Best of 2001: Best Place To Contemplate San Diego History

    Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park
    1 Father Junipero Serra Trail,
    Mission Gorge, San Diego

    With its rocky landscape and varied wildlife, Mission Trails Regional Park offers city dwellers an escape from the city. Suburban sprawl, industrial warehouses, and mobile homes nearby attest to community leaders' foresight in preserving these 5800 acres of wilderness. Yet within Mission Trails lies a vestige of human progress. For centuries, Kumeyaay Indians lived near San Diego River, whether its level was high or low, whether its banks were lush or arid. In 1774, Spanish settlers grew thirsty to divert the river's flow and establish a reliable water supply. After consulting with Mexican engineers, Franciscan Friars directed the Indians to build a dam. They mixed a mortar of lime and shells to hold together rocks and boulders. They also built a canal more than three miles long to reach the farmlands of Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Completed in 1816, Old Mission Dam is one of the western United States' first European-style water projects. The wall -- measuring 250 feet long, 10 feet thick, and 12 feet high -- formed a lake the size of three football fields. By 1831 floods damaged the structure, enabling nature to reclaim the river. The Old Mission Dam became a registered national historic landmark in 1977.

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