El Camino Real was pioneered by Spaniards in the late
1700's when they colonized California in the name of their king.
The road started as a foot trail connecting the chain of missions established
between San Diego in the south and Sonoma nearly 600 miles north..
As the mission settlements grew, traffic increased, and
the narrow trail became a well-traveled road.. After California was
acquired as part of the United States on September 9, 1850, the road became
the main north-south stage route, and when the Concord coach was replaced
by the automobile, the road became the principal highway linking northern
and southern California.
In recognition of its historic importance, the modern Highway
101 is also called El Camino Real.. It follows the original path of the
padres with only a few deviations. For many years it carried the designation of
US 101, and although it still carries this identification for much of its way,
portions have been renamed. You can see a sign "El Camino Real", and often a
bell on a post in these locations.
You'll also see a bell at nearly every mission along with
a statue of Fr. Junipero Serra, Father of the California Missions.
The El Camino Real started in San Diego, in what is now
Presidio Park, near the current SE corner of Taylor St. and Presidio Drive
in San Diego (see California
Historic Landmark #67). Over time, the original El Camino
Real routing was replaced by modern highways, primarily US 101. US 101,
overtime, has also been replaced in portions by I-5, Route 72, Route 82,
The preservation of El Camino Real was first put forward
in 1892 by Miss Anna Pitcher, Director of the Pasadena Art Exhibition Association
to the Women's Club of Los Angeles. There was no action taken. Ten years
later she talked to the Native Daughters of the Golden West, but to no
avail. In 1904, a group was formed called the El Camino Real Association
and was charged with reestablishing the road. Mrs. Forbes' bell design
was accepted as the standard marker to be used outlining the route. The
route was established in 1906 and about 400 bells were placed along the
route from 1906 to 1915. Eventually, there were as many as 450 bells. As
the years went by, many bells began to disappear, but were replaced by
Mr. Justin Kramer in 1963. Theft and vandalism continued to take its toll,
and the number dwindled to about 75.
In response, the Legislature appointed Caltrans as guardian
of the bells in 1974, responsible for repairing or replacing them. Replacements
are made of concrete, rather than cast iron, to discourage theft. Along
with Los Angeles County, the bells are located in the counties of Ventura,
San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Mateo and Santa
Clara. In 1996, Caltrans developed the "Adopt-A-Bell" program (specifically,
it was developed by Keith Robinson, who was the Statewide Coordinator of
the Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program because he had an interest in the
El Camino Real and the loss of the mission bell markers; it appeared to
him to be a good way to get the bell markers back on the highways for the
public to recognize the historic route of the El Camino Real). 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
Some of our favorite
vacations near missions include the city of Santa Barbara with the
unique mission with the twin towers.
Santa Barbara hotels are abundant and located along the
waterfront, shopping district, hills and not far from the mission.
Today, the California Federation of Women's Clubs (CFWC)
continues to work to place more bells on El Camino Real in California.
Also working on the program is the Automobile Clubs of Northern and Southern California,
the Knights of Columbus, The California Sister Cities Program and Various
sites in Baja California.
New bells are being installed at a rapid rate. 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 June of 1998, the California
State Dept. of Transportation and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)
[a branch of the government of the United States of Mexico], in conjunction
with CFWC and The Knights of Columbus, dedicated a bell on the international
border at the San Ysidro/Tiajuana crossing.
Other El Camino Reals
California cannot lay claim to the only El Camino Real.
Some other significant El Camino Reals include:
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.
This 1,800 mile trail goes from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In
the United States, this route runs along approximately I-25 between El
Paso TX and Taos NM. El Camino Real de los Tejas.
El Camino Real de los Tejas and variations in the primary route were used
for more than 150 years as the principal route between Mexico City, Saltillo,
Monclova, and respective presidios, and the missions near the present Guerrero,
Coahuila, Mexico, on the Rio Grande and Los Adaes in what is now northwestern
Missions Map with El Camino Real
Serra & Mission San Carlos Borreomeo