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Signed County J2 over Corral Hollow Pass; ghost towns, ghost rails and The Old Road (El Camino Viejo)

Earlier this month I traveled over the Diablo Range on one of the oldest right-of-ways in California; Signed County Route J2 via Corral Hollow Pass on what was El Camino Viejo.


Long before modern roadways and American California the landscape of Spanish Las Californias was far different than today.  Europeans living in Las Californias largely occupied communities along the coastline which were for the most part were attached to one of the twenty-one Catholic Missions.  The Missions were stringed together by a road know as El Camino Real ("The Royal Road") which stretched from Mission San Diego de Alcala in present day San Diego north to Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma in modern day Sonoma.

Given that the Spanish Missions were located along the coast the majority of travel in Las Californias was along El Camino Real.  Travel into the interior of Las Californias through San Joaquin Valley was a difficult prospect given the lack of civilization and more so the Tule Marshes of; Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake, Tulare Lake and the San Joaquin River.  That said, travel inland to the San Francisco Bay Area from Los Angeles was desired by some which led to the creation of El Camino Viejo ("The Old Road") which was in common use as early as 1780.  El Camino Viejo is sometimes called "El Camino Viejo Los Angeles" and simply translated as "The Old Road" or "The Old Road to Los Angeles.

Upon entering San Joaquin Valley El Camino Viejo followed the western shore of Tulare Lake and San Joaquin River to the vicinity of modern day Tracy.  From the Tracy area El Camino Viejo turned west into the Diablo Range and ascended through Corral Hollow Canyon via Corral Hollow Creek to Portezuela de Buenos Ayres ("Pass of Good Winds").  The Pass of Good Winds would come to be known as Corral Hollow Pass in modern times.  From Corral Hollow Pass El Camino Viejo continued west into what is now modern day Livermore via Arroyo Seco.

El Camino Viejo continued to serve Las Californias until the Mexican War of Independence.  Las Californias became a Mexican Territory in 1821 and was renamed to Alta California in 1824.  Mexican governance brought further civilization to San Joaquin Valley but it largely remained a remote landscape with few changes to El Camino Viejo.  Everything would change following the discovery of Gold in Sutter's Mill along the South Fork American River in the Sierra Nevada Range in January of 1848. 

In February of 1848 the Treaty of Guadaluple Hidalgo was ratified which ceded Alta California to the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.  By March news of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill was published by newspapers in San Francisco.  The New York Herald published their article on the gold discovery in August of 1848 bringing widespread attention to the newly acquired Californian territory.  Later, U.S. President James Polk spoke of the gold discovery in California in December 1848.  By 1849 the California Gold Rush had begun which spurred growth throughout California.  A large percentage of the influx of settlers made their way to the Sierra Nevada Range to take advantage of the plentiful mining claims.  California itself would become a State in 1850.

Although the California Gold Rush was mainly centered around the northern extent of the Sierra Nevada Range it was wasn't long before additional claims were made further south.  By 1853 gold claims were struck along the Kern River which led to the Kern River Gold Rush.  At this point the entirety of the Sierra Nevada Range had become attractive for prospectors looking to make money on the new mining claims.  El Camino Viejo being routed west of the Tulare Lake watershed was suddenly no longer a viable route for the majority of travelers through San Joaquin Valley.  A new route from Stockton to Los Angeles following the Sierra Nevada Foothills along the eastern edge of San Joaquin Valley which was created known as the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  In San Joaquin Valley the path of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road followed the general path of California State Route 65, particularly north of the Kern River.

Elsemerecanyon posted a map of the El Camino Viejo which was published in the book "El Camino Viejo Los Angeles - The Oldest Road of San Joaquin Valley" which can be found on the above link.  The map details the full route of the El Camino Viejo from Los Angeles north to San Francisco Bay.

Elsmerecanyon.com on "The Old Road"

Even though El Camino Viejo was no longer considered the major north/south route through Central California by the American period the route over Corral Pass was still a primary part of travel over the Diablo Range.  Corral Hollow Pass by the American period essentially straddled the Alameda County and San Joaquin County lines.   By 1855 coal mining had begun to the east of Corral Hollow Pass in Alameda County.  The coal mine near Corral Hollow Pass can be seen on this 1857 Road Map of California.

1857 Road Map of California

In terms of importance as a transportation corridor Corral Hollow Pass largely declined when the Central Pacific built the First Transcontinental Railroad through Altamont Pass between 1863 and 1869.  By 1889 the coal mine near Corral Hollow Pass developed into a small town known as Tesla.  Tesla would become the terminus of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad which incorporated in 1895.  In 1902 the Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company built a plant four miles east of Tesla in San Joaquin County.  The Carnegie Plant was centered around a small Company Town which was simply named "Carnegie."  At their peak Tesla reached a population of about 1,200 while Carnegie peaked out at about 300.  In 1903 the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad was sold to the Western Pacific Railroad which was building a second freight line over Altamont Pass to the north.  Tesla, Carnegie and Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad were wiped out by floods in 1911 along Corral Hollow Creek.  By 1916 the former right-of-way of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad was abandoned by the Western Pacific.

The Alamdeda and San Joaquin Railroad is featured on abandonedrails.com.

abandonedrails.com on Carbona to Tesla line

By 1960 the route of El Camino Viejo was added to Signed County Route J2.  CR J2 as a full route begins in Livermore at I-580, crosses Corral Hollow Pass, swings north through Tracy and ends at California State Route 4 near Stockton.

CAhighways.org on CR J2

My path over Corral Hollow Pass started from I-580 in Livermore.  When CR J2 was plotted Portola Avenue connected to US 50 via an at-grade intersection which no longer exists as part of I-580.  Interestingly the definition of CR J2 has apparently never changed in Alameda County which leaves the route with a hanging end that doesn't access I-580.  The most practical connecting route to CR J2 from I-580 is from Exit 52 for Livermore Avenue or Exit 51 for CA 84/Isabel Avenue.  Since I was on I-580 east I chose Exit 52 for Livermore Avenue to connect to CR J2 east in Livermore.




At Portola Avenue I picked up CR J2 which continues on Livermore Avenue into downtown Livermore.  CR J2 east appears to be completely unsigned in Alameda County.


CR J2 east on Livermore Avenue continues under the Union Pacific Altamont Pass freight line into downtown Livermore.  Livermore was established in 1869 as a railroad siding on what would become part of the First Transcontinental Railroad.  Livermore takes it's name from Robert Livermore who was a historical rancher in Livermore Valley.






As CR J2 exits the City of Livermore the route of Livermore Avenue becomes Tesla Road at a curve facing directly east towards Corral Hollow Pass.


CR J2 east on Tesla Road passes by the historic 1883 Concannon Vineyard on the outskirts of Livermore.


One of the scant reminders that a town named Tesla was nearby is the name of some of the businesses on CR J2 east on Tesla Road.


Signage directing traffic to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is signed CR J2 east at Vasco Road.



CR J2 east on Tesla Road begins to approach the Diablo Range.  Signage directing traffic to the De Anza Historic Route over Patterson Pass is located at Cross Road.





CR J2 east over Corral Hollow Pass is a popular cycling route.  There are numerous speed humps on CR J2 east as it begins to ascend towards Corral Hollow Pass.


CR J2 east on Tesla Road isn't particularly steep but is very curvy on the ascent to Corral Hollow Pass.







Corral Hollow Pass is located at approximately 1,600 feet above sea level.  The height coupled with the much more difficult terrain make it easy to understand at a glance why Altamont Pass became such a important travel corridor.  For comparison; Altamont Pass only ascends to 741 feet above sea level on an extremely shallow grade.  It is hard to fathom Corral Hollow Pass being a foot and wagon path from the modern visual of cyclists, asphalt and trucks hauling off-road vehicles.


The descent on CR J2 east from Corral Hollow Pass into Corral Hollow Canyon is very fast and very steep.














As CR J2 east descends to Corral Hollow Creek it enters what was the community of Tesla.  There appears to be virtually no evidence of Tesla aside from some of the coal mining pits which apparently are behind the fence line on McLaughlin Road.



Much of Corral Hollow Canyon east of the Tesla town site is now explosive testing grounds for the Lawrence Livermore Labratory.



CR J2 east enters San Joaquin County where Tesla Road becomes Corral Hollow Road.  Unlike Alameda County the route of CR J2 is signed in San Joaquin County.



The former town site for Carnegie has been incorporated into Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area.



CR J2 east on Corral Hollow Road follows Corral Hollow Creek through Corral Hollow Canyon east to San Joaquin Valley.  Along the way CR J2 east passes by Site 300 of the Lawrence Livermore Labratory.  Some of the former grade of the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad can be seen as CR J2 on the south side of Corral Hollow Creek as it begins to emerge from Corral Hollow Canyon.











Upon emerging into San Joaquin Valley CR J2 east on Corral Hollow Road meets I-580.  CR J2 continues directly northward into Tracy on Corral Hollow Road, I turned eastward on I-580 from here.  The Alameda and San Joaquin Valley Railroad would have cut northeast towards Carbona from the junction of CR J2 and I-580.





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