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Tuolumne River

From Academic Kids

The Tuolumne River is one of the major rivers draining the western slope Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It is the slightly larger northern neighbor of the Merced River; both of these originate in Yosemite National Park. Through successive Ice ages, glaciers carved valleys for both the Merced River and the Tuolumne River through what is now Yosemite National Park.

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Dana_Meadows_Yosemite.jpg
The Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River

The Tuolumne River runs as a somewhat wavy line from east to west. The Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River flows from Mount Dana and meets the Lyell Fork descending from Mount Lyell in Tuolumne Meadows, just west of the Sierra Nevada's main divide. As it runs west, though, its course deepens markedly as it drops over the first of a string of many waterfalls.

Glen Aulin (Gaelic: beautiful valley) lies immediately below the confluence of Cold Canyon, Conness Creek, and the Tuolumne River. Here, the valley walls pull away from each other and become steeper. The riverbed is quite level; the water meanders and forms deep pools. Just northwest of Glen Aulin, the River presents spectacular waterfalls, including LeConte Falls and Waterwheel Falls, both known for the "waterwheel" phenomenon whereby descending water hits rocks below and wheels back upward.

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Tuolumne_Muir_Gorge.jpg
The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, looking west. Muir Gorge cuts diagonally across the middleground.

At this point, the Tuolumne enters the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. This canyon is a deep, roughly 'V'-shaped gorge. The walls, not as steep and bare as those of Yosemite Valley, are sculpted in an almost Baroque richness of form. The flora of the valley bottom is a haphazard melange of chaparral, manzanita scrub and oak woodland characteristic of the foothills and lowlands with a coniferous forest reminiscent of (but different from) that found above the canyon rim. This vegetation clings and clambers up every ledge of the valley walls to the top, giving it a lusher appearance than Yosemite Valley, though this area in fact experiences a drier climate.

Below the Grand Canyon lies Hetch Hetchy Valley, perhaps the most spectacular part of the Tuolumne's course. The river bottom becomes flat again, and the canyon walls pull away and become steeper, in a fashion similar to that of Yosemite Valley. At the bottom of Hetch Hetchy Valley stands O'Shaughnessy Dam, which causes the entire valley to be flooded. Still farther downstream lie Don Pedro Dam and Lake Don Pedro. These reservoirs provide electricity and divert water to serve farms in the Modesto Irrigation District and Turlock Irrigation District, and cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Towns along the Tuolumne River:

Cities along the Tuolumne River:

The Modesto Airport lies next to the Tuolumne River. Between the airport and the river lies Veterans' Park. This park is the site of the annual Trans-Valley League high-school cross-country running meet.


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