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Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road

Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road is an approximately 21-mile highway located in southeast Kern County.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road begins at Tehachapi Boulevard (former US Route 466) in Tehachapi and crosses the Tehachapi Mountains via the 4,820-foot-high Oak Creek Pass.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road enters Antelope Valley of the wider Mojave Desert and passes by the historic stage station of Willow Springs to a southern terminus at Rosamond Boulevard.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road has historic ties to the Havilah-Los Angeles Road and Stockton-Los Angeles Road due to the once reliable presence of water at Willow Springs.

Part 1; the history of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road

Oak Creek Pass and Willow Springs were known to the local tribes of the Tehachapi Mountains for generations.  The first documented European crossing of Oak Creek Pass was during 1776 as part of an expedition by Francisco Garces.  Oak Creek Pass is as used again by John C. Fremont during an 1844-1845 expedition to explore San Joaquin Valley.  Both the parties of Garces and Fremont stopped at the site of Willows Springs which at the time was known to be a reliable source of water.  

The reliability of Willow Springs was later reaffirmed by the Jayhawk Party.  The Jayhawk Party had stopped at Willows Springs on the way to Los Angeles after struggling to escape Death Valley.  

The importance of the reliable water source at Willow Springs would see it become part of the early Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  The emergence of the Kern River Gold Rush in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains during 1853 spurred interest in the creation of an organized wagon road which connected Stockton to Los Angeles.  The quickest known routing from the Kern River in southern San Joaquin Valley towards Antelope Valley during the early 1850s was over the Tehachapi Mountains via Tejon Pass (now Old Tejon Pass).  Tejon Pass crossed the Tehachapi Mountains at an elevation of 5,285 feet above sea level and passed by the site of Willow Springs upon emerging into Antelope Valley.  From Willow Springs the routing of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road south to Elizabeth Lake and San Francisquito Canyon was largely direct.  

In 1853 Castac Pass through Grapevine Canyon west of the Old Tejon Pass was surveyed by Robert S. Williamson of the Army Corps of Engineers for a possible path of Transcontinental Railroad.  The 1853 surveying expedition found Castac Pass through Grapevine Canyon to be a far more viable route for travelers and the primary alignment was of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road was shifted west from Old Tejon Pass.  Castac Pass had a far lower terminal elevation at 4,144 feet above sea level and had a gentler grade through Grapevine Canyon.  In 1854 a U.S. Army Garrison was established at Fort Tejon in Grapevine Canyon near modern Lebec to protect settlers and travelers along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  In time Castac Pass became known as Fort Tejon Pass and eventually simply Tejon Pass.  Tejon Pass would later become part of the Ridge Route (US Route 99) alignment and Interstate 5.

The 1857 Britton & Rey's Map of California shows all the major routes traversing the mountains between San Fernando Valley and San Joaquin Valley.  The older routing of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road over Old Tejon Pass displays it passing by Willow Springs.  

Despite the realignment of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road the reliability of water at Willow Springs would ensure it remained relevant.  During 1864 a new stage road known as the Havilah-Los Angeles Road was established.  The Havilah-Los Angeles Road connected the original Kern County seat of Havilah south to the Stockton-Los Angeles Road near Elizabeth Lake via Agua Caliente Creek, Tollgate Canyon, Oak Creek Pass and Willow Springs.  A stage station at Willow Springs was established to accommodate travelers along the Havilah-Los Angeles Road.  The Havilah-Los Angeles Road would begin to decline in importance following the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad through Tehachapi Pass in 1876.  The Havilah-Los Angeles Road can be seen in detail on the 1873 Bancroft's Map of California.  

During the early 20th century, the stage station at Willow Springs was purchased by Erza Hamilton.  Hamilton spent $40,000 during 1904 to construct over twenty masonry buildings at Willow Springs.  The masonry buildings were intended to provide the Tropico Gold Mine with a reliable water supply.  Willow Springs would become more well known as a resort and would evolve into a small community.  Willow Springs received Post Office service from 1909 through 1918.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road can be seen as a minor highway on the 1917 California State Automobile Association map.  

The 1935 Division of Highways Map of Kern County displays Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road as a major Kern County highway.  

The alignment of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road can be seen passing through the community of Willows Springs on the 1943 United States Geological Survey map of the area.  

Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road was realigned sometime during the 1950s to bypass the community of Willow Springs as can be seen on the 1959 United State Geological Survey map of Los Angeles.  The original alignment of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road became what is now signed as Manly Road and Truman Road.  

Part 2; a drive on Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road

Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road southbound begins from Tehachapi Boulevard (former US Route 466) in the city of Tehachapi. 

Southbound Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road ascends over the California State Route 58 freeway but does not access it.  

Southbound Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road ascends into the Tehachapi Mountains and climbs to the 4,820-foot-high Oak Creek Pass.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road over the Tehachapi Pass is strewn with windmill farms lining the highway.  

Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road begins to descend from Oak Creek Pass and intersects Oak Creek Road.  

Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road southbound descends into Antelope Valley and the Mojave Desert.  Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road upon entering Antelope Valley intersects Backus Road.  

As Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road intersects Hamilton Road traffic is advised it can be used to access Willow Springs. 

As noted in Part 1 the original alignment of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road is now Manly Road.  Manly Road passes through the community of Willow Springs via a narrow road grade.  Many of Ezra Hamilton's masonry buildings are still present and occupied.  A historical plaque details the roll of Willow Springs in 19th century travel. 

The older alignment of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road loops back to the modern highway via Truman Road.  In the distance Tropico Hill can be seen where the namesake mine was once located.  

Southbound Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road ends at Rosamond Boulevard.  The road continues south towards the Los Angeles County line as 90th Street West.  


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