What was Hetch Hetchy like? It was the “second Yosemite” – slightly smaller, but sharing all the unique and spectacular features of the more famous valley – crashing waterfalls, precipitous rock faces, a gently meandering river, and impressive granite walls. It had one of the most diverse ecosystems in California.
The accounts of all those who had seen Hetch Hetchy Valley ensured it was part of America’s best idea – the original Yosemite national park. Here is how they described it.
In one of the first accounts of Hetch Hetchy, Josiah Whitney, chief of the California Geological Survey, wrote: “The walls of this valley are not quite so high as those of Yosemite; but still, anywhere else than California, they would be considered as wonderfully grand. The valley 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.”
John Muir, the naturalist and first president of the Sierra Club, writing a few years later, described the valley as: “A grand landscape garden, one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain mansions. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls glow with life, whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike.” Muir compared the dramatic rock-faces of Hetch Hetchy to those of Yosemite: “The most strikingly picturesque rock in Hetch Hetchy Valley is a majestic pyramid, over 2000 feet in height, which is called by the Indians 'Kolana'. It is the outermost of a group like the Cathedral Rocks of Yosemite, and occupies the same relative position on the south wall.”