Before leaving the Junction, I noted this little gem from the department of Silly Signage:
It's actually posted in a field next to the driveway, but I couldn't resist getting a shot of it before heading out. A short distance away, the road crosses from Santa Clara to Stanislaus County.
You will notice that Santa Clara County is better funded for highway maintenance than Stanislaus County, but wasn't willing to spend a penny beyond the county line, clearly visible crossing the road in this picture, taken looking back towards the Junction. The county line is close to the ridge line here, and the road changes from Del Puerto, to Del Puerto Canyon, as we enter the top of the canyon.
So far, it looks like ordinary hilly country, but the road descends more rapidly than the shape of the hills would suggest.
This is a bit more canyon like. Notice also the fact that we're back in the desert, and that there are a lot of tar snakes to reduce traction.
This is pretty barren, and isolated. In fact, it was still unpaved in the late '60s. There are times when you really want a riding partner, just in case. Of course, your cellular phone is worthless here. No coverage.
And what torrent has carved this steep rugged canyon through all
Well here it is, Del Puerto Creek:
Just at the end of the rainy season, it's a bit under a foot wide, and a bit less than an inch deep. It gets bigger when there's actual rain falling, of course, I suppose, although I've never actually seen it rain here. Maybe during an el Niño year.
Now we're approaching civilization.
This is Frank Raines Regional Park. It has a WPA sort of look to it, and is associated with an off road vehicle recreation area. The park here is a popular spot for families to come and escape some of the worst of the heat in the central valley, but I didn't notice any off-roaders in that area.
I took a short break here to stroll around and see if there was anything worthy of a photo, but next time through, I won't even bother to stop, unless it's to open the vents in my jacket.
The park was just a wider spot in the valley, which is still pretty steep for the most part. Del Puerto creek has gotten a little larger, but not much:
Some of the ruggedness of the terrain is being lost at this point, and the surrounding valleys tend to have more grass growing on them:
The Spanish started grazing cattle here in the late 1700s, and in hill country like this, the cattle tend to follow the same track across a slope, over and over again. Where the slope is a bit on the rocky side, you can see the effect pretty clearly:
The grass dries out first at the lower elevations, and in the springtime, the cattle wander up the canyons following the last of the greenery. When they reach the desert higher up, the wander back down, munching the dried grass, until they come to the little reservoirs made by small dams along the stream, where there will be a bit more greenery, or the ranchers will deliver fodder.
Now the slopes of Del Puerto canyon are smoothing out a bit, and the desert look is behind us. There's still plenty of twisties, though.
At this point, I'd suggest beginning to worry about cattle on the road. Also pedestrians, bicyclists, and gravel. In early spring, worry about washouts. In fact, if you want, you can worry yourself completely neurotic, because you can also meet construction crews, families in big campers, squids on sport bikes, flocks of Harleys... Usually, though, the road is as empty as it is in these pictures. We are getting out of the canyon, though, and here's the proof. In fact, I passed a large black Angus, standing in the middle of my lane shortly before stopping to take this shot. If I'd had the camera mounted on the motorcycle, I'd have had a picture of him, too.
As we proceed, the hills get lower, and the turns further apart. Even so, it's a bit of a surprise to come through a narrow "V" and suddenly there's the California Aqueduct and Interstate 5 (The world's most boring freeway).
That shot is looking back towards the hills. I-5 is at the top of the berm. Looking the other way, is the great Central Valley of California.
Does that look flat? Well it is. It's the flattest large stretch of land anywhere on Earth. It makes Kansas look like hill country. I've seen Holland's polders, and this is both flatter, and more extensive. This brings to mind a question that has troubled me for a long time. Nowhere along this stretch have we seen anything resembling a port, which is what one presumes del Puerto should lead to. The nearest port is the city of Stockton, about 30 miles from here, and this canyon's name is older than that.
The camera is a Pentax K1000, fully manual single lens reflex. I used two lenses, 50 and a 135mm. Fujicolor ASA 1600 film, typically exposed for 1/1000 sec at f8 to f16.
<rant mode ON>
Since the Santa Clara Valley was paved over, the central valley is not only the flattest land on the planet, but is also the most productive agriculturally, providing half of the fruit in the entire US, and, together with the coast ranges and Sierra foothills, half of the dairy products as well. For all you've heard of the movie industry, aerospace, and technology or the gold rush, this is the real reason California is known as "the golden state". If you can find water to put on it, you can grow anything in this soil. That is, unfortunately, a mighty big "if". You've heard about California's recent power woes, but water shortages have been a fact of life here as long as I've been around, and were already old when I was born (just about 90 miles north in a very straight line extending off just to the left edge of that last shot, in the 1940s). I keep wondering just how many people can be crammed in. It's not that there isn't room for them, it's that there isn't enough water. We actually take water out of the deserts of the southwest to keep putting more and more people into California. My fear is that they will put so many in during a series of wet years, that a series of dry years will do irreversible damage. Such damage has already been done on occasion. At the south end of the San Francisco bay, the town of Alviso (once a fairly important port, now part of San Jose) is now below sea level, because of subsidence cause by pumping more water than was going into the ground. The same sort of thing has happened here in the central valley, but there's no ocean here to cause inundation. We had two dry years back to back in the mid '70s, and during the second one, water conservation efforts reached the point that we weren't even flushing the toilets on a routine basis ("If it's yellow, it's mellow, if it's brown flush it down" was the slogan) and the population of the state has doubled since then. Two consecutive dry years don't occur very often in the historical record, but that record only goes back to about 1840, with any reliability. During that two year drought, the water level at Lake Tahoe fell to the lowest ever observed, exposing unfamiliar stretches of lake bed. They found the stumps of drowned trees there, indicating that the water level had fallen that low before, and stayed there for a century or more. Carbon 14 and dendrochronology dating indicated that those trees died less than two thousand years ago. If half this many people could barely withstand a two year drought, how will the number we have today stand up to a century's drought? Save California. Take someone with you when you leave.
<rant mode OFF>