation of the Central Pacific Railroad auctioned off building lots. The site was deliberately selected as being centrally located in the San Joaquin Valley and as the gateway to Yosemite. The desirability of moving county seats to the railroad was also foreseen and was realized when the county government moved from Snelling to Merced in 1872. The early inhabitants expected Merced to be the important town in the valley and for a while it surpassed Fresno in population.

(4.5 miles from So. Pac. R. R. Depot)

FILICE & PERELLI CANNERY— The large establishment across the Santa Fe Railroad tracks is the Filice & Perrelli Cannery and Kadota Fig orchards. In addition to the Kadota figs, the plant packs Elberta peaches, apricots, boysenberries and green gage plums. This cannery has the distinction of being the world’s largest canner and packer of Kadota figs.

MERCED COUNTY—Formed from a part of Mariposa County, “Mother of Counties,” in 1885. Merced County covers an area of some 1,995 square miles with a population of 80,000. It is known for its fruit, cotton, beef cattle and dairy products.

(2. miles)

FANCHER MONUMENT— South of the highway a shaft commemorates Clarence L. Fancher, a well-known local grain rancher and leader in community affairs around the turn of the century. The monument is over Fancher’s grave.

DEL MONTE ORCHARDS— As you pass the Fancher Monument you will also pass through the Del Monte cling peach and Kadota fig orchards, owned and operated by the California Packing Corporation. The peach orchard has approximately 2800 acres and 250,000 trees and is the largest of its kind in the world. The fig orchard contains about 600 acres and 54,000 trees. The fig trees are kept pruned down to produce better quality for canning and to permit picking from the ground. Practically all fruit grown here is canned.

(3 miles from Filice & Perelli)

PLANADA— This town of around 1000 persons, received its name in a unique manner. A contest for a suitable name was held in 1911 from which the Spanish word for “plain” was chosen. Formerly the post office here was named Geneva and the railroad name was Whitton.

VIEW OF THE SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS—Leaving Planada you will see the Sierra Nevada Mountains directly ahead of you. It was from this approximate area that in 1777 the Spanish discoverers saw the mountains and gave them the name Sierra Nevada, meaning “Snowy Range of Mountains.” The Sierra Nevada is approximately 430 miles long, lying in a northwest-southeast direction, having a breadth of 40 to 80 miles. The range is located entirely in California except for a small portion in Nevada near Lake Tahoe. The western approach is long, winding and gradual but the eastern approach is abrupt.

(4.6 miles from Planada)

MILLERTON ROAD— Near the point where the highway crosses the Merced-Mariposa County line is the Millerton Road. This is the original Stockton-Los Angeles road. It was constructed in the foothills to avoid the many small creeks and thick tules of the valley floor.

(2 miles)

MARIPOSA COUNTY— Mariposa County was one of the largest of the original 27 counties of California. An old Mexican grant comprising a portion of this area was given to Juan Bautista Alvarado in 1844. Purchased for John C. Fremont in 1847 for $3,000, it was resold in 1863 for $6,000,000. From the formation of the county in 1850 until 1893, people of various areas seceeded to form separate counties, namely the present counties of Merced, Madera, Mono, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Inyo, Kern and a portion of Los Angeles County. Hence Mariposa County became known as “The Mother of Counties.” In this county an official U. S. Mint was located at Mt. Ophir where six-sided $50 gold coins were made. These coins are valued today up to $10,000 each. Mariposa County is known for its cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry, timber and mining. Zinc, lead, manganese and tungsten are found in quantity, as well as small deposits of nickle, cobalt, barium and titanium.

(9.5 miles)

CATHAY VALLEY— This pleasant rolling farm and cattle land never saw much mining. It received its name from Andrew Cathay who purchased it in 1854 for a sum of $1,500 from George W. Evans and Jacob Hill. Stone fences throughout this immediate area were built during the 1840’s and 50’s by Chinese labor.

JOAQUIN MURIETA AND HORNITOS—Joaquin Murieta was a Robin

Mariposa in 1850’s
[click to enlarge]
Mariposa in 1850’s
Hood-like Mexican bandit who roamed the area from Los Angeles to Stockton in the 1850’s. (According to recent studies he may have been a legendary figure generally accepted in folklore.) It is said that he found friendliness in the little mining town of Hornitos of the gold rush days. Remains may still be seen of an underground passage leading from the dance hall in Hornitos which Murieta may have found useful for escape when things grew too hot. Hornitos, Mexican for “little bake oven,” is about 10 miles northwest of Cathay Valley. It derived its name from the presence of many odd Mexican graves or tombs that sat on top of the ground, built of stone in the shape of little bake ovens. (the fascinating history of this foothill gold mining country may be followed in “A Guide to the Mother Lode Country,” available at museums and gift shops.)

(7.6 miles from Cathay)

AGUA FRIA— Agua Fria — cool water — was the name of the town which grew up around the Agua Fria Mine and which was the first county seat of Mariposa County from 1850 to 1854. Once located about a half-mile up the course of Agua Fria Creek (dry most of the year), this once-important community has disappeared completely. Its name was derived from a stream of water gushing from the mountainside An historical marker along the highway was placed by the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce.

(4.2 miles)

MARIPOSA—In 1806 Padre Munoz of the Moraga Expedition recorded in his diary: “This place is called (place) of the mariposa (butterflies) because of their great multitude, especially at night and morning . . . One of the corporals of the expedition got one in his ear, causing him considerable annoyance and no little discomfort in its extraction.” Located on the Fremont Grant (described under Mariposa County above), Mariposa became county seat when the county government was moved from Agua Fria in 1854. At that time the courthouse was built. It is now the oldest courthouse in continuouse use in the State of California. The seats and bar have remained unchanged through the years. The belfry clock, operated on cables and pendulum alone, was brought around The Horn from England in 1866. Its bell has been chiming ever since. The only newspaper in the county, a weekly, was started here January 1854. First published as the Mariposa Chronicle, through a change of ownership in June 1855 it became the Mariposa Gazette. The paper has been in continuous publication.

(7 miles)

SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST— Beyond the sign “Entering Sierra National Forest” is part of 1 13 million acres of land administered as one of the areas under the National Forest Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. These forested lands are managed for lumbering, grazing, hunting, mining and the like under such regulations as to assure as far as possible continuing renewable natural resources.

(3.6 miles to top of hill)

BRICEBURG GRADE— In approximately 2 miles this grade has a drop of 1,200 feet. Bear Creek Canyon is on the south side of the road. The original road from the top of the Briceburg Grade to El Portal was built by convict labor.

(2.4 miles)

MERCED RIVER— From the foot of Briceberg Grade to the park you will follow the Merced River. For description read V-35, page 77.

(6.1 miles)

RICHARDSONS— An old limestone quarry was operated here by the Yosemite Portland Cement Company. It was purchased in 1944 by the Kaiser interests which closed the quarry and removed the machinery.

YOSEMITE VALLEY RAILROAD— Across the river you will see what remains of the railroad bed of the Yosemite Valley Railroad, constructed from 1905 to 1907 at an estimated cost of $10,000,000. Running 78 miles from Merced to El Portal it was forced out of business in 1945 after the Yosemite Lumber Company and the Portland Cement Company ceased operations and private automobile travel over the new Merced highway diminished passenger train travel.

Ancient folded rocks near geologic exhibit on Merced Road with railroad tracks above
[click to enlarge]
Ancient folded rocks near geologic exhibit on Merced Road with railroad tracks above.

(1.7 miles)

GEOLOGICAL EXHIBIT—Between Richardsons and Savage Trading Post a geological exhibit may be seen on the right of way. It describes the oldest rocks of the Yosemite region, to be seen across the river. These were formed as ancient sea deposits changed into rock. They produced the original Sierra range now largely worn away, its place being taken by the granite of the present Sierra.

(1.6 miles)

SAVAGE TRADING POST— Not far from the junction of the Merced River and its south fork stood the first trading post of the area, establishd by James D. Savage in 1849. Savage employed native Indians to mine gold for him. How much gold dust Savage acquired was never reported but he was rumored to have had “barrels full” of it. After an attack in 1850 by Yosemite Indians Savage moved the trading post to a new location near Mariposa.

MITES COVE MINE— About three miles upstream on the south fork of the Merced River is Hites Cove where John Hite operated a mine from 1861 to 1882. Nearly $3,000,000 in gold was reported taken from this mine with no great depth needed for shafts.

(1.5 miles)

CLEARING HOUSE MINE—Between the south fork and Incline is the site of the Clearing House Mine. The approximate site is recognized by several houses an the opposite side of the river. About $1,000,000 in gold was taken from this mine. The shafts were 1100 feet deep. Operations were stopped in the early 1940s’ because the mine could not be freed of water.

(1 mile)

INCLINE—Here the Yosemite Sugar Sugar Pine Company carried on logging operations, using a two mile incline up the side of the mountain. It was operated by hooking a cable to a loaded flat car at the top of the mountain and to an empty flat car at the bottom of the mountain. As the loaded car descended the grade it would pull the empty car to the top. This operation took place from 1924 to 1945.

(3 miles)

TUNGSTEN MILL— The mill which you see across the river receives tungsten ore from open mines in the immediate vicinity. This operation, which started producing in the spring of 1955, is the only active mining and milling in this area.

(0.8 of a mile)

BARIUM MINE—Across the river is the site of the El Portal Mining Company’s barium mine. The mine stopped operations about 1947, principally because of the decreasing use of barium in drilling oil wells.

(1.2 miles to store)

EL PORTAL— This community of approximately 200 people became the eastern terminus of the Yosemite Valley Railroad in 1907. About the time the laying of the railroad was completed the railroad company built the 8 miles of wagon road from the railhead to Yosemite Valley so that horse-drawn stages could carry train passengers into the park. This was when El Portal received its name. The railroad station stood on the approximate location of the El Portal Motor Inn and the Standard Oil service station, while a hotel stood on the hill a short distance to the northeast. Directly across the river from the El Portal store the Yosemite Lumber Company conducted an operation from 1911 to 1924 similar to the one at Incline.

(1 mile)

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK— Upon entering the park turn to page 67 and follow the self-guiding tour for Yosemite Valley.

Next: Fresno to YosemiteContentsPrevious: Tioga Pass Road (“T”)

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