Pursue Your Own Path

Who’s Hodgee?

You’ve heard of Nessie, but many in San Diego don’t realize we have our own lake monster much closer to home! Hodgee sightings can be traced back to the Kumeyaay Indians in the area and sightings have continued ever since.

Here is a timeline of events courtesy of the Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center and check out their website for pictures and more information:

7000 BC – The earliest known Native American habitat in San Diego County is the Harris Site, located just downstream from the Lake Hodges Dam. The Harris Site was the seasonal home of the San Dieguito Indians.

1500 AD – The Kumeyaay Indians create the site known as Piedras Pintadas (“Painted Rocks”), which even to this day still has special significance to the Kumeyaay decendants.

1846 – Mule Hill, located on the north-eastern part of the lake is the site of a Mexican-American War battle. US Army General Stephen W. Kearny’s troops fought against those of Mexican General Andres Pico.

1916 – Col. Ed Fletcher convinces the Santa Fe Railroad to create a dam. Despite protests by the local Indian tribe, a dam site is found in an area known as the Crescent Valley. Surveying is completed and construction begins on the Lake Hodges project. There has long been a special documented significance to the lake. The river feeding the lake had run through the Del Dios valley for over 40,000 years. The idea was to make a much bigger lake by damming the drainage of Lake Hodges, thus providing a large, reliable water source for the developing Rancho Santa Fe area. Reports of Indian tribe warnings about a river creature are dismissed in the San Diego Union as “…ramblings attempting to stop the project…”

1917 – Bids are received on constructing the dam and flume. Newly hired Chief Engineer William S. Post and the San Dieguito Mutual Water Company board of directors select the Bent Bros. of Los Angeles as the general contractor.

1919 – Construction finishes daming the end of Lake Hodges to create a much larger lake. Total cost of construction by the San Dieguito Mutual Water Company is $350,000. Lake Hodges Dam officially approved as complete by the California State Engineer on Jan. 28, 1919. Water levels begin to rise. Via a 4.6 mile long flume, water flows to the San Dieguito Reservior. For the next 31 years (until 1949), Lake Hodges is the only source of water to Rancho Santa Fe. Also, the first bridge over Lake Hodges built at a cost of $80,000. It was originally called the Bernardo Station Bridge.

1921 – Two mines next to the lake begin extracting local rock using heavy equipment. Local San Diego fishermen report seeing “…a large disturbance…” in the water. Rumors that the Navy may have been conducting underwater tests on early submarines were denied by a U.S. Navy spokesman.

1923 – Complaints from local Lake Hodges fishermen are reported. Four days apart, both mine owners have their heavy rock extraction equipment pushed over or partially crushed. The mine owners blame each other; Sheriff reports that whoever did it appears to have used a boat to access the mine locations and wiped away footprints.

1924 – Plans are drawn up to put a second, upstream dam on the lake. The combined reservoir capacity would increase to 192,500 acre feet of water. The total cost of the new dam is estimated at a whopping $1,202,880. Plans are shelved until the 1960’s when the idea resurfaced briefly. One of the mines closes.

1925 – City of San Diego purchases Lake Hodges Dam for $490,000. Part of the deal includes a guaranty of cheap water for Rancho Santa Fe until after the turn of the century. The second mine closes. The area becomes a favorite for weekend outings.

1929 – Escondido Mayor John L. Offitt formally requests that the City of San Diego look into reports of a creature in Lake Hodges. San Diego Mayor Harry C. Clark turned the project over to the University of California and their Scripps Institute of Oceanography for review.

1930 – Researchers found no conclusive evidence of any sort of creature in the lake, although one assistant did report seeing a “…lizard-like…” head “…protruding from the surface…” This prompts an internal memo in Scripps suggesting more research is needed.

1931 – A boat docked on a small pier is destroyed. Police find no footprints near the sandy beach entrance to the pier and note in their report that there appears to have been “…great turmoil under the water along the base of the pier, from a boat or underwater vessel…or perhaps a large creature.”

1932 – At the behest of Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s director Thomas W. Vaughan, attempts were made to capture the Lake Hodges monster. A large cage-like trap was created and a small California sea lion was secured inside as bait. Cameras held underwater in glass containers were secured to buoys nearby.

While no lake creature was captured by the cage, the sea lion bait disappeared and one astonishing photograph was taken from one of the buoy cameras. Subsequent attempts to capture the creature resulted in smashed cameras and buoys, and the project was finally cancelled after an outcry ensued when it became public knowledge that sea lions were being used as bait. These research projects were not to start again for some time.

1936 – Dam reinforcements begin officially in April by Vice Mayor Walter Wurfel and Sam I. Fox, City Water Commisioner. They are completed on 12/22/36 at a total cost of $145,000.

1941 – In light of protests some 9 years earlier, Scripps scientists funded by what was to become the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research worked with students on a research project using a new approach: A large section of the lake was placed off-limits to fishermen, and a trip-wire was held 12″ under the water and connected to a bank of cameras. After three months with no results, another incredible photo was taken. Shortly thereafter, all research was put on hold as San Diego prepared itself for the war effort.

1947 – Life returns to normal, and the Lake Hodges monster is forgotten by the public. Former Scripps Institute researcher Roger Revelle, now head of the Geophysics Branch of the U.S. Office of Naval Research, pumps money into Scripps. He later returns to become Associate Director and eventually Director of Scripps.

1955 – As part of the four-lane Highway 395, the second bridge over Lake Hodges was built at a cost of $288,000. The original bridge from 1919 was kept intact in case this new one flooded over.

1956 – Using thousands of pounds of highly toxic chemicals which impair cell respiration (Rotenon, C23H22O6), officials kill virtually all of the fish in the lake by causing the fish to asphyxiate. The lake was then restocked with new fish. The official reason was to get rid of carp. An anonymous statement written on City of San Diego letterhead stated that officials were attempting to kill any creature in the lake — including the monster.

1958 – Lake Hodges closes for fishing while studies take place.

1966 – A pleasant two-family picnic outing turned frightening when a large creature surfaced about 50 yards offshore. Although this photo was the only clear one, there were seven eye witnesses whose stories, even under scrutiny, all corroborated. This indicates that either Hodgee does not have a standard respiratory system, was not in the lake at the time, or that the quantity of poison put into the lake in 1956 was not high enough.

1968 – The original Lake Hodges bridge torn down using a wrecker’s steel ball.

1969 – The current Lake Hodges bridge over Highway 15 is completed. It is 203.6 meters long, and was widened once in 1981. There are proposals to widen it a second time with an extra lane in each direction.

1970’s – California State University, San Diego professor Gary L. Peterson and California Division of Mines and Geology geologist Michael P. Kennedy discover and map an ancient earthquake fault that runs directly through the center of Lake Hodges (faults shown in red). A sewage line crosses the bottom of the lake close to the location of the fault.

1977 – Lake Hodges opens for fishing for the first time since 1958, putting a legal end to the almost 19-year-old practice of poaching fish.

1985 – Proving that there are some seriously large fish in Lake Hodges, the 2nd largest bass ever caught in the US, weighing in at 20 pounds, 5 ounces was snared by Gene Dupras. Also in 1985, former Navy chief boatswain mate and newly retired Lake Hodges damkeeper Morgan A. Tidwell publicly confirms the existence of Hodgee to news reporters from TV stations, the San Diego Union and others.

1998 – For the third time in 5 years, excessive water spills over the dam (1993, 1995 and 1998). Also in 1998, a sewer line running under Lake Hodges breaks and spills more than 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the lake. The lake was shut down for 5 days and then reopened for fishing and recreational use. Sewage spills had happened in the past, e.g., 1981 (45,000 gallons), twice in 1987 (300 gallons, 3,000 gallons), once in 1990 (14,400 gallons), etc.

1999 – LHSRC Researchers using sophisticated equipment trying to detect Hodgee.

TODAY – Hodgee is very well known among locals. There have been TV reports, news articles and even cartoons. Hodgee has also inspired artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle, public artwork such as that in Kit Carson Park, and even local businesses such as McDonalds (at Valley Parkway & Ash) have been involved.


Materials © Copyright by Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center