What do I think? Well, I don’t really care what the truth behind Muir’s death is. He’s been dead a long time.
Yes, he led an interesting life. I admire his courage, tenacity and vision. However, I don’t revere him as a saint. There have been more righteous men in history than him.
Furthermore, I don’t have a stake in the Hetch Hetchy controversy. I don’t live in Commifornia, and I wasn’t there to pine. Ultimately, how San Francisco gets its water is not at the top of my list of interests. Again, I went to Hetch Hetchy because dams are cool, and I wanted to get an impression of what most tourists don’t see.
So, after leaving the Merced Grove of sequoias, Hetch Hetchy was 45 minutes away. Along Big Oak Road I continued to Evergreen Road, which took me past Mather Camp, and then down into the Tuolumne River Valley where the Hetch Hetchy reservoir is.
Coming out of the pine-studded higher country that divides the Merced basin from the Tuolome basin, about 8 miles away I spotted the lake through my bug-splattered windshield. There was a big waterfall falling hundreds of feet into the lake. There was Hetch Hetchy.
Now, again, Hetch Hetchy is not a very visited part of the Yosemite National Park. Only about 1% of visitors come here – and now I can say I’m in the top 1%. However, they don’t come for good reasons. Boating and swimming are prohibited here. Only a small trail provides access to a small percentage of the full valley. San Francisco won’t even allow kayaks on the water.
Why? As one article says:
“San Francisco’s bureaucrats simply want to limit access and recreation at Hetch Hetchy. They know that if park visitors are able to explore Hetch Hetchy’s spectacular terrain, many will want to see the reservoir emptied and water storage moved downstream, so the valley can be restored to its natural state. They are right.” (1)
Ok. I don’t have a dog in this hunt either. Though, sure, it would be neat to take a kayak back into mostly unknown canyons. That day will probably come in this century.
After parking I walked along the top of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which creates the lake. The dam was completed in 1917. The lake filled in the early ’20’s, and fresh water then began flowing towards San Francisco, which rendered a growth impossible beforehand. San Francisco could now take its place amid the mighty cities of America.
To the east, up the lake, Wapama falls fell ferociously over more glacier-polished granite also glowing under a warm, June sun. But Wapama hit not a an effulgent valley floor grateful for its mist. Rather, it hit the blue surface of the lake, which of course diminishes the improvement of aesthetic quality to the landscape a thousand-foot waterfall should render.
Sure, this valley once upon a time would have been prettier. Better than Yosemite Valley though, as Muir had claimed? I doubt so. Old photos make me think Muir was exaggerating in describing the Tuolomne Valley’s beauty to defend it. Regardless, now, it looks like many other canyon lakes of the Mountain West.
On the other side of the dam is a trail to those Wapama falls. I didn’t feel like hiking though. Strolling was good enough. So, I turned around to walk back across the dam and took my time.
On top, looking west towards the flow of the Tuolome gushing out from underneath the dam, my thoughts turned to San Francisco whose bay this water flows into. The Golden Gate Bridge came to mind. I hadn’t been out there in years.
“What if I drove there, tomorrow?” I wondered. “It can’t be more than three hours. Be spontaneous!”
I did toy with the idea. Walking across the Golden Gate’s neat. So is hiking around Marin County. But, no. The thought of its traffic sounded horrendous. So did its parking. They, among other things, make me hate cities.
Thus, I was fine not going. Such spontaneity would wear me out by vacation’s end. The thought of having a couple days back in Sedona before starting work again sounded appealing. The Golden Gate could wait. Crossing the Sierras could not. Lake Tahoe could not either. The Owens Valley and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, well, they were almost as important as Yosemite itself. They too could not wait.
So, taking comfort that I was now in the top 1% of Yosemite tourists, I decided to head to the town where Back to the Future III was filmed.
FEATURED PHOTO FROM: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hetch_Hetchy_Dam_DSCF3252_(27947502552).jpg