Getting there and back

Many surprises have emerged during our lake explorations. For example, we were shocked at the difficulty in 
  • FINDING lakes on a map
  • LOCATING the final stages of a route to a lake
  • TRAVELING on the various roads to get to the lake
  • ACCESSING the water (getting past fences, walls, signs and landowners!)
This post deals with the challenge of getting there. When you go to a show, or the mall, or a friend's house, you might just hop in the car, take a bus, ride a bike or walk to the location. 

(this is being edited at the time of the coronavirus quarantine, when we can't go anywhere)

Most of those forms of transport require roads or rails. But roads and rails are built only when lots of people need to get somewhere. If few or no people are going to an obscure place like a pond, roads and rails don't exist. Or they can be very challenging, abandoned or prohibited.

Some roads say they are closed and are not really private roads. Near Lake Domingo the road did NOT say it was closed, yet we got chased (escorted) off the property.

My friend John came up with the best strategy - if you see mailboxes along the road, it's public and the mailman is going in/out. If the mailboxes are all at the front, and there's a gate, it's probably private.

Several times I've been told "It's not private, we just put up the signs to keep people out; go ahead." I haven't been yelled at or shot, yet.

Once we had a nice conversation with a woman at the top of a road down to an Indian pond; she said "Please respect our community and don't go in to that private pond, even for pictures, as it upsets the people who live on the other side of it." which I fully understand.

We have driven up and down the most severe grades I have ever experienced! This was a no-kidding first gear hill in my 260hp Honda Ridgeline.

and equally scary going down.

We've taken routes that aren't quite safe (so say the owners).

Some were treacherously dangerous (to my car's underbelly).

Some of the roads were very close to the water,

Others actually going through the water.

My recommendation is a higher-clearance vehicle. I prefer not to take my convertible or my hybrid car on the quest even though the fuel consumption of those vehicles is lower than the truck. I just can't park on a rough dirt should, whip a quick U-turn, or head through a puddle or patch of sand.

I started out plotting a route using maps on my 27" screen at home. I don't know the technical details of exactly why and when data get omitted when zooming in on digital maps, but using a large monitor shows you much more than you get navigating on the road with Garmin or mobile-phone-based navigation.

See my article on Maps and Tools.

Having the lake or pond's coordinates does not equate to getting there. 

Readers, let me emphasize that few remote lakes in hilly San Diego county have cellular phone signals! You can get within a mile and lose all track of where you are.

As some say, “If you don't have a plan you are bound to fail”. TRUE, but you might have a bit of fun, depending on your mood. I have driven to our North County area multiple times, and should have been able to view all the lakes. But I have NOT found some of them. 

EXAMPLE: South Lake Reservoir
I found South Lake on a satellite map but had a very hard time actually seeing it. No Parking signs, construction, temporary fencing, etc. deterred me. This isn't such a great view, either, taken in a driving rain.

EXAMPLE: Olivenhain Reservoir
We haven’t yet reached Olivenhain Reservoir, partly because I have some health issues that restrict me from making the 6 mile, 1750-foot elevation climb. We tried twice to find the parking lot for the hike, and failed both times due to weather and closed roads.

EXAMPLE: Little Laguna, Las Rasalies
I drove 60 miles to Mt. Laguna and couldn't get to Little Laguna, a few hundred feet off the road, because the Forest Service was doing controlled burning of the woods there. 

Luckily on our second visit we did see Little Laguna. But we didn't find Las Rasalies.


I have found to my dismay that at least 50% of the time I cannot input a lake name and get directions to it. The normal response is "Destination not found". So I first need to locate the lake by scanning the map, note the latitude and longitude, then find a street that looks as if it will have a view or passageway through surrounding homes, and drive there. Let me provide a few examples.

EXAMPLE: Del Mar Mesa Vernal Pond
Our first attempt to find this was a complete disaster. We tried 4 different entry points to the wilderness area, both driving and walking, then gave up for the day because the trails were marked as CLOSED. We went back another time and finally found it, but not without significant effort. You can read about it on its own page. VERNAL POND PAGE

EXAMPLE: Sweetware Reservoir
You can get glimpses of the lake from busy, high-speed roads, but can't drive up and sit and look at it (except from a great distance). Ironically, you can't see it from so-called "Lakeview Avenue" unless you have a house there.

Sweetwater view from the far east (La Presa Ave)  [click on any image to enlarge it]

Sweetwater view from the west (Sweetwater Summit Park)

On a completely different lake exploration, far upstream at Loveland Reservoir, a Sweetwater Water Authority employee told us to go through the Sweetwater fishing gate, which would take us directly to the reservoir. A few days later we did just that.

There we found a very nice, restful spot, with a fisherman who ignored us completely.

EXAMPLE: Turner Lake
An attempt to reach land-locked, un-fishable, un-drinkable-water, unreachable Lake Turner near Valley Center was made spontaneously. Our navigation system suggested a route that seemed to be possible and passible.

But it turned out to be impossible and impassible. At least for us in a low car. We had to turn around and creep up and out of badly maintained Burnt Mountain "Road".

We came back later by truck, and after a few dead ends, and talking to some local residents, finally saw it from a reasonable distance.

EXAMPLE: Black Mountain Dam / Pond 17b
Ponds seem to be arbitrarily named or numbered by city water department employees. This North County pond required a 10-minute hike off-road through scrub brush but it was rewarding to arrive at the water.

It is controlled by a very sharp-edged concrete dam with no safety features whatsoever...

It was larger than some lakes we've visited.

I’ve visited lakes mostly on weekdays, NOT on Saturday mornings competing with the fishermen. Thus I have often found lakes to be closed to visitors either at the main roadside, or a long distance down an entrance road. 

We drove about 10 miles to discover this sign, which turned us around.