Starting mileage: 6167 Starting time: 9:00 am
Ending mileage: 6435 Ending time: 6:00 pm
Travel mileage: 268 Travel time: 9 hours
Traveling over the mountains east of Gilroy, we passed by the San Luis reservoir which is just about empty. The water was nearly down to the bottom of the dam and all that was left was the original small lake. The water has been down so long that the shallow shores have turned into a green meadow.
As we passed through the Joaquin Valley, there were numerous billboards with sayings like "Is growing food wasting water?" and informal signs saying "Pray for rain". This is a huge agricultural area with very rich soil. As we drove along, the crops progressed from peppers and tomatoes to cotton and grapes to almonds and pistachios. We were surprised to see grapes being grown in the same hot climate as cotton. The pistachio orchards suddenly stopped and we were back to dry grass - I wonder if this was where water for irrigation ended.
The terrain turned into rolling hills of obvious volcanic origin with boulders strewn around and jagged rock formations sticking up. The hills also became more populated with scrub oak trees which are tolerant of dry climates although they weren't looking good. This appears to be largely for cattle ranching as we could see the chutes for loading cattle into trucks. Sadly, there were "for sale" signs by many of the ranches and we didn't see any cattle. The signs for fire risk have the scale low, medium, high, severe and catastrophe - the arrow was pointing to catastrophe.
As we started the drive up into Yosemite, the temperature was 89 degrees. The hillsides became more green with pine trees although sadly, many of them are dying due to drought stress and the pine bark beetles. Our first main stop in the park was at Glacier Point which overlooks the Yosemite Valley thousands of feet below and Half Dome on the other side of the valley. The only words to describe it are "awe inspiring". The temperature had dropped to a comfortable 69 degrees. The downside is the huge crowds that have come to enjoy this awe-inspiring experience. On the way down there is an overlook with a spectacular view of the El Capitan on the left, the Yosemite Valley in the middle and Half Dome on the right.
Since we are planning on going back on Sunday to check out the Yosemite Valley, we made our way towards the hotel. Along the way, a huge rock slide has wiped out part of the road along the river, taking with it a large power transmission tower. Fortunately, they have been able to put temporary bridges across the river and pave an old trail on the other side wide enough for a single lane of traffic. Without this it would be at least a two-hour drive to get around.
Tonight we are staying at a Comfort Inn in the historic town of Mariposa which had considerable gold deposits and many prospectors around 1850. We had a good and inexpensive dinner at a Mexican restaurant in town.