SF/Tuolumne River/Hetch Hetchy ~ Watershed Witness Tours

"Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man." ~ John Muir



Spring Tour: May 11, 2019
Spring Tour: June 7, 2019

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Your Local Neighborhood Creek/Arroyo Tours
(3 hrs)

Day-Long to Drinking Water Reservoirs (12 hrs) ($110)

One Night Camping by Mountain Headwaters (36 hrs) ($220)

Two Nights Eco-Educational Immersion (72 hrs) ($330)

"I highly recommend participating in a Watershed Witness Tour! I learned a great deal in a short weekend from Josh, and from the experience which he carefully and generously crafted. Josh is an incredible teacher with a wealth of knowledge, insight and depth. He gives space for participants to explore and learn in their own way, create their own connection and meaning, while also gently guiding participants to make connections between the personal and the collective, the internal and the external, the micro and macro. Participating in a Watershed Witness Tour, I gained insight and information from an ecological perspective, a social/collective lens, and my own personal story, as well as how all these perspectives and stories intersect, overlap and dance with one other."     ~ Rebecca Siegel

"My tour with Ecocourageous was inspiring, connecting, and magical. So grateful for Joshua's vision of connecting people to this beautiful planet we call home. His wisdom and playfulness, with a balance of structure and flow offered myself and the other participants a hands-on experience with our most precious resource--water. I highly recommend the Watershed Witness tours as well as any event that educates and integrates us into more relationship with ourselves, each other, and our planet."      ~ Rebecca Farrar, M.A.



We first toured these watersheds in Summer 2015, witnessing our reservoirs at the bottom of a five year drought. Since then we've swept through three of the officially wettest winters on record in California. As of Spring Equinox 2019 we are officially OUT OF THE DROUGHT (for now)! 

Tuolumne Spillway overflowing on February 22, 2017, footage by Ken Cantrell

Tuolumne Spillway overflowing on February 22, 2017, footage by Ken Cantrell

It has been a deeply dramatic number of years. Reservoirs overflowed. Dams and hatcheries were overwhelmed, the Tuolumne spillway opened for the first time in twenty years, and Lake Berryessa's glory hole started sucking again for the first time in a decade. 24 California counties received disaster declarations -- but overall Bay Area infrastructure held. Before the rains stopped, EBMUD, the water supplier for the East Bay reassured their customers "not another drop needed." This means extra water was lost, returned to the ocean -- revealing our lingering need to learn how to make the most of our rainfalls, to change California's short-sighted and imbalanced historic relationship with groundwater and water rights.

Much more challenging records were broken in 2017. The overwhelming winter rains spurred abundant spring green growth, followed by the hottest summer in recorded California history, leading directly to the deadliest and most destructive fall fire season so far.

Standing Rock ceremonially burns camp as they face final eviction February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Standing Rock ceremonially burns camp as they face final eviction February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

2017 also found vivid witnessing of the struggles of water protectors around the world -- in the solidarities born at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, and the anniversary of Berta Caceres's assassination for protecting the Aguan River in Honduras. In 2015 we lost over 200 environmental activists killed around the world. Do you know who's protecting your water?

Our re-engagements with nature require reminders that the land we call home holds the scars of an ongoing deadly history with indigenous communities, as well as escalating exploitive relationships with the ecological fabric of life on the planet. Water is life. Mni Wiconi.

Around the world struggles with drought and clean water continue to worsen, while learning from embedded stories of consideration and improved access become so vital -- and inspiring too, like granting rivers the rights of people (welcome to personhood Ganga, Yamuna, Whanganui rivers!)

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, praying at Cow Creek on the Sacramento River, that the salmon may return home in a good way. Photo by Corrina Gould, founder of  Sogorea Te' Land Trust

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, praying at Cow Creek on the Sacramento River, that the salmon may return home in a good way. Photo by Corrina Gould, founder of Sogorea Te' Land Trust

Closer to home, there are Bay Area Ohlone indigenous initiatives we can support this season, and near at hand challenges of climate justice, including East Bay sacrifice zones, and Californian's access to clean water, to educate each other and get involved around together.

This Watershed Witness Tour offers the possibility of embedding ourselves within these stories, and passes along a portion of the proceeds from each tour to support local and global watershed protection. This year we'll again be supporting the Winnemem Wintu Salmon Run, tracing by foot, horse, bike, and boat, the route our Salmon family return to their birth homes on the McCloud River.

Katherine Evatt of the Foothills Conversancy, which has protected the Mokelumne watershed for the past 30 years, has just completed a campaign to encourage the California Natural Resources Agency to declare 37 miles of the Mokelumne (between the reservoirs we visit on our Watershed Witness Tours) part of it's protected California Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The proposal has received thousands of comments and looks likely to pass. Katherine has generously offered to meet up with our next tour group to discuss the history and ongoing protection of the Moke.

Winter 2018 in NorCal was all over the place -- warm bud-blossoming weeks interspersed with unexpected frosts. February tracked close to the driest year on record '76-'77, then a wetter "March Miracle" precipitated by several atmospheric rivers passing along precipitation from the Pacific doubled the amount of Sierra snowpackAs of Spring Equinox 2018 Pardee Reservoir was at 92 percent of capacity; Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park was at 80 percent. Then April's Pineapple Expresses of warm waters from Hawaii forced the closure of Yosemite Valley for flooding, in one storm sadly killed 90% of the fish at Mocassin Creek Hatchery when the Mocassin Dam downstream from Hetch Hetchy overflowed.

We received record rains to fill the reservoirs and snowpack to slowly drain into the aquifers and water tables, allowing us to celebrate our exit from the drought. Whether or not decades-long megadroughts disappear from the horizon, remains to be seen.

Snow will likely still blanket the higher elevations, and waterfalls will likely be still pouring from early spring's rains, but we'll see together, and hopefully get to splash and splosh in person. While our relationship with climate continues to change rapidly -- and the likelihood of drought lingers over the coming decades, today these rivers still support our homes.

May all our rivers flow free.



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 original environmentalist John Muir, the city secured the rights to dam this gorgeous basin.

Starting our tour in the city of SAN FRANCISCO, 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 walrus massacres that funded SF, or a mural that depicts the Venetian canals of future Mission Street . If there are underground cisterns near your neighborhood, or a spot to bear witness to what waters flow near your home, we'll begin our morning exploring these together.

Next, we'll journey about 45 mins south to the PULGAS WATER TEMPLE built in the 1930s, 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. Brave (and safety conscious) folks are welcome to try jumping off the waterfall.

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 and stories around the campfire, as well as night photography by the river, warm breakfast in the morning, as well as solo time with the river. Campsite has water and basic toilet. 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 (if the Tioga Pass is open) either tour the High Sierra, including potentially five Tuolumne River waterfalls, and visit Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet where the river confluences a few miles below it's very source at 8,589 ft, springs spilling from the highest peak in the park, Mt. Lyell ~ or (if Tioga Pass is closed from snow, which it likely will be for our first Spring 2019 journey) 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 and sharing watershed consciousness.

Images of upper Tuolumne waterfalls (a 22 mile round trip hike) from world-of-waterfalls.com

Participants will please provide your own reliable vehicle for our caravan, your personal food and drink requirements (we will provide dinners and breakfasts), 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, tho 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 have a list of suggested items to bring, and we'll bring extra of everything else, 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 joshua@ecocourageous.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. 




Joshua Halpern will be our eco-immersion guide. Josh brings to these adventures an MA in Integral Ecology, a BFA in Film, a Wilderness First Aid Certificate from Foster Calm, over a decade guiding adults around the world in reconnecting relationships with their local ecologies, five years working in outdoor education with children, and a lifetime exploring the river systems around his home. He was born at the confluence of the Matawan and the Wopowog rivers in central New Jersey.



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.