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The San Joaquin Valley

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The vast interior of California is split down the middle by the Sierra Nevada (Spanish for “snowy range”), or High Sierra, a sawtooth range of snowcapped peaks that stands high above the semi-desert of the Owens Valley. The wide San Joaquin Valley in the west was made fertile by irrigation projects during the 1940s, and is now almost totally agricultural. The real reason to come here is for the grand national parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon – and Yosemite, where waterfalls cascade down towering walls of silvery granite. Few roads penetrate the hundreds of square miles of wilderness, but the entire pristine alpine backcountry is crisscrossed by hiking trails.

The I-5 freeway barrels through the valley on a course so flat, straight and dull it’s almost hypnotic. Three to six daily trains on the San Joaquin line – connecting Oakland and Bakersfield, but not LA – and frequent Greyhound buses run through the valley, calling at the towns along Hwy-99, in particular Merced, which has bus connections to Yosemite but otherwise doesn’t merit a look-in.

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