Any urban explorer would agree that dams rank high up there in terms of urban adventure. Not only do they have historical value but their unique architecture makes them easy to admire aesthetically. Dams are generally not safe to explore, but if you feel brave enough, here are our Top 5 Favorite dams of San Diego:
Lake Hodges Dam
Lake Hodges Dam is a multiple-arch dam that sits on the San Dieguito River. It was commissioned by the Volcan Water Company and designed by John S. Eastwood. It was completed in 1918, and later purchased by the city of San Diego. Water from the Lake Hodges Reservoir services the customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District and the San Dieguito Water District. This is a crazy adventure inside a massive dam. One cannot truly grasp the enormity of this dam unless seen in person.
We have shot several music videos at this dam thanks to the phenomenal acoustics. This dam is impressive, being over 160 feet in height with gorgeous archways and buttresses. If you hike the perimeter you may be lucky enough to find an abandoned homestead and some small graves (most likely someone’s beloved pet).
The dam was originally completed in 1897 by the Southern California Mountain Water Company. It was a rock-fill type but due to heavy rains in 1916, (rumored to have been created by the infamous rainmaker Charles Hatfield) the dam burst, killing 14 people. The flood filled the Otay Valley with walls of water ranging from 20 to 100 feet in height! Entire farms and buildings were swept away. Charles Hatfield, who had been hired by the City of San Diego to assist in increasing rainfall to fill nearby Morena Reservoir, was deemed responsible for the flood and the city attempted to sue him. After this event the present Arch-gravity dam was built in 1918 and given the name Savage Dam. The Lower Otay Reservoir, which this dam was created for, has a water storage capacity of 49,848.9 acre feet.
Lake Wohlford Dam
To me this area seems like a biker or skateboarder’s paradise. There are drops, hills and ledges and compared to the other dams I’ve explored, this one is not nearly as dangerous because there aren’t 100 ft. drops to your death. It can still be dangerous though. There are no trails that lead to it so expect the trek to leave you quite roughed up and dirty. If you’re determined to see it though, you will find it.
Black Mountain Dam
Right on the outskirts of a busy town lays some of the few remains of slower times. The dam was built in 1927 and is of the Constant Radius Arch type. There was once nothing but fields, scattered homesteads and a bunch of cows around the resevoir. Boy have times changed.
The pond was drained a few years back to repair the dam. I have been told that the draining occured during the wildfires we had several years ago and aided the region with putting the fires out. Fishers say that fishing has never been the same since. There used to be a lot of bass and when they were draining the dam, some fishermen walked upon a large fish dying.
Out in the fields lays the remains of several destroyed homesteads. Some of these foundations date back to the early 1900’s.