In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II traveled to Yosemite via Highway 59 from Castle Air Force Base to La Grange and then on to Highway 132 through Coulterville, on up and connecting to Highway 120 and then into the park.
Highway 132 doesn't get much attention as a route to Yosemite. It should.
The Mariposa County economic development department calls 132 the "least developed entry into the park," retaining its "pristine beauty and peace," while also boasting great historic appeal including the path John Muir used in the late 1860s.
This route is at least equal to the main entrances from the north and south. No need to plug them here, given the amount of publicity they receive.
And that's the issue. Highway 132 runs through Modesto and our community could promote itself as the back door to Yosemite, but there is no discernible effort to do so. It's a missed opportunity that could enhance Stanislaus County's economy and image.
Highway 132 east of Modesto is a treasure, though in places a bit tarnished. It's not just the panoramas of foothills, the Tuolumne River and farmlands that make this trip so pleasant, but also the historic features of La Grange and Coulterville. Both of these old Gold Rush towns offer numerous sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For example, just a few miles from La Grange is the remnant of a hulking iron dredge still floating in its last channel blasted from the earth in search of gold.
La Grange, the eastern outpost of Stanislaus County, is showing new energy. Just weeks ago, the long-closed La Grange Bar and Grill, established in 1897, reopened as Louie's Place Saloon and Grill, creating a destination for those seeking generously portioned meals. The excellent museum in the town's oldest building, once a Wells Fargo office, is open on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. and is available by calling ahead. In fact, visitors can reserve a tour of the entire town, including the amazing Harry- Potter-like secrets room in the Odd Fellows Hall. Call Angela at Louie's,(209) 853-2050 and Marsha will call back to set a tour appointment.
Much of the Route 132 corridor was named Yosemite Boulevard for a reason, perhaps in anticipation of a promotional bonanza for Modesto. But that will only happen if we recognize the value of "regional tourism," a concept that exceeds holding county roundtable meetings.
It is a strategy that exploits the rich environment outside of Modesto that invites wonderful day trips and offers vacation destinations. Tourists will come to America's home town if a visitors center can provide personalized service that recommends both local sights and regional excursions beyond county borders. This strategy would encourage folks to stay over for a good meal and local entertainment before they travel on Highway 132, whether west some 10 miles to the wonderful San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge or east to Gold Rush towns on the way to Yosemite.
In 2010 Mariposa christened its 28 miles of 132 as the "John Muir Highway" as it rises to merge with that other route, Highway 120, that has been so valuable for Oakdale. As a first step, Stanislaus could promote our portion as the historic Yosemite parkway. Its tourism-worthy points are too numerous to list here, but there is discussion about a brochure map showing sites of interest from the wildlife preserve through downtown Modesto to The Fruit Yard, on to La Grange and beyond.
Is there support for convening a coalition of historic 132 merchants, officials and supporters, people living from the valley floor to the foothills and Sierra?
Opinions are invited.
Jones writes about a variety of Modesto issues, including tourism opportunities. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.