Hetch Hetchy – Paradise Lost

Hetch Hetchy Valley

40 miles from Yosemite Valley lies another valley which in scope and magnificence was nearly the twin of Yosemite. Hetch Hetchy  is its name and we may never in our lives be able to see it again as it was.

Hetch Hetchy Valley Early 1900s

Hetch Hetchy Valley Early 1900s

The story of the battle for Hetch Hetchy is a long and convoluted one and is far from over. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 underscored just how inadequate were the present sources of water. Proposals were put forward to dam Hetch Hetchy Valley to supply that water.

The Federal Government approved the construction of a dam in 1913 and by 1923 the O’Shaughnessy Dan was completed. John Muir’s great personal regret was that he could not stop the construction of the dam.

Two and a half million Californians in San Francisco and the Bay Area get their water and some electrical power from the dam.

Getting to Hetch Hetchy requires leaving Yosemite National Park, navigating a number of poorly marked, narrow back country roads and reentering the Park by an entrance just for Hetch Hetchy.

The area is much less developed and other than as a starting point for backpacking there isn’t much to do. But if you have plenty of time the trip to Hetch Hetchy is very much worth it. Bring your own food, water and supplies.

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Hetch Hetchy Valley and O'Shaughnessy Dam

Hetch Hetchy Valley and O'Shaughnessy Dam

What you will see is an 8-mile long, 117 billion gallon reservoir delivering 220 million gallons of water daily. The water flows downhill in huge pipes and is delicious and so pure that it is exempt from federal water filtration requirements.

It is unlikely that Hetch Hetchy Valley will be restored any time soon but many conservationists continue the battle.

Drive the narrow road to the parking lot next to the dam and after walking across the dam continue through the tunnel at the far side to the Wapama Falls trail. It’s only a couple of miles to the falls but gives you an idea of what was lost by damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Bring plenty of water and a hat. Hetch Hetchy has a much dryer climate than Yosemite Valley and can be very hot, even in the spring and fall. The climate of Hetch Hetchy often feels more like high desert than the lush temperate climate of Yosemite Valley.

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Map-Hetch Hetchy Yosemite

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