Up the Coast on El Camino Real

Trip Start Jan 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

(If you enlarge our map, the line connecting our map pins these last couple of days would make you think that we have moved across the water to get here...let me assure you, that is not the case! We were on Highway 101 the entire way - no floating motorhomes, nor ferry boats required, nor used!)

There was far less wind coming in from the Pacific this morning as we pulled out of Dockweiler State Beach. It appeared that it was going to be a beautiful day here, as we listened to the horror stories about blizzards, ice storms, below-zero temperatures, and planes not moving across the Midwest and Northeast. We were thankful that Mom made it back to Detroit fine, and that Jill's drive to and from the airport to pick her up were also without incident.

Greg surprised me by pulling the motorhome off the highway
and parking along the beach near Golita State Park, north of Santa Barbara for our lunch break. It was so wonderful to sit right at our little dining table with the windows wide open, watching seagulls flying dangerously close by, and listening to the waves pounding against the shore, smelling the ocean! A special Valentine's Day treat!

Driving up Highway 101 ("Ventura Highway in the sunshine..."!) toward the region known as the "Central Coast" of California, it seemed that almost every time I looked over at the side of the road I would see an old rusted bell hanging on a hook, most of which had signs underneath which simply said "El Camino Real." I realized that I had been seeing them periodically ever since we had been in the San Diego area a couple of days ago, and my curiosity got the better of me, so I quickly went to today's form of the encyclopedia, aka the World Wide Web, to see what I could learn about El Camino Real and the bells.

Here's some of what I learned: The history of El Camino Real and its bells, is quite interesting. At the same time that the American colonies were rebelling against England, a handful of Spaniards and Mexicans established outposts up the California coast. The first was established in 1769 at San Diego, when they established a fortress and a Franciscan mission. A footpath, called The El Camino Real, or Kings Highway, was created to connect the outputs. Each outpost, called a Mission, was situated in areas where large populations of Indians lived and where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. As time progressed and more Missions were built, the footpath became a roadway wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons. It was not, however, until the last Mission in Sonoma was completed in 1823, that this little pathway became a real route. From that point, a series of small self-reliant religious missions were established. Each was a day's travel apart and linked by El Camino Real. Overall, El Camino Real ("The King's Highway") linked 21 missions, pueblos and four presidios from San Diego to Sonoma.
The notion of preserving El Camino Real was first proposed by Miss Anna Pitcher, Director of the Pasadena Art Exhibition Association to the Women's Club of Los Angeles in 1892. In 1904, a group was formed called the El Camino Real Association, with the mission to reestablish the road and select a marker design. Mrs. Forbes (upon a suggestion by Mrs. C.F. Gates)
created a marker that was a cast iron bell hung from an eleven-foot bent guidepost. The first bell was placed in 1906 in front of the Old Plaza Church in downtown Los Angeles. Eventually, there were approx. 158 bells installed along the Camino Real by 1915.
Alas, the bells were not maintained, and by 1926, the bells had fallen into disrepair and some had been stolen. By 1949, there were approx. 286 bells along the road.
In 1960, Justin Kramer of Los Angeles won the bid to manufacture replacement bells. His design became the standard. But, theft and vandalism continued to take its toll, and the number dwindled to about 75.
In 1974 the Legislature appointed Caltrans as guardian of the bells, responsible for repairing or replacing them. Replacements are made of concrete, rather than cast iron, to discourage theft. In 1996, Caltrans developed the "Adopt-A-Bell" program. After the program was conceived, the California Federation of Womens Clubs was offered the opportunity to adopt as many bells as they could until early 1998. The adoption guidelines were written so that after early 1998 anyone could adopt a bell and maintain it under the Adopt-A-Highway Program.
In October of 1997, a special bell was erected at Loreto, Baja California Sur, the site of the very first successful mission to be established in the Californias, thus marking the site of the very beginning of El Camino Real.
In 2000, of Caltrans applied for and received a federal grant to restore the El Camino Real Mission bell marker system on the state highways. The bells, manufactured by California Bell, were cast from a mold made from one of the original bells installed before 1910, they are an exact copy of the original bells.... All told, 555 new bells will have been added to the El Camino Real Mission Bell Marker System -- the installation was completed in June 2006, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the installation of the original bell in 1906. The bells are placed on both sides of the highway at approximately 1-2 mile intervals.

You can read more about El Camino Real and the Mission Bell Marker System at: http://www.cahighways.org/elcamino.html
I just love the opportunities provided by the internet to learn about new things! It's like carrying a set of encyclopedias around with you that are updated daily!

We reached our campground behind the Oceano Dunes in time to see a lovely sunset, knowing that down below the tips of the dunes seen here, our friends with their 4-wheelers, the beach, and the ocean awaited!
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