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Diamond Valley Lake lies between two mountains in California's Inland Empire tourism region. The 4,500-acre lake is Southern California's newest and largest reservoir. It has only been at full pond since 2002 and already has been crowned the "Jewel" of California lakes, with a reputation for excellent fishing.
The Metropolitan Water District created Diamond Valley Lake mainly as an emergency source of water. Three earth-core rock-filled dams were built to create the lake; this type of construction uses materials available within the project's borders. The construction of the West Dam, East Dam and the Saddle Dam is one the largest earthwork projects in the history of the United States. The West Dam is 285 feet high, 9,100 feet long and 1200 feet wide at its base and spans 40 feet at its crest. The East Dam is 185 feet high, 10,500 long, 800 feet wide at the base and 40 feet wide at the crest. The smallest dam is the Saddle Dam, measuring 130 feet high, 2,300 feet long, 720 wide at the base and at the crest it is 40 feet wide.
Excavation began in 1995 and construction started a year later. There are some big numbers associated with this construction project: More than 5000 people were employed during the course of this project. Caterpillar 789 Model trucks were used to build Diamond Valley Lake's East Dam -- these trucks are so big -- 40 feet by 20 feet -- that they could not be driven on public streets. They were brought to the site in pieces and assembled at the reservoir. When full of rock they weighed 350 tons. The entire lake project cost nearly two billion dollars.
The Diamond and Domenigoni valleys, southwest of the City of Hemet, have a reputation for fossil finds and the area has been affectionately named the Valley of the Mastodons. During the excavation for the dams the bones and skeletons of extinct mastodons, mammoth, camel, sloth and long-horned bison were uncovered. Many paleontogists and archaeologists say the find rivals that of the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
A visit to Diamond Valley Lake should also include a stop at the Western Center for Archaeology & Paleontology. There you can see some of the finds from the Diamond Valley Reservoir construction. The exhibitions range in age from 230,000 years old to modern finds. As you enter the museum, you pass through geological time lines and can play the "dating game" in the Discovery Lab -- learn how these fossils made it from the field to the museum. Visitors can also compare themselves to the animals that use to roam the area: a 10-foot mastodon and a 12-foot mammoth.
Chances are that if you are heading to Diamond Valley Lake, you are doing so to fish. The department of Game and Fish started stocking the lake with the best largemouth bass it could find as soon as the lake was deep enough to support the fish. The lake opened to fishing in October 2003. Growth of lake fish populations has been unmatched so Diamond Valley Lake has quickly become a premier fishing spot for bass and trout in Southern California.
In addition to largemouth bass and rainbow trout, Diamond Valley Lake is home to blue gill, catfish, crappie, pan fish, smallmouth bass, and striped bass. The record largemouth bass, reeled in back in 2007, weighed in at more than 16 pounds. If you area hoping to catch a rainbow trout you can bank on a six-to-ten-pound fish. An angler pulled in the lake's record trout from the shore -- it tipped the scales at 11.3 pounds. A striped bass holds the record for the largest fish caught in DVL; snagged in 2005, that one weighed 29.77 pounds.
Diamond Valley Lake can handle about 300 boats at one time but with ongoing drought and lack of recreational development, it rarely reaches that traffic level. Currently there are boating restrictions due to low water levels and a quagga/zebra mussel infestation. For current conditions, check with the California Department of Game and Fish before your visit.
In October 2008, private boat launches were suspended because the water level on Diamond Valley Lake dropped below the concrete boat ramp. In July 2009, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced it would extend part of the boat ramp and reopen by February 2010, just in time for the spawning bass season. Fisherman have still been cruising the lake by using the Diamond Valley Marina rental fleet.
You can also fish by land. When the MWD closed the lake to private boats, it increased the amount of shoreline open to anglers to 6.5 miles -- this stretch of shoreline is northwest of the marina boat ramp. You will need a reservation because there is limited parking and should repare for some rugged terrain, as well. Shoreline fishing on Diamond Valley Lake offers beautiful mountain views from private coves and has signs marking well the area designated for shoreline fishing.
Swimming and personal watercrafts are not allowed on Diamond Valley Lake. Kayaks and canoes that meet lake guidelines for quagga/zebra mussel prevention are allowed to launch as long as the water level is high enough for boarding from the docks.
Hiking and biking is another way to enjoy lake and mountain vistas of Diamond Valley Lake, as well as the great volume of wildflowers that naturally decorate the area. Visitors are encouraged to hike or bike the Lake View Trail. The 21.8-mile loop around the lake takes hikers over the three dams and offers amazing lake views. The six-mile North Hills Trail is open to hikers and equestrians; this trail offers breathtaking views of the San Jacinto Valley. Both trails meander through the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve. The 13,500-acre reserve surrounds the lake and is home to at least 16 sensitive, endangered or threatened native California animals and plants.
Stray a short distance from Diamond Valley Lake and a unique camping opportunity waits. Camping by permit is available at Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness Park. A permit is required to protect the sensitive eco system of the area. Mount San Jacinto is the second highest mountain range in Southern California. The growing season is short because of the high altitude. Plant life has little opportunity to recover from overuse from one season to the next, so steps need to be taken to protect these areas so they are not lost forever. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway starts in Chino Canyon near Palm Springs. The tram takes passengers from Valley Station at 2,643 feet elevation to an elevation of 8516 feet at Mountain Station on the edge of the wilderness. Mountain Station features a restaurant, gift shop, snack bar, and the state park visitor center. A short walk from the station will take you to Long Valley and the Long Valley Ranger Station. There you will find a picnic area with barbecue stoves and restrooms, a ski center, a self-guiding nature trail, and Desert View Trail which offers panoramas of the high country including several peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. You can also enter the hiking trail system from this point. Pacific Crest Trail, the gem of America's scenic trails, spans 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. It runs through three western states and passes through five California state parks including Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness Park.
Some of the oldest National Forest Land is near Diamond Valley Lake. The San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountain Ranges were designated a National Forest more than a hundred years ago. In the present, the San Bernardino National Forest is Southern California's year-around outdoor recreation destination. Mountain biking, ATV trails, fishing, camping hiking and wildlife viewing are just some of the activities the Park has to offer. The San Bernardino National Forest has three Ranger Districts on nearly 677,000 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Travel south of Diamond Valley Lake to visit Palomar Mountain State Park. More spectacular views of the Pacific can be taken in at the 1862-acre state park. Palomar Mountain State Park offers camping, picnicking, hiking, and trout fishing in Doane Pond. Call in advance to find out what areas of the park are open. Budget cuts have prompted the closing of the Doane Valley Campground, Doane Valley day use area, including the Doane Pond, Cedar Grove Group Camp and Boucher Lookout from November 30th to March 31st. All trails in the park are also closed during this time.
Diamond Valley Lake is located in the City of Hemet. In addition to the marina, trails, museum and nature reserve, there is an aquatic center. The pool has a "beach entry" at the shallow end and gradually deepens to seven feet. There is a children's play area with waterspouts and waterfalls in the shallow end and a 24-foot water slide at the other end. Continued development is planned in the lake area, including a residential development, restaurants and shops. Area vacation rentals come in the form of cabins to hillside mansions and, if you like the area, the City of Hemet and Riverside County have real estate available for purchase.
Diamond Valley Lake sits in the middle of a wilderness. It offers a chance to connect to your wild side yet is close enough to civilization to provide all the creature comforts and culture a person could need. Come and enjoy.
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