The Most Boring Road in California

by William G. Hoppes
(Livermore, California)

Caswell Memorial State Park gives an idea of the San Joaquin River landscape in the 1800s

Caswell Memorial State Park gives an idea of the San Joaquin River landscape in the 1800s

Interstate-5 in running north to south in California; from Tracy to Buttonwillow is the most boring stretch of highway in the western U.S; certainly in all of California.

How to make a long, boring road less numbing, ask why places are where they are? What are their stories? Exits on the Interstate: Corral Hollow Road, Vernalis, Lost Hills. Must be a story to each one.

Here’s a start, from north to south, three exits on one of the dullest stretches of highway in California.

Exit 449 Highway 132/Modesto:

Fifteen miles to the east, near Modesto, the Stanislaus River, named for the Polish Saint Stanislaus, empties into the San Joaquin River. In 1793 the Spanish called the Stanislaus River the Laquisimas River.

It was there, on October 28, Saint Stanislaus birthday, that the great Yukot Indian leader Estanislao was born. Not much is known of his early life until 1821 when, at the age of 28, Estanislao moved to Mission San Jose. There he eventually rose to the position of alcalde, the mission’s chief administrative and judicial officer.

In 1825 when the people of the mission pledged their allegiance to the new nation of Mexico, Estanislao fled to the Central Valley, taking with him 400 followers who had become disenchanted with mission life. Estanislao established his own tribal nation near the present location of Salida. From there, he raided missions and settlements near San Jose, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz and in the area around the Laquisimas River. Leading as many as 4,000 followers, Estanislao educated his fighters in battle techniques he had learned from Spanish and Mexican soldiers.

Three expeditions from the Presidio of San Francisco and the Presidio of Monterey failed to subdue the band. A fourth, larger force led by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo finally ousted Estanislao and his people from their Laquisimas River stronghold in 1829.

Estanislao journeyed to Mission San Jose and petitioned Governor José María de Echeandía to pardon him and his followers. The pardon was granted enabling Estanislao and his band to remain at their Laquisimas River settlement another five years.

In 1834, Estanislao returned to the Mission San Jose and prospered there while teaching others the Yokut's language and culture. He remained at the Mission until his death, possibly from smallpox, on July 31, 1838.

The countryside has totally changed since those days. You can get a glimpse of what it might have looked like by visiting Caswell Memorial State Park near Ripon. The park protects a remnant of riparian oak woodland, which once flourished throughout the Central Valley. The park is best accessed via highway 99 from Ripon. You can get directions and information at the Caswell Memorial State Park website.

Exit 428 Crows Landing:

Crows Landing perpetuates the name of John Bradford Crow, a native of Kentucky who acquired 4000 acres of land along the San Joaquin in 1867.

Crow died shortly after arriving in the state, but his four sons, James, William, Benjamin and Alfred, drove cattle to the Stanislaus region where they established a ranch along Oristimba Creek.

The family name is borne by the town of Crows Landing. The term “landing” relates to the days when steamboats sailed the San Joaquin prior to the railroad. Steamboats were a major means of transport in the San Joaquin Valley until the end of the 19th century with the coming of the railroads. At certain times of the year the San Joaquin was navigable to Firebaugh, near Fresno.

The original Crows Landing was moved to its present location along highway 33 in 1888 to be near the railroad. You can get near the original site of Crows Landing where Fink/Crows Landing Road crosses the San Joaquin River. The actual site is just upstream at the mouth of Orestimba Creek.

There is little evidence of the once bustling steamship business on the San Joaquin today. One stop that can still be accessed is Skaggs Bridge at Skaggs Bridge County Park near Kerman, California.

Exit 403 Los Banos/Highway 152 Pacheco Pass:

On June 21, 1805, Gabriel Moraga brought his Spanish cavalry from the Presidio of San Francisco and traversed Pacheco Pass. He was under orders from the Governor of California to explore the San Joaquin Valley. Pacheco Pass would later become the principal route between the coastal areas to the west and the great valley and mountains to the east.

During his journey, Moraga gave the name "Modesto" to the area that is now home to the city of the same name. Moraga followed the San Joaquin River northward past the Merced, Tuolumne and Laquisimas (later to be Stanislaus) rivers, all of which he named. He also changed the name of Rio de la San Francisco to San Joaquin to honor his father, Jose Joaquin Moraga.

The next Spanish explorer to leave his name stamped indelibly on this region was Padre Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, a Franciscan monk stationed at Mission San Juan Bautista from 1808 to 1833.

On his missionary visits to the Indians, along the San Joaquin River, he discovered pools of water in the rocks at the summit campsite of the mountains near Pacheco Pass. In time the Spanish ranchers from the Coast began calling this creek that drained the pass "El Arroyo de los Banos del Padre Arroyo." In time the name was shorted to Los Banos Creek.

In 1858 The Butterfield {The Butterfield Overland Mail} located the Lone Willow State Station along Los Banos Creek. In 1873 a post office and trading post was opened and operated by Moses Korn. "Los Banos", the name of the creek was given to the post office and was adopted by the stage station that located there as well.

The best way to gain a perspective on this part of California history is by taking advantage of the annual Path of the Padres Hike at the San Luis Reservoir SRA. This 5 mile roundtrip hike is given annually, reservations required, from February through April. It retraces part of the route taken by Padre de la Cuesta from San Juan Bautista Mission to the Central Valley. Information on the hike is at the San Luis Reservoir SRA website.

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The Most Boring Road in California
by: Anonymous

Nice post.

You Had Me Going!
by: Suzi

Greetings William,

I'll have to admit - you had me going there with your title! But you're right; there's not a whole heck of a lot going on along I-5 through the Central Valley except agriculture (LOTS of it) and politics (if you count the "Congress-created Dust Bowl" signs).

You've discovered a novel and fascinating way to remove the doldrums - learn the history of each little stop along the way and imagine life as it was for those history-makers who laid out the paths we follow today.

Thank you very much for your valuable contribution! We hope to hear from you again!!


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