Flume!

After Yosemite Valley on Sunday, Nelder Grove on Monday, and Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, we were ready for a day without driving.  On Wednesday, we stayed home, slept in (we ate breakfast at 11:00 AM!), blogged (me), researched IRA investment options (Scott), napped, and found a flume!

While driving home from wherever on Monday or Tuesday, we had taken an exploratory jaunt on Road 222 around the far side of Bass Lake and back into North Fork.  At one point, we had passed under a wooden trestle.  Interesting!  I looked up, expecting to see a railroad bridge, but the underside of whatever it was appeared to be grey metal.  Curious.  As we snaked our way on down the road, I told Scott that I thought maybe it was a flume!  We had learned that back in the 1890s, loggers at Nelder Grove had sent timber (mainly white pine and fir) by flume, all the way down to Madera, some 50 miles away!  I wondered at the time if the trestle we had just driven under might be one of those flumes!

On Wednesday afternoon, during our laid-back “home” day and after a fine lunch of calzone we brought back from The Pizza Factory in North Fork, we decided to get out of the house again for a little while and drive back to that flume to explore it.  Ten minutes from our house, we found it again, and no one was around.  = )  There were warning signs not to get into the flume, but no signs about trespassing, so we walked along it for a little ways upstream of the trestle.  Where the flume passed over the road, it was a metal trough, a semi-circle of maybe eight feet in diameter, but on the ground, it was a concrete trough!  I’m guessing the flat bottom was about four feet across and the straight sides angled up and were about six feet high.  There was about an inch of water in it, which really surprised me.  Everything in that part of California was completely dry to the point o fbeing parched.  Where was that water coming from?  It was moving very slowly downhill, as water does, but in the blazing sun with no humidity, why didn’t that little bit of water just evporate?  Something had to be feeding it.

The other odd thing about that flume – besides its being smooth concrete, which probably wasn’t the flume-building material of choice in the 1890s – was that it curved.  As in, it snaked around bends.  A lot.  wouldn’t something carrying logs have to be straighter than that?  The Curious One in the party had a lot of questions, and she knew just where to get them answered – from the Forest Service guy at the ranger station! So, while Scott waited very patiently in the car (maybe he was doing business on our own vaction rental home?) I took dozens and dozens of flume and trestle pictures from every angle imaginable and then a few more, and then we drove back to the North Fork ranger station.

Our friend, the forest guy, was there and remembered us.  I guess we’re unforgettable!  He and another good old boy, who was talking with him when we came in, explained the flume deal to us, and here’s the scoop.  In the old days, yes, wooden flumes did carry logs long distances, both before and after they were milled.  However, none of those particular log flumes came through the North Fork area.  The flume we saw – and there are evidently several more in the area, as well – is a water flume, and it’s in use regularly by Pacific Gas & Electric, the company that generates, stores, and tranports power for the northen two-thirds of California.

It turns out that the primary natural resource in the Sierra Nevada is actually SNOW!  It snows heavily up there each winter, generally an average of seven to 21 feet per year.  Much of that snowmelt is captured and sent down the mountains in flumes that run above ground in some places (like the in-ground concrete and trestle-elevated metal flume we saw) and underground in others (in massive buried pipes).  Large volumes of water flow with great force and rapidity through turbines at, for example, the Manzanita power station and then into Manzanita Lake, just above North Fork.  The flume we saw is a conduit for the generation of hydroelectric power!  There are reservoirs high up in the mountains where the snowmelt water is stored, and when power needs to be generated, it’s released through the flume system.  I found this whole thing terribly interesting!  The one question I didn’t get answered was, “How long has that flume been there?”  The best answer the forest service guy could give was, “a long time.”  I couldn’t find any kind of date marker anywhere on or around it at that highway crossing, but I will guess that that flume was built sometime in the middle of the 20th century.

After that most satisfying jaunt, we headed back home for grilled kielbasa, more delicious veggie kabobs, and a movie.

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