Forest Home

Flowers on the Rancheria Falls Trail at Hetch Hetchy

Compiled by J. Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Rancheria Falls Trail at Hetch Hetchy

The 2.5-mile walk from the Dam to Wapama Falls is a delight on a clear, fairly level, well maintained trail. The profusion of flowers in May and June enchants both eyes and noses. Beware of poisoned oak and rattle snakes.

The Tuolumne River exits from the west of the Yosemite park boundary down the Poopenaut Valley. The Hetch Hetchy Valley (about a third the length of the Yosemite Valley) was blocked in the early 1900s by the O'Shaughnessy Dam, and the pure mountain water is piped to San Francisco where it gives about 85% of the drinking supply of the city. En route, it generates hydroelectric power. In addition, the dam releases a steady (mandated) water flow directly downstream to support fish and the river rafting and tourism industries.

Proposals to remove the dam would cause the down-stream fish, tourism, and hydropower effectively to disappear. Such proposals would have San Francisco get its water from the (public-access) Don Pedro reservoir, whose water would require huge amounts of filtration and chlorine, and would require additional pumping because of its lack of a head of pressure.

Personally, I would prefer that the O'Shaughnessy Dam remain in Hetch Hetchy. Despite the 'bath tub ring' around the lake shore, the lake is very beautiful and the local climate around the lake is pleasant; the variety of flowers is a joy. The relative quiet of Hetch Hetchy, compared with the boisterous and crowded Yosemite, is another good reason to leave the status quo quo'd.

List of flowers in sequence seen, heading east from the Dam on 13th May 2005, with lots of butterflies and some hummingbirds:

  1. White flower, 5 rounded petal, third-inch diameter flower. Leaves opposite and deeply lobed.
  2. Green flower, 4 thin petals in a cross, quarter-inch diameter flower. Bush. Smooth grey bark.
  3. Greenish catkins on tree with leaves (unscented) like laurel.
  4. Red. Penstemon. [Possibly mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi).
  5. White. Miner's Lettuce (Montia perfoliata).
  6. Yellow. Bolander's madia (a.k.a. Bolander's tarweed) (Madia bolanderi).
  7. Blue. Blue Dicks (Brodiaea pulchella, previously Dichelostemma pulchellum).
  8. White flower, 4 petals; round, flattened, single-seed pod. Spoke pod (Thysanocarpus curvipes).
  9. Red. Great red indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata).
  10. Blue. Yerba Santa (a.k.a. California mountain balm) (Eriodictyon californicum).
  11. Yellow (banner petal) and purple (keel and wing petals): lupine.
  12. Yellow. Lotus. Probably Sierra Nevada lotus (Lotus nevadensis).
  13. White. Locoweed. Probably Bolander's locoweed (Astragalus bolanderi).
  14. Purple flowers on a bushy lupine. White on center of banner ages to purple.
  15. White 5-petaled flowers in coiled pinwheels. Probably popcorn flower.
  16. Greenish yellow, sweet perfume and nasty sting: poisoned oak.
  17. White (very pale mauve) bells in coiled clusters; 1" long flowers with long (1") stamens. Imbricate phacelia (Phacelia imbricata).
  18. Purple. 5 narrow petals. Half-inch leaves in triplets.
  19. Electric pink thistle. 2" diameter blossom.
  20. Yerba santa. Sticky leaved. Woody.
  21. Mauve mystery plant. 6 petals. Pistil with 3 threads each with a tight curl. Single two-foot vertical stem. Whorl of 6 long thin leaves lower down the stem, with whorl of 5 leaves a few inches above, 3 leaves a few inches above that, and then single leaves (alternate) with a stem and a flower above it.
  22. Bedstraw a.k.a. Cleavers (Galium aparine).
  23. White. Lemmon's campion (a.k.a. Lemmon's catchfly) (Silene lemmonii).
  24. White. California blackberry (Rubus ursinus).
  25. Blue; white spot on banner. Douglas's lupine or Sky lupine (Lupinus nanus).
  26. Yellow. Common madia (Madia elegans).
  27. Blue-purple. 5 rounded petals. Quarter-inch diameter with yellow center. Unfold from top like fiddleneck. Oval alternate leaves with strong veins.
  28. Pink with white tips; pea-like flowers in a rosette, each with a purple banner and a white-tipped keel with a maroon-red band. Very thin 2" leaves. Possibly tomcat clover (?).
  29. White 5-point star. (Similar to prairie star but diamond shared leaves without the raggedy edges of the prairie star.)