Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life . . . while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music. . . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."
-- John Muir, "The Yosemite"
Said to be a valley as beautiful as the Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy (meaning "grass with edible seeds") had been protected since 1864 as part of Yosemite National Park. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco petitioned Congress to allow a dam to be built on Hetch Hetchy's river, the Tuolumne, to provide much needed water to the Bay area.
A seven year battle ensued, with John Muir and the Sierra Club leading the fight against the destruction of Hetch Hetchy valley. Muir lost; in 1923 the O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed, and today it still provides water and electricity to San Francisco. A "Restore Hetch Hetchy" movement still exists, but the removal issue is not without controversy. In 1987, Dianne Feinstein, then the mayor of San Francisco and an opponent of restoration said, "All this is for an expanded campground? ... It's dumb, dumb, dumb."
Before and after photos of Hetch Hetchy do show a lovely valley was flooded, but all the beauty was not lost. John and I visited the dam, and saw impressive hills, a waterfall, and a pristine lake (the caretaker is the only one allowed to put a boat in the water, and no one can swim in it).
Visitors are allowed to walk the dam, and continue through a tunnel to hiking trails that go to the waterfalls. There are two falls in spring and early summer, but one was dry when we were there. The other can be seen in the photo below, emerging from a hanging valley on the left about half-way down the image.
Hetch Hetchy is in an out-of-the-way part of the Yosemite National Park, so there are very few visitors compared to the tourist frenzy in the main areas of the park. Entering is a calm and unhurried process, and each car is given a laminated parking pass for their windshield. We noticed something... odd about it. The reverse side only has a map -- so what happened to regulations 1 through 7?