"Yosemite is so wonderful that we are apt to regard it as an exceptional creation, the only valley of its kind in the world; but Nature is not so poor as to have only one of anything. Several other yosemites have been discovered in the Sierra that occupy the same relative positions on the Range and were formed by the same forces in the same kind of granite." John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912
There is, however, an unfortunate truth of Yosemite Valley: here, like at Arches, Zion, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, we are loving our national parks to death. The crowding in Yosemite Valley can be abysmal, only relieved to some small extent by the rationing of entrance reservations. I remember the nightmare of visiting the park on a Labor Day weekend (the family members who were seeing it for the first time could only get away at that time). We spent nearly the whole time in a traffic jam, finally scoring a parking spot at Curry Village for a while. And then a long traffic jam getting back out of the valley. The family with us treasured the experience of at least seeing the soaring cliffs, but really, this is no way to enjoy our national treasures.
When it comes down to it, we have a choice. We can continue to ration these precious places more and more, or we can expand the idea of what is spectacular and convince people that there are places of awe that can also be places of serenity and wonder. Without the crowds. John Muir, one of Yosemite's greatest fans, understood this well. In his writings, he was constantly reminding us that the Sierra Nevada is full of spectacular canyons, which he called the "other yosemites".
|Source: Herbert Gleason (1920s), in Wikipedia|
Amazingly, the valley was proposed as a site for a reservoir despite its remote location. When Kings Canyon was made a national park in 1940, Tehipite Valley was purposely left out of the park boundaries on the expectation that the dam would be built. It wasn't until 1965 that the valley was incorporated into the park.
|Source: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, by Matt Hoffman through Wikipedia|
I have stood at the portal of one of the other yosemites, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. When I was a teenager, my family backpacked to Glen Aulin Camp at the upstream end of the gorge, but we didn't go any further downstream. I still have hopes of hiking out to the rim of the canyon from White Wolf in Yosemite.
The canyon is as deep as the Arizona version of the Grand, but could hardly look more different. The canyon has been shaped by the longest most extensive glacier that ever existed in the Sierra Nevada. While Yosemite is famous for high waterfalls that leap from the canyon rim, the Tuolumne is noted for the large waterfalls on the Tuolumne River itself, especially Waterwheel Falls, where the river leaps upward into the air during periods of high flow.
One of the most famous "other yosemites" was Muir's most treasured valley, Hetch Hetchy, which is downstream of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Parts of Hetch Hetchy bear a startling resemblance to Yosemite, with a rectangular cliff that resembles El Capitan, and a pair of stunning waterfalls, Wapama Falls, at 1,080 ft (330 m), and Tueeulala Falls, at 840 ft (260 m).
In the vast Sierra wilderness far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind. It is situated on the south fork of King's River, above the most extensive groves and forests of the giant sequoia, and beneath the shadows the highest mountains in the range, where the cañons are deepest and the snow-laden peaks are crowded most closely together. It is called the Big King's River Cañon.Today we call it the South Fork of the Kings River, and the valley floor Cedar Grove. It is more accessible than all the others, with a paved highway, four or five campgrounds, and a small resort and store. But most importantly, it offers a quiet experience in a spectacular setting. I've rarely seen crowds here, although I'm sure it happens. But never on the scale of what goes on in Yosemite Valley.