The Endangered Valley -- The Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Yosemite National Park

By John Muir
author of The Mountains of California , Our National Parks , etc.

Before the Committee on the Public Lands
House of Representatives

San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, on House Joint Resolution 184 - Part VIII.


(In the Century for August, 1908, in an editorial article, "A high price to pay for water", attention was called to the grant last May by the present administration to the city of San Francisco of extensive portions of the great Yosemite National Park for use as a water supply. The agreement between the city authorities and the Government provided, among other conditions, that the-voters for San Francisco should accept the grant by a two-thirds vote; that before the valley is utilized the resources of Lake Eleanor, to the north of it and also within the park, shall first have been used and found insufficient, and that the city shall acquire all private titles within the allotted territory, which it is now engaged in doing. The acceptance of the grant was opposed on the ground that other sufficient source are available and because of the great expense of construction. The vote of the city was taken November 12, and resulted in a majority of 6 to 1 in favor of accepting the grant. We can not but feel that an unfortunate precedent has been established in the diversion of a large part of the park -- with the watersheds, nearly half of it from the use of the whole public to the service of a city. It is almost as though the grant of a water-power privilege at Niagara should shut out the public from the enjoyment of the wonderful cataract.

The few photographs here shown and Mr. Muir's brief description will serve to suggest to the reader the great beauty of the valley. -- The Editor)

The fame of the Merced Yosemite has spread far and wide, while Hetch Hetchy, the Tuolumne Yosemite, has until recently remained comparatively unknown, notwithstanding it is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the famous valley. As the Merced flows in tranquil beauty through Yosemite, so does the Tuolumne through Hetch Hetchy. The floor of Yosemite is about 4,000 feet above the sea, and that of Hetch Hetchy about 3,700 while in both the walls are of gray granite, very high, and rise precipitously out of flowery gardens and groves. Furthermore the two wonderful valleys occupy the same relative positions on the flank of the Sierra, were formed by the same forces in the same kind of granite, and have similar waterfalls, sculpture, and vegetation. Hetch Hetchy lies in a northwesterly direction from Yosemite at a distance of about 18 miles, and is now easily accessible by a trail and wagon road from the Big Oak Flat road at Sequoia.

The most strikingly picturesque rock in the valley is a majestic pyramid over 2,000 feet in height, which is called by the Indians "Kolana." It is the outermost of a group like the Cathedral Rocks of Yosemite and occupies the same relative position on the south wall. Facing Kolana on the north side of the valley there is a massive sheer rock like the Yosemite El Capitan, about 1,900 feet high, and over its brow flows a stream that makes the most beautiful fall I have ever seen. The Indian name for it is Tueeulala. From the brow of the cliff it is free in the air for a thousand feet, then strikes on an earthquake talus and is broken up into a ragged network of cascades. It is in full bloom in June and usually vanished toward the end of summer. The Yosemite Bridal Veil is the only fall I know with which it may fairly be compared, but it excels even that wonderful fall in airy swaying grace of motion and soothing repose. Looking across the valley in the spring, when the snow is melting fast, Tueeulala is seen in all her glory burning in white sun fire in every fiber. Approaching the brink of the rock her waters flow swiftly, and in their first arching leap into the air a little hurried eagerness appears; but this eagerness is speedily hushed in sublime repose, and their tranquil progress to the base of the cliff is like that of downy feathers in a still room. The various fabrics into which her waters are woven are brought to view with marvelous distinctness by the instreaming sunshine. They sift and float from form to form down the face of that grand gray Capitan rock in so leisurely and unconfused a manner that one may examine their texture and patterns as one would a piece of embroidery held in the hand. Near the bottom the width of the fall is increased from about 25 feet to 100 feet and is composed of yet finer tissue, fold-air, water, and sunbeams woven into irised robes that spirits might wear.

A little to the eastward, on the same side of the valley, thunders the great Wapama or Hetch Hetchy Fall. It is the about 1,700 feet high, and is so near Tueeulala that both are in full view from the same point. Its location is similar to that of the Yosemite Fall, but its volume of water is much greater, and at times of high water may be heard at a distance of 5 or 6 miles or more. These twin falls are on branches of the same stream, but they could hardly be more unlike. Tueeulala, in sunshine, chanting soft and low like a summer breeze in the pines; Wapama, in gorge shadows, roaring and booming like an avalanche. Tueeulala whispers that the Almighty dwells in peace; Wapama is the thunder of His chariot wheels in power.

There are no other large falls in the valley. Here and there small streams, seldom noticed, come dancing down from crag to crag with bird-like song, doing what they can in the grand general harmony. The river falls about 20 feet into a surging trout pool at the head of the valley; and on Rancheria Creek, a large tributary that comes in from the northeast, there is a series of magnificent cascades, broad silver plumes like those between the Vernal and Nevada falls in Yosemite, half leaping, half sliding down smooth, open folds of the rocks covered with crisp, clashing spray, into which the sunbeams pour with glorious effect. Others shoot edgewise, through deep, narrow gorge, chafing and surging beneath rainbows in endless variety of form and tone.

The floor of the valley is about 3 miles long, half a mile wide, and is partly separated by a bar of glacier -- polished granite across which the river breaks in rapids. The lower part is mostly a grassy, flowery meadow, with the trees confined to the sides and the river banks. The upper forested part is charmingly diversified with groves of the large and picturesque California live oak and the noble yellow pine, which here attains a height of more than 200 feet, growing well apart in small groves or eingly, allowing each tree to be seen in all its beauty and grandeur. Beneath them the common pteris spreads a sumptuous carpet, tufted here and there with ceanothus and manzanita bushes, azalea and brier rose, and brightened with mariposa tulips, golden-rod, tall mints, larkspurs, geraniums, etc., amid which butterflies, bees, and humming birds find rich pasturage. Near the walls, especially on the earthquake tali that occur in many place, the pines and California oak give place to the mountain live oak, which forms the shadiest and most extensive groves. The glossy foliage, densely crowded, makes a beautiful ceiling, with only a few irregular openings for the admission of sunbeams, while the pale-gray trunks and the branches, snarled and outspread in wide interlacing arches, are most impressively beautiful and picturesque. The sugar pine, sabine pine, incense cedar, silver fir, and tumion occur here and there among the oaks and yellow pines, or in cool side canyons, or scattered on the rifted wall rocks and benches. The river-bank trees are chiefly Tibocedrus, poplar, willow, alder, and flowering dogwood.

Hetch Hetchy weather is delightful and invigorating all the year. Snow seldom lies long on the floor and is never very deep. On the sunny north wall many a sheltered nook may be found embraced by sun-warmed rock bosses in which flowers bloom every month of the year. Even on the shaded south side of the valley the frost is never severe.

A good many birds winter in the valley and fill the short days with merry chatter and song. A cheerier company never sang in snow. First and best of all is the water ouzel, a dainty, dusky little bird, about the size of a robin, that sings a sweet fluty song all winter as well as in summer, and haunts the wild rapids and falls with marvelous constancy through all sorts of weather. A few robins, belated on their way down from the upper mountain meadows, make out to spend the winter here in comparative comfort, feeding on mistletoe berries. The kingfisher also winters in the valley, the golden-winged woodpecker, and the species that stores acorns in the bark of the trees, as well as jays, wrens, sparrows, and flocks of bluebirds and snowbirds, which make lively pictures in their quest for food.

Toward the end of March the sprouting grasses make the meadows green, the aments of the alders are nearly ripe, the libocedrus is sowing its pollen, willows putting forth their catkins, and a multitude of swelling buds proclaim the promise of spring. Wild strawberries are ripe in May, the early flowers are in bloom, the birds are busy in the groves, and the frog sin pools.

In June and July summer is in prime, and the tide of happy, throbbing life is at its highest. August is the peaceful season of ripe nuts and berries -- raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, gooseberries, shadberries, currants, puckery choke cherries, pine nuts, etc., offering royal feasts to Indians, squirrels, and birds of every feather. Then comes mellow, golden Indian summer, with its gorgeous colors and falling leaves, calm, thoughtful days, when everything, even the huge rocks, seems to be hushed and expectant, awaiting the coming of winter and rest.

Excepting only Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy is the most attractive and wonderful valley within the bounds of the great Yosemite National Park and the best of all the camp grounds. People are now flocking to it in ever-increasing numbers for health and recreation of body and mind. Though the walls are less sublime in height than those of Yosemite, its groves, gardens, and broad, spacious meadows are more beautiful and picturesque. It is many years since sheep and cattle were pastured in it, and the vegetation now shows scarce a trace of their ravages. Last year in October I visited the valley with Mr. William Keith, the artist. He wandered about from view to view, enchanted, made thirty-eight sketches, and enthusiastically declared that in varied picturesque beauty Hetch Hetchy greatly surpassed Yosemite. It is one of God's best gifts and ought to be faithfully guarded.


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