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About the Art: Liquid Gold

High in the Sierra, snowmelt forms the Tuolumne Watershed, which becomes the Tuolumne River…liquid gold creating the modern-day Gold Rush. Prior to 1923, the Tuolumne River meandered through the scenic Hetch Hetchy Valley on its 258-mile journey to join the San Joaquin River through the Delta to the Pacific Ocean.​

Liquid Gold: Water from the High Sierra

The same features that made Hetch Hetchy Valley so spectacular, once rivaling the beauty of Yosemite Valley, also made it an ideal location for a dam. San Francisco had been eyeing the valley as a potential water source since the 1870’s and in 1903, the city’s leaders began pressing to acquire water rights to the Tuolumne River. But Hetch Hetchy Valley was within the federally-protected boundaries of Yosemite National Park and building a dam there was off limits. Until it wasn’t.​ 

Then, in 1906, a devastating earthquake caused a series of fires in San Francisco that destroyed 25,000 buildings across 490 city blocks. The inadequacy of the city’s existing water supply came into sharp focus and by 1908, San Francisco was campaigning tirelessly for rights to Hetch Hetchy. In 1913, Congressman John Raker sponsored the Raker Act, which authorized damming the Tuolumne River and flooding Hetch Hetchy Valley. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law on Dec. 18, 1913.  

 

Headquarters was established in Groveland and the Hetch Hetchy Railroad was built to haul local lumber and other materials to the dam site. In 1923, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir began filling with water.​

One hundred years later, amidst political and environmental controversy that still rages, the 341-foot high O’Shaughnessy Dam (named for chief engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy) with its 160 miles of tunnels, pipeline, and aqueducts, supplies 300 million gallons of water per day to the San Francisco Bay Area. The system is entirely gravity-driven without a single pump along the way–a five-day journey for every drop. Three powerhouses generate 100% greenhouse gas-free electricity that powers the City of San Francisco’s vital services like MUNI electric buses, public schools, and fire stations.

 

​For residents and visitors to Yosemite’s northern gateway communities, O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir give us pristine drinking water and delicious beer. Yes, when it comes to beer, it IS the water. Locals have been brewing beer here for a couple of centuries now, with the first brewery established in 1853 in Second Garotte (Groveland) by Ferdinand Stachler. It was later purchased by Eugene Mueller, a German immigrant, and named Mueller Brewery. The Mueller Brewery supplied beer and gin across the rugged Sierra Nevada, all the way to the town of Bodie.

 

The town was without a brewery until 2020, when Around The Horn Brewing Company was founded in Big Oak Flat. One of their inaugural brews, Hetch Hetchy Haze (a hazy IPA), pays homage to the source of the main ingredient.

 

​In the early 1960’s, a group of young adventurers started rafting the Tuolumne River below O’Shaughnessy Dam, where 18 miles of continuous world-class whitewater runs. These pioneers were instrumental in securing the river’s designation as “Wild & Scenic,” according to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers act of 1968, ensuring its protection for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Four rafting outfitters have been granted permission to operate on the Tuolumne, including family-owned and operated Sierra Mac River Trips (Groveland) and OARS (Angels Camp), whose founders were amongst the original “river rats” conscripting the “T” for commercial rafting. ​

 

The shores of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the gentle river upstream, which flows through Tuolumne Meadows and along miles of rock-strewn riverbeds, is the stuff hikers and anglers  dream of. The banks of the Tuolumne River hide hundreds of pools and eddies for wild rainbow and brown trout, and surround hikers with spectacular seasonal wildflowers and breathtaking views.

 

​Super dark skies and little ambient light give the area around the Tuolumne River an edge for stargazing campers. There are numerous camping opportunities on or near the river…remote enough to feast your eyes on the astronomical delights and close enough to Groveland for tasty meals at our local restaurants, plenty of entertainment, and all the supplies you need.

 

​Drinking water and 100% greenhouse-gas free power generation. Pure mountain water for great craft beer. Exceptional outdoor experiences like hiking, fishing, kayaking, and world-class whitewater rafting. Today’s Gold Rush is powered by liquid gold, courtesy of Mother Nature and the High Sierra snowpack. 

original hetch hetchy valley nps high resolution
Groveland Roundhouse Crew
hetch hetchy construction nps public domain
Hetch Hetchy Railroad crossing the Tuolumne River. Courtesy: Southern Tuolumne County Historical Soc
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir - present day
O'Shaughnessey Dam Tuolumne River
Kayaking on Tenaya Lake in the High Sierra. Photo: iStock
Relaxing in Tuolumne Meadows
Born in Yosemite. Brewed in Gold Country. Hetch Hetchy Haze. Courtesy: Around The Horn Brewing Compa
Sierra Mac - pioneers on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River
Whitewater adventures as two rafts prepare to tackle the world class rapids. Courtesy: OARS
Wild ride on the "T". Courtesy: Sierra Mac River Rafting
Fishing in Tuolumne Meadows
Night approaches on the river. Courtesy: OARS
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