El Camino Real (California)

From Academic Kids

El Camino Real in California is historically the road built in 1769 by Father Junípero Serra to connect the Catholic missions in Alta California between Sonoma in the north, and (what is now Presidio Park in) San Diego in the south, during the Spanish colonial era, and now a sequence of modern highways which approximate the historic route. Tradition has it that the mission monks spread mustard seeds along El Camino Real, in order to mark the road with bright yellow mustard flowers.

Missing image
A historical marker along El Camino Real.

The following is a legal definition of El Camino Real according to the California Streets and Highways Code:

"State highway routes embracing portions of Routes 280, 82, 238, 101, 5, 72, 12, 37, 121, 87, 162, 185, 92, and 123 and connecting city streets and county roads thereto, and extending in a continuous route from Sonoma southerly to the international border and near the route historically known as El Camino Real shall be known and designated as 'El Camino Real'." [CS&HC Sec. 635(b)]

Many streets throughout California today have the name of this famous road, often with little factual relation to the original.

The iconic status of El Camino Real on the San Francisco Peninsula (where it is signed as Route 82, and usually abbreviated as El Camino) is such that navigation is usually done relative to it, and it defines logical north and south in the area, even though it is closer to north-west/south-east. Visitors to the area are often confounded by the street numbers on El Camino Real, which reset (often to 100) when each new city is entered (roughly every two or three miles). To make matters even more confusing, the road alternates between West, East, and (plain) El Camino seemingly without much logic. Locally, El Camino runs past Stanford University, Santa Clara University and through downtown San Jose.

In Southern California, the road follows Harbor Boulevard in Orange County, Whittier Boulevard/Route 72, Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, the Cahuenga Pass, and Ventura Boulevard. San Francisco's Mission Street continues the route, connecting what is now California State Route 82 to Mission Dolores.



The modern El Camino Real was one of the first state highways in California. Given the lack of standardized road signs at the time, it was decided to place distinctive bells along the route, hung on supports in the form of a 11-foot high shepherd's crook, also described as "a Franciscan walking stick." The first of 450 bells was unveiled in August 15, 1906 at the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

The original organization which installed the bells fragmented, and the Automobile Club of Southern California and associated groups cared for the bells from the mid-1920s through 1931. The state took over bell maintenance in 1933. Most of the bells eventually disappeared due to vandalism, theft or simple loss, due to the relocation or rerouting of highways and roads. After a reduction in the number of bells to around 150, the state began replacing them, at first with concrete, and later with iron. A design first produced in 1960 by Justin Kramer of Los Angeles is the standard today.

Earlier bells can be distinguished from the modern bells by their bright orange rust--the newer bells were cast differently and appear gray or silver.

The first bells were produced by the California Bell Company and are dated 1769 to 1906 and include a designer's copyright notice.


El Camino Real is the subject of a bilingual pun among Stanford University computer scientists. From the Jargon File:

In the FORTRAN language, a 'real' is a number typically precise to seven significant figures, and a `double precision' quantity is a larger floating-point number, precise to perhaps fourteen significant digits (other languages have similar 'real' types). When a hacker from MIT, Guy L. Steele, visited Stanford in 1976, he remarked what a long road El Camino Real was. Making a bilingual pun on 'real', he started calling it 'El Camino Double Precision'.
When he was told that the road was hundreds of miles long (resulting in extremely large street address numbers), he renamed it 'El Camino Bignum' ("bignum" is LISP jargon for an indefinite-precision integer), and that name has stuck.
In recent years, the synonym "El Camino Virtual" has been reported as an alternate at IBM and Amdahl sites in Silicon Valley. Mathematically literate hackers in the Valley have also been heard to refer to some major cross-street intersecting El Camino Real as "El Camino Imaginary". One popular theory is that the intersection is located near Moffett Field - where they keep all those complex planes.

Historic designations

See also

External link


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