Friday and Saturday Popie and I took a lightning trip to Yosemite, one of our very most favorite places in the world. On the way home we stopped at Hetch Hetchy. I’ve been visiting Yosemite for 50 years, but I’d never been to call on her twin sister.
Hetch Hetchy is a valley parallel to Yosemite, roughly 30 miles north. It was the focus of one of the earliest and most epic battles over conservation. The city of San Francisco needed water (especially after the 1906 earthquake) and they developed an elaborate engineering scheme to get it by damming Hetch Hetchy. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, fought that dam tooth and nail. He lost. The dam was built and the beautiful valley filled with water.
As you approach Hetch Hetchy from a distance, it looks eerily like Yosemite, with high granite cliffs and waterfalls pouring down into a narrow valley. I kept thinking it was Yosemite, so similar did it appear, only Yosemite as you might see it in a bad dream. What used to be a meadowy floor is now a sterile lake. It has no shore, just cliffs rising from the dark water. The whole place seemed somber, with Yosemite’s gray grandeur but without Yosemite’s hospitable green park.
I usually take lightly warnings of environmental doom. Human interventions in nature are not always bad, nor always irrevocable. The earth is a resilient place, and as our home it has been and can be profitably rearranged for our comfort. In this case, though, I’m afraid we did something very bad, and lovely Hetch Hetchy is gone forever. Years ago I read proposals to blow up the dam and restore the valley, but that would be a mammoth, utopian project, and I can’t imagine it happening. We lost what must have been one of the supremely beautiful spots on earth.