Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hetch Hetchy - Yosemite's Garden of Eden - June 2010

"Hiking - I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them. " - John Muir

After 4 days of crowds and traffic in Yosemite Valley (coupled with amazing sights and wonderful experiences) we decided to escape on the last day of our visit and go somewhere that we hoped was totally different. We were looking for a bit of solidude, some new sights and hopefully some of the wildflowers that are supposed to be everywhere in Yosemite in the spring and early summer (but which were conspicuously absent in the valley and the other locations we'd been). We decided on Hetch Hetchy - the place that John Muir fought to save during the last years of his life. Before the dam was built there in 1913 Hetch Hetchy was another valley similar to Yosemite Valley itself. The dam that John Muir worked so hard to prevent for more than 10 years created the Hetch Hetchy reservoir - "the catch basin of John Muir's tears". Muir never lived to see the dam built and his beloved valley flooded which may have been a blessing for him. As it exists today it is still an incredibly beautiful place and the reflections of the mountains and granite domes in the reservoir are spectacular scenes. I do wish that I could have seen it as it existed in 1900. It must have been a very magical place. Today we will saunter through it...

Hetch Hetchy is about a 40 mile drive from Yosemite Valley. As you enter the park at the Hetch Hetchy entrance (it is a disconnected portion of YNP) you begin to be transported into a new and very beautiful world. The roads are lined with wildflowers and every turn brings new beauty.

Hetch Hetchy valley with dam and reservoir in distance

The path that we chose for our saunter follows the cliffs above the reservoir and goes past Tueeulala Falls (pronounced twee-la-la - I love that name) and then to Wapama Falls which at 1300' is as high as Upper Yosemite Falls and at least seems to have more water flowing over it. As we followed the trail through the tunnel on the other side of the dam the wildflowers began to appear. In the beginning sections the trail and surroundings were quite dry and the flowers were still a bit limited. 

The falls made by nature above the falls made by man

Water plunging into the canyon over the dam

Hetch Hetchy reservoir and Wapama Falls

Kolana Rock watches over Hetch Hetchy

Tueeulala Falls

Looks like we'll see some flowers...

As we went on we started to get into little wet gardens all around the trails from the many streams and runoff from the waterfalls. The wildflowers just exploded. One guidebook dsscription of Hetch Hetchy described it as "a riot of wildflowers in the spring". I don't know that this does it justice. By the time we were done I had counted (and photographed) 30 different unique types - most of which I had never seen and still haven't taken the time to identify. I just haven't felt the need as it seems like all this beauty really doesn't need to be named.

Further on we came to a beautiful spot where the stream runs over the rock and then down to the reservoir. We stopped and soaked our feet and soaked in the incredible views to Kolana rock keeping guard over the far shore and the mountains beyond the end of the valley. Sitting in this spot I was taken by the feeling that this was perhaps the most beautiful place that I had ever been. Truly a Garden of Eden.

As we went on the roar of Wapama Falls became stronger. Below the falls is a series of bridges where you can walk across through the "mist" (more like a torrential rain) that goes far beyond the soaking that the Mist Trail has to offer. It was a spectacular place and the soaking was welcomed as the afternoon had gotten quite warm.

We reluctantly returned the way we came, finding yet more wildflowers that we'd missed on the way out as well as new and beautiful vistas. I would love to come back to this place again and again and explore all of the vast area that we didn't begin to touch in one short day. We could not have found a better way to spend our last day at Yosemite. To the many nature and wildflower photographers here - if you ever have the opportunity, go to Hetch Hetchy - you'll be in heaven.

"These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. 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

If you haven't already seen it the report from the rest of the week is here: A Few Days In Yosemite

The complete Yosemite photo album for the whole trip including Hetch Hetchy is here:

If for some reason 400 pictures aren't enough for you here are the Monterey and San Francisco albums

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