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Notes on Hetch-Hetchy Valley.


Tuolumne Valley, or Hetch-Hetchy, as it is called by the Indians (the meaning of this word I was unable to ascerain) is situated on Tuolumne River about fifteen miles in a straight line below Tuolumne Meadows and Soda Springs, and about twelve miles north of Yosemite Valley. Its elevation above the sea is from 3,800 to 3,900 feet, a little less than that of Yosemite. The valley is three miles long running nearly east and west, with but little fall in this distance. Near its center it is cut in two by a low spur of shelving granite coming from the south. The lower part forms a large open meadow with excellent grass; one mile in length, and gradually increasing from ten chains to a little over half a mile in width, and only timbered along the edges. The lower part of this meadow terminates in a very narrow cañon, the hills sloping down to the river at an angle of from 40° to 60°, only leaving a channel from six to ten feet wide; the river in the valley having an average width of about fifty feet. This is the principal cause of the overflow in spring time of the lower part of the valley, and probably also has given rise to the report of there being a large lake in the valley. Below this cañon is another small meadow, with a pond. The upper part of Hetch-Hetchy, east of the granite spur, forms a meadow one and three-fourths miles in length, varying from ten to thirty chains in width, well timbered and affording good grazing. The scenery resembles very much that of the Yosemite, although the bluffs are not as high, nor do they extend as far. On the north side of the valley, opposite the granite spur we first have a perpendicular bluff, the top of which is 1,800 feet above the valley; the talc: at the haze is about five hundred feet above the valley, leaving a precipice of about 1,300 feet. In the spring when the snows are melting a large creek precipitates itself over the western part of this bluff. I was told that this fall is one of the grandest features of the valley, sending its spray all over its lower portion. It was dry, however, at the time of my visit, The fall is 1,000 feet perpendicular after which it strikes the debris and loses itself among the rocks. About thirty chains further east we come to the Hetch-Hetchy fall; its height above the valley is 1,700 feet. This fall is not perpendicular, although it appears so from the front. as may be seen from the photograph by Mr. Harris. It falls in a series of cascades at an angle of about 70°. At the time of my visit the volume of water was much greater than that of Yosemite fall, and I was told that in the spring its roarings can be heard for miles.

Still further east we have two peaks, shaped very much like “The Three Brothers,” in the Yosemite. Their base forms a large, naked and sloping granite wall on the north side of the valley, broken by two timbered shelves, which run horizontally the whole length of the wall. Up to the lower shelf or bend, about eight hundred feet high, the wall, which slopes at an angle of from 45° to 70°, is polished by glaciers, and probably these markings extend still higher up, as on entering the valley the trail followed back of and along a moraine for several miles, the height of which was about 1,200 feet above the valley. The same polish shows itself in places all along the bluffs on both sides, and particularly fine on the granite spur crossing the valley. There is no doubt that the largest branch of the great glacier which originated near Mt. Dana and Mount Lyell, made its way by Soda Springs to this valley. A singular feature of this valley is the total absence of talus or debris at the base of the bluffs, excepting at one place in front of the falls. Another remarkable rock, corresponding with Cathedral Rock in the Yosemite, stands on the south side of the valley, directly opposite Hetch-Hetchy fall; its height is 2,270 feet above the valley. The photograph by Mr. Harris will give some idea of this rock.

At the upper end of the valley the river forks, one branch, nearly as large as the main river, coming from near Castle Peak, the main river itself from Soda Springs. About half a mile up the main cañon, the river forms some cascades, the highest being about thirty feet.

The valley was first visited, in 1850, by Mr. Joseph Screech, a mountaineer of this region, who found it occupied by Indians. This gentleman informed me that, up to a very recent date, this valley was disputed ground between the Pah Utah Indians from the eastern slope and the Big Creek Indians from the western slope of the Sierras; they had several fights, in which the Pah Utahs proved victorious. The latter still visit the valley every fall to gather acorns, which abound in this locality. Here I may also mention that the Indians speak of a lake of very salt water [Editor’s note: Mono Lake—dea], on their trail from here to Castle Peak. Mr. Screech also informed me of the existence of a fall, about a hundred feet high, on the Tuolumne River, about four miles below this valley, and which prevents fish from coming at any higher. The climate is said to be milder in winter than that of the Yosemite Valley, as is also indicated by a larger number of oaks and a great number of Pinus Sabiniana. The principal tree of the valley is Pinus ponderosa; besides this we have P. Sabiniana, Cedar, Q. Sonomensis, Q. crassipocula; also poplar and cottonwood.

The valley can he reached easily from Big Oak Flat by taking the regular Yosemite trail, by Sprague’s Ranch and Big Flume, as far as Mr. Hardin’s fence, between south and middle fork of Tuolumne River, about eighteen miles from Big Oat Flat. Here the trail turns off to the left, going to Wade’s Meadows or Big Meadows, sometimes called Reservoir Meadows, the distance being about seven miles. From Wade’s Ranch the trail crosses the middle fork of Tuolumne and goes to the Hog Ranch [Editor’s note: The correct spelling is Hogg Ranch—dea], five miles; thence up divide between the middle fork and main river, about two miles, to another little ranch called “The Cañon.” From here the trail winds down through rocks for six miles to Tuolumne Cañon. This trail is well blazed, and was made by Mr. Screech and others, for the purpose of driving sheep and cattle to the valley. The whole distance from Big Oak Flat is thirty-eight miles.

Another trail equally good. but a little longer, leaves the Yosemite trail about half a mile beyond the crossing of the south fork, thence crosses the middle fork within about one and a half miles of the south fork crossing, and follows up the divide between the middle fork and the main river, joining the first-named trail at the Hog Ranch.


Charles Frederick Hoffmann (1838-1913), “ Notes on Hetch-Hetchy Valley,” Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco: CAS, 1868), series 1, 3:5, pp. 368-370. Digitized by Dan Anderson, July 2005.

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