After my usual coffee, I packed and rode back up the dirt road. Amazingly, though it had looked like I was going downhill going down the road, it looked downhill going back as well. Looking at the river and the height of the road above the river, I was able to figure out that it was an optical illusion: the road was mostly level after all.
From Briceburg, there was some downhill till I got to the foot of the hill leading up into Yosemite. This hill is probably over 10% grade, and is about 7 miles long. The total distance into the Yosemite Valley is about 20 miles from the base of the hill. Luckily, I had filled my water containers before leaving from Briceburg. I had to stop repeatedly to catch my breath and drink water. There was a steady stream of weekend tourist traffic, and no shoulders. The road was also in bad shape and under construction. But the view of the Merced River was great. It took me about three hours to climb the hill. About two miles from the top, I'd run out of the gallon or so of water I'd been carrying. I stood by the side of the road with my empty, opened water bottle held upside down, and flagged cars down, asking for water. A rented minivan full of Japanese tourists stopped and gave me a bottle of water. I had to repeat this later, and a car full of foreign tourists stopped again, giving me another bottle.
Finally, I'd made it to the top of the hill and found a gentle downhill into the valley floor. As I entered the valley, I saw the sheer granite faces on either side, going up maybe 4000 feet. I tried to take a picture, but couldn't capture enough of it without a really wide angle lens.
Yosemite Valley was formed when a glacier cut through a granite mountain range. Several waterfalls cascade down the face of the granite, and rockfalls are an almost annual event.
I'd been told at the park entrance that all the campgrounds were full, but that I might be able to get a space at the backpackers' camp if I told them that I was going to do an overnight backpacking trip the next day. Unfortunately, the Wilderness Office was closed (by 4 minutes!) when I got there, so I went over to the "walk-in" camp called Sunnyside where all the climbers and other poor people stay ($3 per night). It was full too, but I pitched my tent at the back of one site. They put 6 people in each site, which makes for an interesting social scene. Most of the residents here are relatively young (relative to me, that is), and most are also rock climbers. There are people from all over the world in the campgrounds: before a few hours had passed, I'd met visitors from Germany, Israel, Australia, and Japan.