To the “Great” Reservoir

4 June 2013 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

Yosemite National ParkToday’s expedition would take us to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir situated just a short drive northeast of our base camp. The reservoir, built in the early 1900s, supplies drinking water and hydroelectric power to San Francisco and the greater bay area. While the water is a clear icy and inviting blue—similar to that the water of Crater Lake—here there is no swimming, boating, or kayaking allowed. One can only look, but not touch. This distraction, limited to our visual senses, faded fast and we were forced to confront the travesty that lies beneath the water line. A valley—similar in grandeur, but not overall scale to Yosemite Valley—has been drowned beneath the waterline. An artificial abomination developed so that a city hundreds of miles away, lacking a sufficient fresh water source to support its growing population might continue to swell unrestricted by natures limits.

To access the trail we wished to hike we had to cross the giant concave dam that prevents the natural flow of the Tuolumne River, producing the giant water tank. It is one of the most unnatural starts to a trail – walking across a large, suspended sidewalk with a slopped concrete slide on one side and the bathtub ringed manmade lake on the other. Upon spanning it we continued through the mammoth tunnel which was made to allow a train to bring building supplies from the nearest towns during the dam’s construction. Now clear of track it seemed looming and oversized for the foot traffic it encountered.

Beyond the tunnel the overtly wide trail continued. The rolling path led to large, exposed expanses of rock on which tiny and fleeting streams flowed telling us the snows high above were still melting and making their way to the reservoir and then the seaside bay. Alongside where the water passed were marshy patches of grass sometimes bordered or invaded by a wide variety of wild flowers varying in color and smell. Passages alternated scents from the perfume of floral beds, to the crisp smell of melted snow, and at times the rich, earthy aroma of pine.

20130409-DSC_1076_low-resWe stopped often to inspect the flowers, cool our hands in the water, or gaze out over the reservoir at the massive domes of granite. The most imposing – Kolana Rock. If this was a runner up version of Yosemite Valley Kolana Rock was Hetch Hetchy’s Half Dome. An immense stand of rock, irregularly regular in shape – like the top of an egg or a bullet. Somewhere buried beneath San Francisco’s water supply lays its base and a picturesque valley, but that will likely never be seen by our eyes.

20130430-DSC_1633_low-resProceeding onward we eventually found ourselves standing below the first of at least two falls we planned to visit today. Tueelala Falls was dropping over the edge of a cliff at a pretty leisurely rate. This tends to be a small falls in general, but seemed to be on its way to drying up for the season already. With not much to see and random trees preventing views of what was there we proceeded onto Wapama Falls. This mammoth had effectively funneled much more water than Tueelala Falls and was pouring it over the edge and down onto the garden of colossal boulders clustered at its base. Here four bridges spanned different gaps between the boulders allowing the water to choose from several routes. The effect of both the initial bombardment of water and the secondary cascade was deafening and wet. A heavy midst blew in the wind. At first it was refreshing, but within minutes it was cold. This didn’t prevent us from standing in awe of this simple example of physics. I’m not sure why we’re captivated so much by falling water, but like a campfire I can find myself staring at it for extended periods of time – thinking of absolutely nothing.

The trip to the first two falls had taken considerably less time than we had imagined and so we decided to see if we could make our way to Rancheria Falls. This was the next falls set along this trail, but it would tack another three miles onto the two and a half we’d already done. Marching onward we ascended and rounded a long corner revealing more of the reservoir and more majestic peaks of granite. This captured our gaze for a good stretch until Lindsay stopped and pointed out a small Black Widow clung to her web in the crack of a rock. It was wild seeing this infamous possessor of poison in person. It’s the tiny threats like spiders and ticks that creep me out the most. Something so small and unnoticeable can create so much pain and at times even death. As long as I see these things before sitting on them or running into their webs I’m not overly bothered, but it’s the fear that they’ll strike first that gives me the chills.

20130409-DSC_1100_low-resContinuing on I began to hear what I believed to be the faint roar of Rancheria Falls. Excited by the prospect my step quickened, but I’d stop every short stretch, keeping Lindsay in sight. At times I can grow impatient with this stop and go pace, but this time around I was glad I waited. As I stood, waiting at the next turn in the trail for Lindsay to crest the hill I heard her whisper, shout “bbwg”. Sensing danger I replied in a hush “what?” “bEAR!” she repeated and pointed. There, not more than 50 yards away sat a rock. “Where?” “Behind that rock.” A little brown and furry butt poked out from behind the large rock. Then he or she ventured all the way out cautiously peering in our direction. It was hard to tell how old it was. I thought it was too large to be a baby, but too small to be an adult. Lindsay was convinced it was a baby and nervously surveyed the terrain for a protective mother. We were perched up on a fairly steep hill, far enough away where I felt safe, but Lindsay did not. I convinced her to stay a little while and watch though. After a brief study of us with what seemed to conclude in a “not a threat” verdict it proceeded to rut around in the grass, finding something and munching on it. Lumbering short distances in-between it would occasionally glance our way, checking on us, but he or she seemed to be more interested in foraging. After a few minutes it lumbered off to our right and out of view among the boulders, trees and shrubs.

20130409-DSC_1120_low-resIt was a beautiful experience to watch that—what I’ll call—adolescent bear in its natural habitat, but also a good reminder that I should be more aware of what resides in my surroundings. Like the Black Widow, had Lindsay not been around I might have walked right past it or worse right into it. Not wishing to venture into bear country further and discover that my estimation of age was incorrect and meet the bear’s loving mother we turned around and headed back. Along the way I would step over another creature, but this one not nearly as dangerous. Meandering along over one of many trickles of water cutting the path Lindsay stopped me once again and pointed out a small newt. With a crimson colored back and a bright orange belly he was quite a sight. We sat and watched him clumsily amble along, into the stream, slowly tripping and falling over leaves and twigs. Outside of a turtle I’ve never seen another animal move so slowly. Each step seemed overly calculated, but ended up being another misstep ending in an awkward tumble. It seemed very unperturbed by it all and by us. It was in no particular hurry at all. But soon he slipped down under some leaves and out of sight.

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