[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 1: US 6 in California (Bishop to Nevada State Line; Inyo County, Mono County)

Go to: Main US 6 page | Part 2

[CA 7 and CA 168 in 1934.] We begin our nationwide trek in California's eastern Sierra Nevada, but from its complete extension in 1937 until 1964, our starting point was actually far south of here in Long Beach, CA, near the Los Angeles coast. From where US 395 and US 6 met in Bishop, CA, both highways descended towards Kern county and then US 6 split off roughly along modern CA 14, I-5 and I-110 towards its old terminus.

After 1964, the California legislature truncated US 6 to the small portion north of its long common segment with US 395. As a result, US 6 in California today is an undignified stub barely 40 miles in length and causing the route to lose its total length crown to the much less interesting (IMHO) US 20 to the north. Nevertheless, it is still a worthy prelude to our great cross-section of America, and it is here in Bishop that we will start.

The entirety of modern US 6 in California has always been state highway, just under a different number. It was originally designated in 1931 as Legislative Route Number 76, part of the original California LRN system, and signed as CA 168 during the initial signage of state routes in 1934 as seen in the California Highways and Public Works map at right. In those days US 395 didn't exist either; it was signed as CA 7. In 1935, US 395 was designated and CA 7 cut down to Inyokern, and in 1937, US 6 was finally extended nationally, with US 6 taking over the rest of CA 7 into Los Angeles.

Starting out!
Here we start our drive to Bishop (a very congenial little town and the gateway to the outstanding locales of northern Inyo and Mono counties, the history of and basic information about you can find in US Highway 395 Part 5). My childhood home is San Diego, the former southern terminus of US 395, itself replaced now almost entirely by Interstate 15 (here in northern San Diego county approaching what remains signed as Old Highway 395) and Interstate 215. For more on US 395 history, see Old Highway 395.

Eventually I will do an Old Highway 6 exhibit -- I did live in Lancaster near Sierra Highway (old US 6 west of the modern CA 14 freeway) for a couple years when I was very young, so that is "home" in a sense for me too.

Exiting at the modern southern terminus of US 395 in Hesperia, CA, off Interstate 15.

Bishop, CA (Inyo County)

Approaching the terminus and separation in Bishop, with 112 miles to Tonopah (Part 2). Notice that California, unlike any other state, still uses glorious old cutouts for its US routes instead of square blanks.
Looking at the snow-capped mountains (yes, even in July) from the road's end as we make the turn.
First postmile. We won't be in California long, but Nevada also uses a similar distance marker system which has a milecount and a county indicator, so get familiar with it for the next few hundred files.
As we start, on the other side of the road is the famous END US 6 in Bishop. There used to be a corresponding sign in Massachusetts, and there sort of still is, but I won't spoil the surprise yet. :)
Distance signage.
One last look in the other direction, with advance signage for the US 395 junction and, in the background, Bishop city limits.
Crossing the Bishop Creek, the feeder stream for which the town was named and itself named for rancher Samuel Addison Bishop.
Advance signage for Provincetown, MA, 3205 miles away.
Notice the Grand Army of the Republic Highway signage. Caltrans does not use this often, but it does mark the route in place to place even in areas that are no longer US 6 (for example, there is one along US 395 south of Bishop near the Keough Hot Springs). The Grand Army of the Republic Hwy name comes from the Union Army of the Civil War, applied first to US 6 in Massachusetts in 1937, and finally formally dedicated all the way to California on 3 May 1953.
Atypically, US 6 is also marked with MUTCD "green" mileposts. This is very strange in California, but is typical in most other states, and may have been a Caltrans concession due to the fact that most of modern US 6 is no longer in the state. However, these mileposts stop in Nevada, so who knows.
US 6 takes a swooping S path north of Bishop towards Mono county, crossing the Owens River (feeder for the now mostly dry Owens Lake and, by extension, most of Los Angeles) on its way. More about Owens Lake and its namesake in US Highway 395 Part 3.
Just after it, however, is this turn-off for Laws.
Laws today is a museum on the ruins of the old mining town north of Bishop. Although most of the population in the late 19th century was settled where the water was (Bishop), the mining was where the ore was (Laws and the mountains), a difficult trek that could take over an hour despite the relatively short distances. The old Carson & Colorado railroad ran between Nevada and as far south as Keeler (near modern CA 136 at the north end of Owens Lake) starting in 1883 and remained in operation, becoming part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, until 1960 when the SP discontinued narrow gauge operations. SPRR donated the station intact with depot, turntable, agent and track to the county of Inyo and today it remains as a local tourist attraction.
Bizarre overwide US 6 reassurance shield. Notice that it says EAST even though we are travelling almost due north. More about that in a moment.
NB US 6, in the foothills of the White Mountains to the east.
Mono county line and terminal postmile for Inyo, just eight short miles.

Mono County, California

We will remain in Mono county for the remainder of our short routing in California. Mono is another county largely traversed by US 395, which also acts as its backbone all the way to the Nevada state line, so I'll let you read about the history of Mono county and see some of its sights in US Highway 395 Part 6.

The MUTCD green mileposts continue (here at Mile 10). Notice that they didn't reset at the county line like the postmiles did, proving they are true mileposts.
Entering Chalfant.
Chalfant is probably named for William A. Chalfont, local community booster and opponent of Los Angeles' plans for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Both he and his father, editor of the Inyo Register, made their prime target controversial chief engineer William Mulholland, who was overseeing the Aqueduct's construction, and to this day Mulholland remains a hated figure in many local quarters, blamed for the destruction of the Owens Valley. Wm. Chalfont was a prolific author as well, writing many tomes of local history including his most important work, The Story of Inyo (1921), and continuing to publish until his death in 1943. His last book, Gold, Guns and Ghosttowns, was published posthumously in 1947. The modern town has 651 residents [2010].
This is about as much downtown as you get.
Distance signage leaving Chalfant as we trundle along in the shadow of the foothills.
Realignment endorsements appear on some of the postmiles here (this one is PM R13 [Mile 21]); the old US 6 seems to have run on part of the dirt tracks (now) paralleling the current route, but most of the old road is now either discontinuous or lost.
I pointed out that we were actually heading due north despite the US 6 signs showing EAST. Caltrans seems to have realized this as well with this pair of signs. Although the "eastbound" NORTH banner had fallen off, the "westbound" SOUTH banner is still up on the other side.
End of the realigned section (PM 18 [Mile 26] with AHD and BK postmiles) as we crest the lip of the western hills.
Mile 32 and a Grand Army of the Republic marker.
Curving in towards Benton, with advance signage for CA 120.
Entering Benton.
Modern Benton is actually old Benton Station -- the original Benton itself is a few miles west along CA 120. Benton and Benton Station were likely named for J. E. Benton, probably a local settler of which little biography survives, and the name was also applied to the local hot springs around which the later settlements grew up. Silver strikes in the 1860s led to a massive influx of prospectors both around Blind Spring Hill on the west and at the foot of the White Mountains to the east, in what would become Montgomery City (another eponym of which little history of the original man remains).

The mining activity was of such a density that at one time Benton was the largest town in Mono county and was serviced by the Carson & Colorado line we saw back in Laws; the lack of rail service was in fact what led to Montgomery City's decline. However, it was straighter and more strategic to build the railroad station a few miles east, yielding Benton Station. Both the original Benton and Montgomery City both faded as the mine yields disappeared, but while Montgomery City simply crumbled into ruin Benton survived as a small hamlet to be merged with the station into the modern Benton. Here are some images of old Montgomery City in the present day. The modern town has 280 residents [2010].

Distance signage to Yosemite at the CA 120 junction.
CA 120 is the old Mono Mills Road in this region, servicing the old Mono Mills which supplied the local mining concessions with mill fuel and lumber. Mono Mills' biggest consumer was the famous town of Bodie to the northwest, sunk into the unforgiving high peaks of the Sierras (US Highway 395 Part 8 for more), and when business in Bodie was good it was good at the Mills as well. Unfortunately, as Bodie declined, Mono Mills became starved for cash and when the great Standard Mill in Bodie finally closed (the only surviving mill still in the modern day ghost town), so did Mono Mills in 1914. Today CA 120 is the major eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park, and travels over the acrophobic Tioga Pass (9,941') through the park into the Central Valley where it is a major local arterial.
END CA 120 at the junction.
Notice that now US 6 is signed EAST.
A closure sign visible from the back. In winter, the ascent towards the Mono Basin can be a fearsome trek from this side of the lake.
Distance sign leaving town.
The White Mountains glistening to the east as we turn to cross them over the next section.
Passing the lonely (and at this time, closed) inspection station as we approach the state line.
Passes are prominently displayed on virtually every distance sign through the Sierras along US 395 and US 6, including here at the inspection station viewed from westbound. Even in late spring, when this picture was taken, many of the trans-Sierra passes -- even the relatively low Monitor Pass -- remain closed, and high elevation passes like the Tioga and Sonora are all but untraverseable.
Final MUTCD milepost [Mile 40] and Caltrans postmile [PM 32] just before the border.
Welcome to Nevada and Mineral county line.
Looking back for the last time into California, we see the (defaced) Welcome to California on the other side (with a turnaround spot for the Highway Patrol); the last cutout, with a relatively recent MUTCD-compliant WEST banner (with enlarged first letter); and distance signage to Los Angeles as it would have been when US 6 still went there, many years ago.
Continue to Part 2
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