Friday, August 21, 2020

Merced Wild and Scenic River


Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud)

Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud)

Photos taken in April 2018

Click here for more photos of Merced Wild and Scenic River.

From our resort near Yosemite National Park, we drove a few miles up HWY 140 to the Merced River Trail. I loved it. The river was beautiful & the banks were filled with an abundance of plants, vibrant with new growth & many flowers. I was fascinated by the California native plants I had studied in landscape design school in San Francisco. The weather was cool & partly cloudy. We walked for 3 hours on a dirt road with no cars 

The Merced is designated a wild & scenic river under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 by the US Congress. It is one of 11 wild & scenic rivers in California. There is a variety of native, endemic &/or rare plant species along the river with many small meadows & riparian habitats. The river begins high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It flows through Yosemite National Park & on to the Sacramento Valley where it joins the San Joaquin River. 8 miles of the lower Merced River from Briceburg downstream to Bagby (near Yosemite National Park) received wild & scenic status in 1992.  3 of those miles are wild, the only wild (most pristine) segment outside Yosemite National Park. That section of the river ends when it joins lake McClure above Bagby. 

The Merced River along Highway 140 (outside the park) is designated recreational. This segment of the river provides access to the free-flowing river & makes HWY 140 the most scenic route into Yosemite National Park. We had easy access to walk along this part of the river by turning off HWY 140 at Briceburg Rd, crossing a suspension bridge, parking in a small lot near the river & the highway 16 miles below the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Hetch Hetchy Valley

Hetch Hetchy Valley below the dam

O'Shaughnessy Dam

Water flowing from the dam

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (more than 300 feet deep)

Digger pine cone (Pinus sabiniana)

South rim of the valley above the dam. Photos taken in April 2018

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Our last day in Yosemite National Park was April 12, 2018. After walking in Tuolumne Grove, we took a lovely drive to Hetch Hetchy Valley.  It was beautiful. We couldn’t walk in the valley, because it is filled with a reservoir that provides the San Francisco Bay Area with water. But we could see it from above & from the top of the impressive dam. The Hetch Hetchy Road runs down to the dam, near the western edge of park.  The reservoir fills the valley to the east for 8 miles.

The valley was even more beautiful before the dam was built. The bottom of the valley had 1,200 acres of meadows surrounded by a forest of pine, oak & Douglas fir. The Tuolumne River & many streams flowed through the valley, while stands of alder, willow & dogwood grew among them. More than 300 feet of the valley walls had not yet been covered by water.

Work on the Hetch Hetchy Project began in 1914 when the Hetch Hetchy Railroad (68 miles long) was built to bring construction materials to the dam site. It was dismantled in 1949. Construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam began in 1919 & ended in 1923. The height of the dam was increased from 227 to 312 feet in 1938. The aqueduct system brought water to San Francisco in 1934 after flowing 167 miles from Hetch Hetchy Valley.

San Francisco was granted water rights to Hetch Hetchy Valley by the United States Department of the Interior in 1908.  The Sierra Club (led by John Muir) began a campaign to stop the project.  National opinion was divided between damming & preserving Hetch Hetchy Valley. Conservationists felt the environment should be used in a "conscientious manner" to benefit society.  Preservationists believed that nature should be preserved & protected. San Francisco argued that the reservoir was vital to the city. John Muir asked Congress to protect Hetch Hetchy Valley from destruction. Hundreds of individuals & organizations sent petitions to Congress. It was the beginning of the American environmentalist movement.

Because the valley was in Yosemite National Park, an act of Congress was required. The Raker Act was passed in 1913 & signed by President Woodrow Wilson. It permitted the flooding of the valley, but stipulated that power & water could only be used for public interests.

In 1921, Principal Jessie Lockwood was asked to select a new name for the York School that had opened in 1910 in the Mt Baker neighborhood of Seattle. She chose John Muir. Part of her motivation for selecting Muir was the hope that students would develop a love of nature & a desire to conserve natural beauty.  Ironically, I attended that school for 7 years, but learned nothing about John Muir or environmentalism during that time.