Day Thirteen: Friday, June 1st, Another Day in Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy Beckons


Hetch Hetchy
Sarah, with Tueulala Falls in the distance

Now this is what I’m talking about.

This is terrain I can manage.

Life. Is. Good.

First stop today was Hetch Hetchy Dam and Reservoir. The fine folks with the chocolate yesterday told me that they’d just been up to Hetch Hetchy, and there was virtually no one there. Particularly by the standards of the place we were sitting with thousands of feet passing by.


The road to Hetch Hetchy is not nearly as long as the road into Yosemite Valley, but it takes just as long. It is the road that time forgot here in the park. We met two or three cars all the way in, and it was wonderful.

Maybe I’ve failed to mention it, but crowds aren’t our thing. We deliberately vacation in the spring and the fall to avoid people. We wait until all the urchins are back in school, and the world has returned to its slow routine, and then we hit the trails. One of the great perks of homeschooling.

When we got to the Dam, there were only a handful of cars already there. And this bobcat:


He was on the hunt, after a tree-borne rodent. Go get’m.

We walked the Dam, passed through the tunnel, and set off for our 5.5-mile hike to Tueulala and Wapama Falls and back.

A hike even my ankle can love

Cobbled and carved stairs.
Streams and bridges and running water.
Massive granite outcrops.
Wonky paths and twisting trails.

Happy Foot Highway.


John Muir compared Hetch Hetchy Valley directly to Yosemite Valley in its brilliance. The similarities are striking. In probably what he considered to be his greatest personal failure, Muir was unable to protect this valley from being dammed. Back in the days that Yosemite was but a baby Park, there were giant questions that remained to be answered when it came to what it meant–exactly–to be protected land. There was no Park Service yet. No one was in charge of the actual protection of our protected places.

When San Francisco’s exploding population needed water, and this Valley was targeted as the greatest opportunity to secure it, an ugly battle waged, and you can imagine whose side John Muir was on.

IMG_20180601_110251.jpgWe know how the war ended, and this great valley is now largely underwater behind a 300′ engineering marvel, turned swiftly into a  granite basin filled with pure drinking water for the masses.

Right or wrong, what’s done is done, and what remains here may not be untrammeled by human enterprise as it should be, but it is still one of the most striking and pristine chunks of paradise in the park.

image.jpgThe hike was glorious. I felt like I’d been given new feet. With all the ups and downs tallied together, we gained and lost about as much elevation as yesterday’s hike to the top of Vernal Falls (even the part I didn’t do). But this time no one paved it, and I was on top of the world.

The icing on the cake: Wapama Falls, a hidden treasure at the end of the rainbow.

From the Dam, you can see Tueulala in the distance, and Wapama beyond, but it doesn’t look like a whole lot. Your entire hike is along the same edge of the reservoir you share with the falls, so Wapama is pretty much invisible until you get there.

The second Wapama footbridge

And then you do.

When you round the outcrop, sudden thunder pounds your heart. Millions of gallons of spray pummel the bridge, and you have no words.

There were warnings at the dam about the footbridge at Wapama. The power of the falls is more than enough to sweep you right off, and crossing is undertaken explicitly at your own risk.

The first bridge was a living testament to the warnings, with missing hunks of railing, and pieces cobbled and cabled together. But we had not come this far to just gaze from a dry distance. We skated across, drenched, and took some time with the waterfall, just listening to what it had to say. I thought I saw John Muir in the mist.


Before we headed back to camp, we took one more run at the Yosemite Valley floor, to see the museum and the Indian Village there. While one could spend weeks and months and years in Yosemite Valley alone, we had hit most of what we would be able to hit down there in our allotted time. There was just enough time left in the afternoon to finish up, so that we could spend our final day here in the highlands, along Tioga Road, and up at Glacier Point.

We learned a few more bits of natural history and wisdom from the Native Ranger back at the little Museum at Yosemite Village. He was napping obsidian into sparkling arrowheads, and waiting to share lore with all who would pass through and listen. He wowed us with string tricks, taught us the differences between all the cones on the forest floor, and told the tales of days past, when his people took care of the land here. A sad, sad tale if you read between the lines of his happy history.

The Indian Village is the blight on the (literal) backside of Yosemite Village. It looks as though it was once a thriving display of cultures lost, and even a safe haven where those cultures were still celebrated. The old signs talk of the meeting house and the sauna still being in use for sacramental purposes. Please stay out.

It looks like its been a few decades since there was enough Native presence to put anything there to use. Those days may be over, but I do hope that the Park Service puts a priority on bringing this small shrine to the heritage of this place back to life, if only in effigy.

Scott and Emily emerging from the tunnel from dam to trail

License Plate Update: KY and the grand poobah HI have been nabbed. Boom.

We made it back home to our precipitous penthouse by six tonight. I ducked out of swimming in favor of getting a head start on the ironwood fire and dinner–pork tenderloin, taters, and corn on the cob. And tonight, we will hit the sack early.

If you need me, my new address is:
Wapama Falls
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Yosemite, CA

Send me an owl,

The Whole Enchilada:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: