The issues are all too familiar on major Sierra rivers. Utilities want to build more dams and water-diversion projects to generate more electricity. Outdoor recreationists want to preserve what's left of the rivers' diverse scenic and recreational resources.
The stakes are high: an 83-mile stretch of the Tuolumne has been proposed as a National Wild and Scenic River. Without federal protection, whitewater stretches may become more domesticated. Congress could decide the river's fate as early as this summer.
This month is a good time to take a firsthand look at the river in question. The map on page 60 can help you plan a visit. State Highway 120, the main north access road to Yosemite National Park, crosses this area after it leaves State 49. The map shows a drive that can be the nucleus of a day's outing from either the gold rush town of Sonora or from Yosemite Valley. Campers can make a weekend of it.
Spring has already come to the low Sierra foothills surrounding the controversial 30-mile stretch of the Tuolumne that flows west from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Don Pedro Reservoir. All roads and most lower-elevation trails should be open by now. Mild spring weather is just right for hiking (summer brings fierce heat). Later this month, wildflowers should be near their peak along the lower river and near Groveland. Fishing in most area streams can be good; trout season opens April 28. It's also time to make reservations at three city-run family camps.
But for many people the big attraction will be the chance to take an early-season rafting trip down the Tuolumne. The lower 18-mile stretch is ranked among the Wests's top whitewater runs. Ten companies offer one- to three-day trips from now through October; at our deadline, some early-season trips were still open. A question of delicate balance
The Tuolumne has been the focus of some of the state's oldest and longest-running environmental questions, and they have often been answered with dams. Back in 1906, a proposal to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley grew into a landmark conservation battle, pitting John Muir and the Sierra Club against San Francisco water interests. By 1934, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was filled and Tuolumne water was flowing to San Francisco.
Today the river has five dams and reservoirs for flood control and water storage and five powerhouses for hydroelectric generation.
Yet, between the two largest reservoirs, Hetch Hetchy and Don Pedro, the Tuolumne still bucks and churns. Fed by four major tributaries--Clavey River, Cherry Creek, and the Middle and South forks--the Tuolumne roars through open, oakclad canyons. This is prime recreation country, and several large tracts of Stanislaus National Forest are proposed wilderness areas.
"We have a balance on the Tuolumne that is rare in California," states the river's first commercial river-runner, Marty McDonnell, "a system that supplies water and electricity to millions of people, yet still allows intense recreation. Any of the major new proposals would irrevocably upset that balance." Loop drive through Tuolumne country
For a remote area, Tuolumne country is surprisingly accessible. Although the river below Lumsden Campground runs through virtual wilderness, you can float through the heart of it on one of the rafting trips outlined on page 62. The upper part of the river and several tributaries are accessible, in places, from paved roads that make a good loop drive through some of the most scenic parts of this area.
Starting in Sonora (a good place to stock up on picnic supplies and fill up with gas), it's about 10 miles south on State 49 to where the highway merges with State 120. As you continue, you pass along the edge of Don Pedro Reservoir.
After the winding climb up the new Priest Grade (Old Priest Grade is very steep but straighter and 2-1/2 miles shorter), the old mining town of Groveland makes a good leg-stretching stop.
There are several motels nearby; in town you'll find the old Charlotte Hotel (basic rooms with a bath down the hall) and a decent restaurant. Next door, the Charlotte Bakery is a good morning stop for sweet rolls and coffee.
From Groveland, State 120 climbs gently into open forests of ponderosa pine (on a warm day, the air is fragrant with their resiny essence). Not quite 15 miles up the road, a turnoff on the right leads to Rainbow Pool--a pleasant picnic area edging a waterfall-fed pool popular with local younsters.
Fishing here, in the South Fork, can be fun above the pools. Golden Rock dam proposed just upstream would subject the pools to dramatic water fluctuations or leave them nearly dry. A trio of traditional family camps
Barely 1/2 mile farther up State 120 is the turnoff onto Cherry Lake Road, leading 1/4 mile to San Jose Family Camp.
This 63-year-old facility is one of three old-fashioned, city-run family camps in the area. Each sticks pretty much to its original purpose: providing inexpensive facilities where families can have an outdoor experience without roughing it too much. Each city's residents get first crack at reservations, then anyone can sign up. Most bookings are for three to seven nights but can be just overnight; they fill up fast.
San Jose Family Camp, on the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne, is typical. Lodging is in 50 wood-platformed "tent cabins,c which sleep four to six comfortably. Rustic is the key word: there are cots, a table and benches, and a few shelves. There's no electricity in the tents; showers and rest rooms are nearby. Meals are served in the dining hall; other facilities include a recreation room, small store, and laundry. Family activities ranging from day hikes to volleyball tournaments are scheduled every day. There can be some good fishing in the Middle Fork.
Camp managers are concerned that proposed water diversions would dry up swimming holes and ruin fishing--among the most popular activities--and possibly force the camp to close.
Rates are $30.50 a night for adults ($24 for San Jose residents), including meals; children 16 and under are less, depending on age. This month, you should still be able to make reservations for most of the June 22 through September 3 season. In spring and fall seasons, self-sufficient campers can rent tent cabins for $10 a night (food and other services are not available). Tents should be open by late April. For reservations, write to Family Camp Office, Leininger Community Center, 1300 Senter Rd., San Jose 95112, or call (408) 286-3944.
Berkeley's Tuolumne Family Camp is on the South Fork of the Tuolumne about 3 miles farther up State 120 (take the Hardin Flat Road turnoff and go another 1-1/2 miles to the camp entrance). The program and facilities are similar to San Jose's, although the ambience seemed a little more relaxed during our visit. The current Golden Rock proposal would leave the camp under water.
During the June 24 to September 2 season, rates for the 65 tents are $28 a day for adults ($20 for Berkeley residents), including meals. Anyone can request reservations now, but nonresident bookings won't be confirmed until after April 23. Write to Camps Office, 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley 94704, or call (415) 644-6520.
You can backtrack to State 120 or continue up Hardin Flat Road another 3-1/2 miles to where it meets State 120 again. From here you are just outside the Yosemite Park boundary and about 25 miles to Yosemite Village in the valley. To loop back to Sonora, cross State 120 and continue north on Evergreen Road.
Along this stretch of Evergreen, two small U.S. Forest Service campgrounds (no reservations) offer a chance to spread your sleeping bag beneath the stars at just under 5,000 feet. Evenings can be cold; there's even a slight chance of late snow into May. About a mile from State 120, Carlon Campground is on the South Fork. It's about 3 more miles to Middle Fork Campground on the Middle Fork. Depending on water conditions, both areas can offer good fishing.
Evergreen Road meets Mather Road 2-1/2 miles farther. A right turn will take you into Yosemite and then to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir; it's a spectacular 8-mile drive down to O'Shaughnessy Dam, with views into the wild river canyon. A left turn leads a dozen miles back to State 120. Near this junction is the entrance to Camp Mather.
Operated by the city of San Francisco, this 129-unit family camp is a little more upscale than the others. Wood cabins have rustic appointments and electricity, but baths are still shared. Facilities include a pool, tennis courts, and horseback riding (at extra cost). For the June 16 to August 25 season, rates are $31 a night for nonresident adults ($26 for San Francisco residents), ranging down to $8 for children ages 2 to 5. Resident reservations open April 9; nonresidents can reserve after April 23. For a brochure, write to Camp Mather Desk, McLaren Lodge, Fell and Stanyan streets, San Francisco 94117, or call (415) 558-4870.
About 7 miles down Mather Road is a turnoff leading barely 2 miles down to kirkwood Powerhouse and Early Intake on the main Tuolumne. This is where water diverted from Hetch Hetchy races down giant penstocks to turn powerhouse turbines. Much of the water then feeds back into the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct.
Just beyond the powerhouse, a trail leads some half-dozen miles up the Tuolumne. Because of water diversion for power generation, fishing has been only moderately good here. Conservation groups, including California Trout, have been negotiating for increased water releases from Hetch Hetchy. Slightly increased flows over the past two years may result in better fishing this summer. White-knuckle whitewater rafting
Spring runoff means exhilarating big water; last year it meant flows so high the river was unsafe to run through much of June. This time of year, it rates class 4+ (see page 60 of the April 1983 Sunset) and requires prior river experience, some physical stamina, and a dedicated sense of adventure. Wetsuits help ward off continual deluges of icy water.
As summer deepends and the water level gets lower, the river gets warmer and tamer. From late July into October, quiet stretches appear between rapids; you can take a dip or watch for abundant bird and wildlife along the banks.
Whatever the season, the grand finale is the plunge over Clavey Falls, a sheer 8-foot drop (rated class 5) that keeps even the most experienced rafters honest.
This season, 10 firms will be under permit to run commercial trips on the Tuolumne (one outfitter also runs the class 5 upper Tuolumne above Lumsden Bridge). One-to three-day trips, covering 18 miles, range in cost from about $100 to just over $300 per person. An overnight trip allows time for some side-canyon hiking. For a list of licensed outfitters, write to Groveland Ranger District, Box 709, Groveland 95321, or call (209) 962-7825.
All river trips begin below Lumsdem Campground and end at Wards Ferry Bridge on Don Pedro Reservoir. Two miles upstream from the bridge, where the river meets the slack water of the reservoir, there's a huge logjam that rafts must be towed through. The wait can be tedious. Until reservoir managers and outfitters can work out a way to keep the logs cleared, you'll just have to endure this dismal re-entry into civilization.
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|Title Annotation:||Sierra river at Yosemite|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1984|
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