A Hike Along Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Temperatures in Yosemite had been in the high 90s the day we arrived, so we started out early the next day a hike along Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which was not far from where we stayed. Hetch Hetchy is, and I quote from Wikipedia, "a reservoir with a capacity of 360,000 acre ft and is formed by the 364 ft (111m) concrete gravity O'Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley on the Tuolomne River. It was completed in 1923 and is owned by the City and County of San Francisco."

Most of my drinking water comes from Hetch Hetchy. The water tastes great, in fact, last year I made a pact with myself to never drink bottled water and it was easy because of Hetch Hetchy. I'm trying again this year.

We started at the dam, where we looked down at the reservoir outlet and the rainbows it formed. We then walked through a short tunnel and started our hike along the lake.

The shore was covered with meadows of Clarkia Wiliamsonii. Here's a close-up.

We also saw butterflies, lizards, and several Gilbert's Skink (Eumeces gilbertii gilbertii). The skinks were fun to watch, quite a bit slower than lizards and with a different gait. Still too fast for me, it takes me a while to whip out the camera...I'm just glad the flowers don't run away. Butterflies are beyond me, and I'm amazed at the photos at Randy and Meg's Garden Paradise. I hope you all saw their Yosemite photos. Unfortunately I missed the migration, but there were still a lot of different butterflies wherever we went.

Speaking of flowers, this pink beauty was on the rocky side of the path and is probably Canchalagua (Centarium venustum). Here's what John Muir Laws has to say on its page:

"Early in the season, you will find bright red Scarlet Gilia blossoms. Late-season flowers may be pink or pinkish-white. The early flowers attract hummingbirds while the late flowers are more easily seen by ling-tongued sphinx moths that fly at dusk."

To prove the point, here's a white Calochortus which, in Greek, means "beautiful grass." I think this is Calochortus venustus, Butterfly Mariposa Lily.

After a few photos, we were off to the first waterfall, which is 2.5 miles from the trailhead and was amazing. Three bridges allowed safe passage across the stream, though we got a little wet from the mist. After the falls, we saw only a few backpackers and had the trail to ourselves otherwise. We hiked to a second waterfall, with the lake to our right.

Hetch Hetchy Valley is sometimes compared with Yosemite Valley because the granite cliffs are just as impressive.

There's a group that attempts to have the dam torn down and the valley restored. I don't have enough information to really have an opinion, but it seems to me that you can't go back, and a restoration would only be a pale shadow of the original valley. Meanwhile, we'd lose the water and spend great amounts of money and energy on the destruction and on other dams.

I really just enjoyed the amazing clear blue water, the beautiful flowers, and the steep rock faces. It seemed perfect as it was. Our one problem was -- and this is ironic -- that we'd only taken a quart of water per person on the hike. The day was hot and the hike was long, so I was quite dehydrated by the time we returned to the damn. There, most miraculous, is a drinking fountain that's always running. I'm not sure I've ever tasted water that was quite so sweet. We probably drank a quart each, and filled our bottles once for the way to the cottage, ready for a shower and a nice meal.

Postscript: The next day, we went on a hike at Saddleback Lakes at the other side of Yosemite. We took extra water, but also tossed a sweatshirt in the car as an afterthought. As we got closer to the lake, it became overcast. We took along sweatshirt and rainjacket, and found that our hike went through snow for quite a bit of the way.

Then it started to rain. We braved the weather for a few miles, then turned around a bit early. No wildflower photos from that day... But memories of the stark beauty of the lakes.


Tatyana said…
As always, an interesting post and the pictures are stunning! I LOVE the first one!
Country Mouse said…
Wonderful trip - great pics - and thanks for the link to Randy and Meg's Garden Paradise too.
Anonymous said…
Cool scenery, both botanical and geological. The Hetch-Hetchy area seems like one of the undiscovered areas of the park. That's fine. It's nice to have someplace to go to escape the Valley crowds.
...oops soory...pressed the wrong radio button. That last comment was me.
Nice post - Hetch Hetchy is truly wonderful but would be much more so if it were a valley and not a reservoir.

Yes, I am one of those people proposing restoration - studies show the same high quality Tuolumne River water could continue to flow to San Francisco and other Bay Area communities. And yes, full restoration would take awhile, but imagine going back every five years to see the progress, perhaps with your children and grandchildren. Check Restore Hetch Hetchy out at www.hetchhetchy.org
Pam/Digging said…
I had never heard of Hetch Hetchy until I watched the Ken Burns series recently and learned of John Muir's fight to preserve it. He thought it more beautiful than Yosemite, and that's saying something. What a loss that it was dammed. At any rate, I enjoyed your post about your hike in that area.