Meet Your River
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This tour truly travels from SEA to SOURCE, tracing San Francisco’s drinking water all the way to its source above 8,000 feet in Yosemite National Park.
HETCH HETCHY is one of the most intensely argued-over valleys in the western United States. Carved out by massive glaciers, shared for thousands of years by Paiute and Miwok indigenous communities, it was considered protected until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and over the objections of OG environmentalist John Muir, the city secured the rights to dam this gorgeous basin.
Starting our tour in the city of SAN FRANCISCO, our CAR-CARAVAN will likely meet within sight of the Pacific Ocean ~ specifics will be provided the week before we embark. We may discover abandoned gold rush shipwrecks over which the financial district now towers. We may visit a tidal wave organ, the ruins of a popular oceanside bath-house, architectural nods to whale and walrus massacres that heat and lit SF before electricity, or maybe a mural that depicts the Venetian canals of future Market Street. If there are underground cisterns near your neighborhood, or a spot to best sense which waters flow near your home, we'll begin our morning exploring these together.
Out of the city, we'll journey about 45 mins south to the PULGAS WATER TEMPLE, built in the 1930s and inscribed with the quote "I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people," where the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct from the Sierra Mountain reservoir (160 miles away within Yosemite National Park) terminates and San Francisco's drinking water arrives in the Bay Area.
Traveling over the bay and towards the mountains, we'll stop at two spots along the flat agricultural valley to make acquaintance with the river we drink. The Tuolumne River Regional Park next to the Modesto Airport, near the confluence where the wide and slow Lower Tuolumne River joins the San Joaquin River, a lesson in urban/suburban planning. Then for lunch we'll stop at NOWHERE IN PARTICULAR - HOME OF THE CATFISH, a restaurant/bar near the Tuolumne in Waterford.
After lunch we'll travel to the Moccasin Powerhouse and Fish Hatchery at the top of the DON PEDRO RESERVOIR, the largest reservoir on the Tuolumne River, and the beginning of the Aqueduct's gravity fed journey downhill all the way back to the Pulgas Water Temple. The Mocassin Dam almost collapsed during the late winter rains of March 2018, and over 90% of the fish at the hatchery perished in one storm's overflow of the river.
By this point it will feel especially refreshing arriving at our next spot, the Rainbow Falls and Pool SWIM SPOT, at 2,818 ft above sea level. We can discuss jumping over the waterfall, like the locals do. While we encourage ecocourage, we always practice ecodiscernment, and go over safety plans and supplies before and during each tour.
After cooling off, it's another half hour to OUR CAMP up at 4,422 ft, nestled along the banks of the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne. Offering fresh organic farmer's market sourced food (meal plans adjustable) and stories around the campfire, as well as night photography by the river. In the morning we’ll share a warm and nourishing breakfast, integral ecological discussions, as well as solo contemplative time with the river. Our campsite has potable water and basic toilet facilities. We encourage our tour members to bring everything you need to have a successful camping experience, which we will go over in detail before-hand, and can provide extras as needed.
In the morning we will explore THE HETCH HETCHY RESERVOIR, across O'Shaughnessy Dam, above the curiously named Poopenaut Valley. Weather and group considerations permitting, we'll check out Wapama Falls and Tueeulala Falls, both among the tallest waterfalls in North America.
Then, for those staying another evening for the full eco-educational immersion -- we'll have music and creative time back at camp, with opportunities the next morning to enter YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK once again, and depending on whether Tioga Pass is open (which will take months of snow-clearing labor this year) we’ll either ~
a) (if Tioga’s open) tour the High Sierra and Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet, near the very source of the Tuolumne River at 8,589 ft, springs spilling from the highest peak in the park, Mt. Lyell ~
or b) (if Tioga Pass is closed from snow) explore Yosemite Valley where tributary waterfalls plunge hundreds of feet to the stunning valley floor.
Join for all or some of this Watershed Witness Tour, or book your own as your schedule offers. On these ECO-EDUCATIONAL IMMERSIONS, we'll learn more about the transforming ecologies, science, culture, and soul of the river, co-create art, music, and earth-appreciation rituals, take group and solo time with the waters, sleep under the stars, and share our skills around river preservation, citizen science and sharing watershed consciousness.
WHAT TO BRING:
Participants will please provide your own reliable vehicle for our caravan, your personal food and drink requirements (we will provide dinners and breakfasts, meal plans adjustable), appropriate clothing for both the valley and the mountain (including sun protection and a bathing suit), camping gear, and any other medicines or supplies you'll need for the journey. Participants are also asked to cover gasoline and park entrance fees. Camping fees are covered. A chargeable cellphone is certainly useful, though we will also have walkie talkies. Maps will be provided.
The journey to follow our water sources takes all day, crosses over 100 miles, stopping every 30-60 minutes, so it's a trek. But we'll pace ourselves, and stop for bathroom and gas breaks as needed. We'll include a list of suggested items to bring in the Watershed Witness Tour Welcome Packet, and we'll bring extra of everything else important, like drinking water, snacks, art and ritual tools, video and still photography (for those who want to share your experiences) maps, a solar charger, musical instruments, flotation devices, stories, toilet paper, and towels.
We welcome all the intersectional communities of the Bay Area and don't want money getting in the way of learning how the water we drink is doing ~ so we offer four scholarship opportunities available for each tour. Just email email@example.com for availability.
"The watershed witness tour was for me a journey of awareness and gratitude for the river that flows just beneath my feet at all times. Employing my imagination along with my bodily experience to journey along the river in this way was an invitation to honor the great spring of inspiration that feeds my spirit as the source of life. Thank you, Josh, for creating a reflective, fun, sacred, and educational space to embrace this dimension of life. This is exactly the kind of work and play that is required of us as humans at the crux of our planetary shift."
- Kari Kapadia, MA.
1. Is this tour recommended for all ages and abilities?
This tour is for everyone who drinks water! Folks of any age will learn and experience awe at the beauty of the river. It is important to note that we do spend multiple hours driving during the day. But though swimming, hiking, and rock scrambling are available, persons with limited mobility can expect opportunities to participate at every location, and we'll be more than happy to help with camp set up or any other needs as they arise.
2. What if I don't have a vehicle?
Someday we may be able to make this a walking watershed pilgrimage. Until then, we'll find you a ride with one of our other participants.
3. Any boats on this river tour?
Boats of all kinds can be spotted along these rivers. They're also a serious next level of responsibilities if we include them in this tour. So our preliminary answer is ~ if kayaking or canoing or white-water rafting are really calling you, we can try to make it happen, just please let us know when you sign up. We're bringing some pool floaties.
4. Is the tour more educational/scientific, more political/historical, or more relaxed, and kinda "woo-woo"?
We tend to keep our tours well-balanced. There are complex integral ecological transformations occurring at multiples scales across each area of our watersheds, and we add to our scientific, cultural, and hands-on research every time we retrace this path along the river. We've also learned that by respecting the magic and emotions and creativity we experience meeting the living river we rely on, we tend to foster imaginative integrations of personal and community-oriented questions we may be grappling with, even encouraging ongoing mutually enhancing, just and ethical relationships with our water sources. So, however you relate to the river, we're with you.