Sunday, February 19, 2012

Restore Hetch Hetchy--The Tuolumne Yosemite

usbackroads destination--Hetch Hetchy the Tuolumne Yosemite. 

The common perception is that there is only ONE Yosemite Valley.  That is not true.  As John Muir said "Yosemite is so wonderful that we are apt to regard it as an exceptional creation, the only valley of its kind in the world; but Nature is not so poor to have only one of anything".

Just twenty miles from Yosemite Valley is its identical twin.  Hetch Hetchy.  John Muir preferred to call it the Tuolumne Yosemite.  It was at one time complete with a river flowing along the floor of the valley, but here it is the Tuolumne River rather than the Merced.  Waterfalls grace this valley just like Yosemite.  Wapama Falls booms its song across the landscape in spring.  There are other falls just as spectacular and special as any in Yosemite Valley.

For more information on Hetch Hetchy is probably best to go to the source.  In John Muir's book the Yosemite he devotes one whole chapter to Hetch Hetchy or the Tuolumne Yosemite as it should be called. You can find the book at used bookstores, Amazon, or the Gudenburg Project where it is available as free e-book download.  Here is his description of the Tuolumne Yosemite.

"After my first visit, in the autumn of 1871, I have always called it the Tuolumne Yosemite, for it is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite, not only in its crystal river and sublime rocks and waterfalls, but in the gardens, groves, and meadows of its flower park-like floor. The floor of Yosemite is about 4,000 feet above the sea, the Hetch-Hetchy floor about 3,700; the walls of both are of gray granite, rise abruptly out of the flowery grass and groves are sculptured in the same style, and in both every rock is a glacial monument. Standing boldly out from the south wall is a strikingly picturesque rock called "Kolana" by the Indians, the outermost of a group 2300 feet high, corresponding with the Cathedral Rocks of Yosemite both in relative position and form. On the opposite side of the Valley, facing Kolana, there is a counterpart of the El Capitan of Yosemite rising sheer and plain to a height of 1800 feet, and over its massive brow flows a stream which makes the most graceful fall I have ever seen. From the edge of the cliff it is perfectly free in the air for a thousand feet, then breaks up into a ragged sheet of cascades among the boulders of an earthquake talus. It is in all its glory in June, when the snow is melting fast, but fades and vanishes toward the end of summer. The only fall I know with which it may fairly be compared is the Yosemite Bridal Veil; but it excels even that favorite fall both in height and fineness of fairy-airy beauty and behavior. Lowlanders are apt to suppose that mountain streams in their wild career over cliffs lose control of themselves and tumble in a noisy chaos of mist and spray. On the contrary, on no part of their travels are they more harmonious and self-controlled."

Why have you never heard about the Tuolumne Yosemite (Hetch Hetchy)??  Well, it seems back in the early 20th century the City of San Francisco looking for a cheap area to develop a reservoir for power and water.  What is cheaper than using Federal land inside a National Park?  So the city used its political influence to dam the Tuolumne River and flood the Tuolumne Yosemite.  Yes, for cheap water and power the City of San Francisco dammed one of natures most spectacular valleys.  It broke John's Muir heart and led to his early death.

If you look at a map of Yosemite National Park you will see a large lake just 20 miles north of Yosemite Valley.  Very few people go there now to see a bathtub rim reservoir even though the waterfalls still thunder and fall into a lake rather than down to the valley floor.  I talked to a Park Service Archaeologist that hiked down through the reservoir and that there is little sediment and the entire valley could be restored in a few short years.

There is an organization dedicated to restoring one of natures wonders:  Restore Hetch Hetchy.  Be sure to click on the photo archives to see what we have lost and what we can restore and enjoy once again.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan proposed to provide power and water from other Federal water projects and undam the Tuolumne Yosemite (Hetch Hetchy).  I jumped for joy.  I had hiked the trails that rim the reservoir and did the entire hike through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne that stops just short of its most spectacular feature the Tuolumne Yosemite that is buried under a 175 feet of water.  Surely, no one with oppose this sensible proposal.

With President Reagan in support surely the environmental movement and the city of San Francisco would be willing to support the restoration of one of natures most spectacular landscapes.  Editorials in the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, and the Wenatchee World have discussed the need for the restoration of the valley.  Unfortunately, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Diane Feinstein have refused to consider removing the dam.  Though they have supported removal of the Snake River dams in Washington and the draining of Lake Powell in Utah they have been irresponsible in defending the continued flooding of the Tuolumne Yosemite.  President Bush and Governor Swartzenager have supported studies regarding removal of the dam.

Unfortunately, it will it take significant public pressure on the City of San Francisco to get them to show SOME environmental awareness and redress a wrong in this nation's history.

Take the drive to the Tuolumne Yosemite (Hetch Hetchy) and see what the City of San Francisco has destroyed and marvel at why it continues to defend its inexcusable behavior. It is a scenic drive.  Well, worth the time.  Then write the President, your Senator and anybody that will listen on why we need to restore this special place inside of Yosemite National Park.  Hike the trails and listen to the thunder of the waterfalls and dream about what can be once again.

There.....I can get off my soapbox now.  Yosemite Valley is hardly a usbackroads spot, except maybe during a winter storm.  The Tuolumne Yosemite can be that special spot where Americans can reconnect with what made Yosemite Valley so special a hundred years ago.


Bobbie and Salvatore said...

Thanks for your wonderful soapbox speech! I absolutely LOVE the Tuolumne Yosemite!! Have hiked around there on multiple occasions and it is truly a magical place!

Vladimir Steblina said...

The trails around the Tuolumne Yosemite are great. Hopefully, one of these days we will be able to hike the valley floor.

I had a great backpack trip to Laurel Lake one spring. Post-holing in four feet of snow on a ridgetop, while watching another winter storm blow in from the west.

Have you hiked the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne?? I hiked it with a friend and we saw a trailess lake above the canyon. So we climbed up with packs up a brush covered talus sloope for a couple of thousand feet. It was tough. We got to "our private" lake we were enjoying the warm sunshine and quiet when a VERY pregnant women in her eighth month came walking along the lakeshore!! We were absolutely stunned. So much for being tough.

Bobbie and Salvatore said...

I definitely hope to hike the Tuolumne Yosemite valley floor someday! That would be amazing!!

I have only been able to hike just a small portion of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. I sincerely hope to get back there somehow, sometime, to hike more of that area though!

Thanks so much for all of your sharing!