John Muir


John Muir


James R. Garfield


SEP 2. 1907.

Martinez, California, California. Sept. 6/07.

Dear Sir:

At the close of a meeting of the Sierra Club, called to consider the proposed Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Site, I met Mr. Pinchot, and after a brief talk in which the subject was outlined, he never having seen it, seemed surprised to learn how important a part of the Yosemite Park the Hetch Hetchy really is. He promised to call if possible after the close of the Irrigation Congress and go over the matter in detail, and advised me to write you in the meantime requesting you to keep the matter open until we could be heard. I am writing a description of the Valley which I shall send you tomorrow or the day after, and later the report of our Club committee with other papers bearing on the subject.
We are heartily in favor of a Sierra, or even a Tuolumne water supply for San Francisco and the Irrigation companies, but feel assured that the water required can be abundantly supplied without damming Hetch Hetchy, the destructive effects of which on the Park in general could be equalled only by damming Yosemite itself. Indeed every argument advanced for the damming of Hetch Hetchy would apply with equal force to the damming of Yosemite excepting only the cheapness, as will be made manifest as soon as the two valleys are made equally accessible. The few promoters of the present scheme are not unknown around the boundaries of the Park, for they have been trying to break through for years, but to take for granted that the California public demand the Hetch Hetchy sacrifice

would be a great mistake, as would be manifest could I but have your ear for a few sabbath-calm moments. If you can grant these moments, away from noise of such pleaders as Mr. Phelan, Mr. Manson and Mr. Warren Olney who are rejoicing in the comfortable assurance and strength of a good sound substantial ignorance of God’s handiwork in the World's Yosemite Wonderland, I would make the journey to Washington to see you. Kindly let me know if you want me.
Ever since the Yosemite National Park was established in 1890 my own real work has bean sadly interrupted in trying to assist in its preservation. And if in this case we should all fail it will be no wonder, for in a similar case Heaven's Angels failed. Nevertheless it seems our fate to keep on striving as best we may. No matter how much the Park is invaded or its boundaries shorn, while a single peak or dome, tree or cascade is left, the poor stub of a park will still call for protection. The smallest Park I ever heard of was in Eden and though its boundaries were drawn by the Lord himself, and included only one tree, even that moderate little Forest reservation was attacked and plundered.


John Muir

The Honorable Secretary of the Interior
James R. Garfield.


The Hetch Hetchy Valley, “that wonderful counterpart of Yosemite”, as State geologist Whitney called it, was discovered by Mr. Joseph Sereech in 1850, the year before the discovery of Yosemite, when the Digger Indians held possession of it as an acorn orchard. After my first visit in the autumn of 1871, I have always called it the Tuolumne Yosemite, for it is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite, not only in its crystal river and sublime rooks and waterfalls, but in the gardens, groves, and meadows of its flowery park-lake floor. The floor of Yosemite is about 4000 feet above the sea, the Hetch Hetchy floor about 3700: the walls of both are of gray granite, rise abruptly cut of the flowery grass and groves, are sculptured in the same style, and in both every rock is a glacial monument.
Standing boldly out from the south wall is a strikingly picturesque rock called Kolana by the Indians, the outermost of a group 2300 feet high corresponding with the Cathedral Hocks of Yosemite both in relative position and form. On the opposite side of the Valley facing Kolana there is a counterpart of the E1 Capitan of Yosemite, rising sheer and plain to a height of 1800 feet, and over its massive brow flows a stream which makes the most graceful fall I have ever seen. From the edge of the cliff it is perfectly free in the air for a thousand feet, then breaks up into a ragged sheet of cascades among the bowlders of an earthquake talus. It is in all its glory in June when the snow is melting fast, but fades and vanishes toward the end of summer. The only fall I know with which it may fairly be compared is the Yosemite Bridal Veil: but it excels even that favorite fall both in height and fineness of fairy airy beauty and behavior. Lowlanders are apt to suppose that mountain streams in their wild career over cliffs loose control of themselves and tumble in a noisy chaos of mist and spray. On the contrary on no part of their travels are they more harmonious and self-controlled. Imagine yourself in Hetch Hetchy


on a sunny day in June standing waist-deep in grass and flowers while the great pines sway dreamily with scarce perceptible motion. Looking northward across the Valley you see a plain gray granite cliff rising abruptly out of the gardens and groves to a height of 1800 feet, and in front of it Tueeulala's silvery scarf burning with irised sun-fire in every fibr[illegible] In the first white outburst of the stream at the head of the fall there is abundance of visible energy, but it is speedily bushed and concealed in divine repose; and its tranquil progress to the base of the cliff is like that of downy feathers in a still room. Now observe the fineness and marvelous distinctness of the various sun-illumined & fabrics into which the water is woven: they sift and float from form to form down the face of that grand gray rock in so leisurely and unconfused a manner that you can examine their texture, and patterns, and tones of color as you would a piece of embroidery held in the hand. Near the head of the fall you see groups of booming comit-like masses, their solid white beads separate, their tails like combed silk interlacing among delicate shadows, ever forming and dissolving, worn out by friction in their rush through the air. Most of these vanish a few hundred feet below the summit, changing to the varied forms of cloud-like drapery. Near the bottom the width of the fall has increased from about twenty-five to a hundred feet. Here it is composed of yet finer tissues, and is still without a trace of disorder - air, water, and sunlight woven into stuff that spirits might wear.
So fine a fall might well seem sufficient to glorify any valley: but here as in Yosemite Nature seems in nowise moderate; for a short distance to the eastward of Tueeulala booms and thunders the great Hetch Retchy Fall, Wapama, so near that you have both of them in full view from the same standpoint. It is the counterpart of the Yosemite Fall but has a much greater volume of water, is about 1700 feet in height, and appears to be nearly vertical though considerably inclined, and is dashed into huge outbounding bosses of

3 [illegible]

foam on the projecting shelves and knobs of its jagged gorge. No two falls could be more unlike, Tueeulala. out in the open sunshine descending like thistledown; Wapama in a jagged shadowy gorge roaring and thundering, pounding its way with the weight and energy of an avalanche. Besides this glorious pair there is a broad massive fall on the main river a short distance above the head of the Valley. Its position is something like that of the Vernal in Yosemite, and its roar as it plunges into a surging trout-pool may be heard a long way though it is only about twenty feet high. There is also a chain of magnificent cascades at the head of the Valley on a stream that comes in from the north-east, mostly silvery plumes, like the one between the Vernal and Nevada falls of Yosemite, half sliding half leaping on bare glacier-polished granite, covered with crisp clashing spray into which the sunbeams pour with glorious effect. And besides all these a few small streams come over the walls here and there, leaping from ledge to ledge with bird-like song and watering many a bidden cliff-garden and fernery, but they are too unshowy to be noticed .in so grand a place.
The correspondence between the Hetch Hetchy walls in their trends, sculpture, physical structure, and general arrangement of the main rock-masses has excited the wondering admiration of every observer. We have seen that the El Capitan and Cathedral rocks occupy the same relative positions in both valleys, so also do their Yosemite Points and North Domes. Again that part of the Yosemite north wall immediately to the east of the Yosemite Pall has two horizontal benches timbered with Gold-cup oak at about 500 and 1500 feet above the floor. Two benches similarly situated and timbered occur on the same relative portion of the Hetch Hetchy north wall, to the east of Wapama Fall, and on no other. The Yosemite is bounded at the bead by the great Half Dome. Hetch Hetchy is bounded in the same way though its head rock is far less wonderful and sublime in form.


The floor of the Valley is about three and a half miles long and from a fourth to half a mile wide. The lower portion is mostly a level meadow about a mile long with the trees restricted to the sides, and partially separated from the upper forested portion by a low bar of glacier-polished granite, across which the river breaks in rapids.
The principal trees are the Yellow and Sugar pines, Sabine pine, Incense cedar, Douglas spruce, Silver fir, the California and Gold-cup oaks, Balm of Gilead poplar, Nuttall's Flowering dogwood, Alder, Naple, Laurel, Tomion etc. The most abundant and influential are the great Yellow pines, the tallest over 200 feet in height, and the oaks with massive rugged trunks four to six or seven feet in diameter, and broad heads, assembled in magnificent groves. The shrubs forming conspicuous flowery clumps and tangles are Manzanita, Azalea, Spiraea, Brier-rose, Ceanothus, Calycanthus, Philadelphus, Wild cherry etc; with abundance of showy and fragrant herbaceous plants growing about them or out in the open in beds by themselves - Lilies, Mariposa tulips, Brodiaeas, Orchids - several species of each, - Iris, Spraguea, Draperia, Collomia, Collinsia, Castilleia, Nemophila, Larkspur, Columbine, Goldenrods, Sunflowers and Nints of many species, Foneysuckle etc. etc. Many fine ferns dwell here also, especially the beautiful and interesting rook-ferns, - Pellaea, and Cheilanthes of several species, - fringing and rosetting dry rock piles and ledges; Woodwardia and Asplenium on damp spots with fronds six or seven feet high, the delicate Maidenhair in mossy nooks by the falls, and the sturdy broad-shouldered Pteris beneath the oaks and pines,
It appears therefore that Hetch Hetchy Valley far from being a plain common rook-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seen to suppose, is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain mansions. As in Yosemite the sublime rocks of its walls seem to the Nature lover to glow with life whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes giving welcome to storms and calms alike. And how softly these mountain rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep -


their brows in the sky, their feet set in groves and gay emerald meadows, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their adamantine bosses, while birds bees butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into musio - things frail and fleeting and types of permanence meeting here and blending as if into this glorious mountain temple Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, whether great or small to draw her lovers into close confiding communion with her.


Extracts from State Goelogist Prof. J.B. Whitney's Yosemite Guide-book (published 1874)



THE TUOLUMNE CANCN showing their relationship etc.

"The HetcH Hetchy is 8650 feet above the sea-level, or 800 feet below the Yosemite; it is three miles long east and west, but is divided into two parts by a spur of granite which nearly closes it up in the centre. The portion of the Valley below this spur is a large open meadow, a mile in length, and from an eighth to half a mile in width, with excellent grass, timbered only along the edge. The upper part of the Valley is a mile and three quarters long, and from an eighth to a third of a mile wide, well timbered and grassed. The walls of this Valley are not cuite so high as those of Yosemite; but still, anywhere else than in California, they would be considered as wonderfully grand. On the north side of Hetch Hetchy is a perpendicular bluff, the edge of which is 1800feet above the Valley, and having a remarkable resemblance to [illegible] Capitan. In the spring, when the snows are melting, a large stream is precipitated ever this cliff, falling at least 1000 feet perpendicular. The volume of water is very large, and the whole of the lower part of the Valley is said to be filled with its spray. A little farther east is the Hetch Hetchy Fall, the counterpart of the Yosemite. The height is 1700 feet. It is not quite perpendicular. The volume of water is much larger than that of the Yosemite Fall, and, in the spring, its noise can be heard for miles. The position of this fall in relation to the Valley is exactly like that of the Yosemite Fall in its Valley, and opposite to it is a rock much resembling the Cathedral Rock, and 2270 feet high".
"The valley of the Tuolumne" (or Big Tuolumne Meadows) "is one of the most picturesque and delightful in the High Sierra. Situated at an elivation of between 8000 and 9000 feet above the sea-level, surrounded by noble ranges and fantastioally shaped peaks which rise from 8000 to 4000 feet

higher, and from which the snow never entirely disappears, traversed by a clear rapid river, along which meadows and pines alternate, the effect of the whole is indeed most superb. The vicinity of Soda Springs, (on the north side of the valley) "and, indeed, the whole region about the head of the upper Tuolumne, is one of the finest in the State for studying the traces of the ancient glacier system of the Sierra Nevada." Glacier-polishedgranite extends over a vast area and "is so perfect that the surface is often seen from a distance to glitter with the light reflected from it, as from a mirror. The main portion of the valley is about four miles long, and from half to a third of a mile wide." It is the focus of pleasure travel in the High Sierra of the Park and the most important and magnificent camp-ground, but this also has been surveyed for a reservoir site.
"The Canon of the Tuolumne runs in a nearly east and west direction, about parallel with that of the Merced, and some twelve miles north of it. The length of the portion included between the Tuolumne Meadows, at Soda Springs, and the head of the Hetch Hetchy, is about twenty-two miles. During this distance the river runs everywhere in a very narrow gorge, with lofty and very precipitous walls, and with frequent and beautiful cascades, as might be expected, since the fall of the river in the distance named is about 4650 feet, or over 200 feet to the mile. It is to be regretted that it is not possible to pass through the Canon with animals, entering at the Hetch Hetchy and coming out at the upper end, or vice versa. This will undoubtedly be done in time, " by a trail or carriage road, but which the damming of Hetch Hetchy would completely block.




Martinez, Calif.

Date Original

1907 Sep 6


Original letter dimensions unknown.

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 16, Image 0963

Collection Identifier

Online finding aid for the microform version of the John Muir Correspondence

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The unpublished works of John Muir are copyrighted by the Muir-Hanna Trust. To purchase copies of images and/or obtain permission to publish or exhibit them, see

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9 pages


Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters



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