Dear Mr. Presidents=
Martinez, California. Sept. 9/07.
I am anxious that the Yosemite National Park may be saved from all sorts of commercialism and marks of man's work other than the roads, hotels etc required to make its wonders and blessings available. For as far as I have seen there is not in all the wonderful Sierra, or indeed in the world another so grand and wonderful and useful a block of Nature's mountain handiwork.
There is now under consideration, as doubtless you well know, an application of San Francisco Supervisors for the use of Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor as storage reservoirs for a City water supply. This application should I think be denied especially the Hetch Hetchy part, for this Valley as you will see by the inclosed description is a counterpart of Yosemite, and one of the most sublime and beautiful and important features of the Park, and to dam and submerge it would be hardly less destructive and deplorable in its effects on the Park in general than would be the damming of Yosemite itself. For its falls and groves and delightful camp-grounds are surpassed or equalled only in Yosemite: and farthermore it is the hall of entrance to the grand Tuolumne Canyon which opens a wonderful way to the magnificent Tuolumne Meadows, the focus of pleasure travel in the High Sierra of the Park and grand central camp-ground. If Hetch Hetchy should be submerged as proposed to a depth of 175 feet, not only would it be made utterly inaccessible, but this glorious canyon way to the High Sierra would be blocked.
I am heartily in favor of a Sierra or even a Tuolumne water supply for San Francisco but all the water required can be obtained from sources outside the Park, leaving the twin Valleys Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite to the use they were intended for when the Park was established. For every argument advanced for making one into a reservoir would apply with equal force to the other excepting the cost of the required dam. 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. However able they may be as capitalists, engineers, Iawers.
or even philanthropists, none of the statements they have made descriptive of Hetch Hetchy dammed or undammed are true, but they all show forth the proud sort of confidence that comes of a good sound substantial irrefragable ignorance. For example the capitalist, Mr. James D. Phelan, says "there are a thousand places in the Sierra equally beautiful as Hetch Hetchy, it is inaccessible nine months of the year, and is an unlivable place, the other three months because of mosquitoes". On the contrary there is not another of its kind in all the Fark excepting Yosemite. It is accessible all the year, and is not more mosquitoefu| than Yosemite. "The conversion of Hetch Hetchy into a reservoir will simply mean a lake instead of a meadow:" it is a Yosemite Valley. Engineer, Mr. Mars Marsden Manson also calls the Valley "a lowlying meadow" "a common minor feature" in no sense a natural curiosity or wonder" and to submerge it "would greatly enhance the beauty of the Park". And so the fight goes on. Ever since the Park was established it has called for defense, and however much it may be invaded or its boundaries shorn while a single mountain or tree or waterfall is left the poor stub of a park would still need protection. The first forest reserve was in Eden and though its boundaries were drawn by the Lord, and angels set to guard it, even that most moderate reservation was attacked.
I pray therefore that the people of California be granted time to be heard before this reservoir question is decided: for I believe that as soon as light is cast upon it, nine tenths or more of even the citizens of San Francisco would be opposed to it. And what the public opinion of the world would be may be guessed by the case of the Niagara Falls.
Faithfully and devotedly yours
THE TUOLUMNE YOSEMITE.
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 rocks and waterfalls, but in the gardens, groves, and meadows of its flowery park-like 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 out 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 Rocks of Yosemite both in relative position and form. On the opposite side of the Valley facing Kolana there is a counterpart of the El 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 fibre. In the first white outburst of the stream at the head of the fall there is abundance of visible energy, but it is speedily hushed 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 rook 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 heads 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 Hetchy Fall, Wapama, so near that you have both- of them in 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 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 intc 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 hidden 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 E1 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 Fall has two horizontal benches timbered with Gold-cup oak at about 500 and 1500 feet above the floor. Two benches similarly situated and timbered ocrur 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 head by the great Half Dome. Hetch Hetchy is bounded in the same way though the 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, Maple, Laurel, Tumion 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], Crobids - several species of esch, Iris, Spraguea, Draperia, Collomia, Collinsia, Castilleia, Nemophilia, Larkspur, Columbine, Goldenrods, Sunflowers and Mints of many species, Honeysuckle etc etc. many fine ferns dwell here also, especially the beautiful and interesting rock-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 [MaiTenhair] 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 rock-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seem to suppose, is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and test 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 emorald 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 music - 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.
1907 Sep 9
Original letter dimensions unknown.
Muir, John, "Letter from John Muir to [Theodore Roosevelt], 1907 Sep 9." (1907). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 3760.
Reel 16, Image 0985
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Environmentalist, naturalist, travel, conservation, national parks, John Muir, Yosemite, California, history, correspondence, letters