“It is estimated that about 7000 persons have seen Yosemite. If this multitude were to be gathered again, and set down in Hetch Hetchy perhaps less than one percent of the whole number would doubt their being in Yosemite. They would see rocks and waterfalls, meadows and groves, of Yosemite size and kind, and grouped in Yosemite style. Amid so vast an assemblage of sublime mountain forms, only the more calm and careful observers would be able to fix upon special differences….

Tourists who can afford the time ought to visit Hetch Hetchy on their way to or from Yosemite. The trail from Hardin’s will be found as good as mountain trails usually are, and it certainly is worth while riding a few miles out of a direct course to assure one’s self that the world is so rich as to possess at least two Yosemites instead of one.” – John Muir (The Hetch Hetchy Valley)

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the mountains, lift them to dams and town skyscrapers.

Dam Hetch-Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” – John Muir (The Yosemite)

I convinced everyone that we should go to Hetch Hetchy (or Hetchy Hetchy, as my mom calls it) as part of our Yosemite trip. I had been there once before, in 2003, as part of a course I took on environmental policymaking. The class makes my top ten list, and I’ve taken a lot of classes. We focused on federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in our exploration of policymaking around common pool resources.

The Tolumne River, which is dammed at Hetch Hetchy to provide the water I drink here in the bay area, is one of these rivers. I can’t say that everyone who stands on the dam and looks out one way over the Poopenaut Valley (yes, Poopenaut) and turns her head to look at the reservoir covering Hetchy Hetchy Valley will have the same visceral reaction that I did back in 2003. I can say that I don’t think a trip to Yosemite is complete without seeing this reservoir, noting the effects of the damming, and learning about it’s role in our environmental history.

I thought about going home and take out the U-pipe under the sink and sticking a 10 gallon bucket underneath, which was quickly followed by the reality check that my ‘yard’ is a parking lot without much to water.

Below: Poopenaut Valley

Split by the O’Shaughnessy Dam, the Hetch Hetchy Valley:

The trip is also worth taking even if you don’t make the connection between water politics and liking flowers and animals. It’s a beautiful area, and we saw quite a few creatures (water garter snakes, several types of beetles, the California northern alligator lizards – below).

Wapama Falls is like something out of a fairy tale (probably Grimm’s). It forks five times toward the bottom, each fork large and thundering enough to be hailed as a great waterfall in itself, each plunging past you (standing on a small bridge) and threatening to take you the rest of the way to to the bottom of the reservoir.

Both times I’ve been to the falls, I’ve been amazed by the number of rainbows it creates. This is a spectacular, unforgettable thing. There are dozens of rainbows playing off of the water and granite. It was as if I had found myself in a different world, an alien planet (thanks friend) that I could have only created in my childhood imagination.
One final note on the day: This happened to be the day of the annular solar eclipse here in California. Ben, naturalist that he is, pointed out how the light was coming through the leaves in crescent shapes instead of circles. I was lucky enough to find some other hikers who had the special cardboard glasses that allow you to look at the sun and see the eclipse happening. It was icing on the cake. How lucky are we, all of us, to be able to witness the moon blocking out the sun? As long as we exist, there will never be a time when this spectacle does not fill us with awe.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily reflection is occupied with them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me.” – Kant (Critique of Practical Reason)