New Melones Dam

The Melones Dam Overlook & DamNation Documentary: For a Rainy Sunday

This Sunday I went for a walk down by the New Melones Dam, an area with a lot of Bureau of Reclamation signage. Curtis joked about trespassing, but this geocache owner says that a Bureau of Reclamation ranger said it was okay to walk in this area. I’m not saying it is for everyone, but if you are looking at visiting the New Melones/Peoria area trails I would recommend checking out the Historic Melones Dam Overlook if you into abandoned type areas.

From what I can gather the Melones Dam Overlook used to be a vista over the (old) Melones dam, built in 1926 by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts, and looked into the reservoir area. After the Bureau of Reclamation built the New Melones Dam, raising the height of the reservoir, this overlook simply offered a vista of the earthen dam wall. Over time it has become abandoned (which is inherently a little creepy, considering an overlook’s intent) and is now an overgrown parking lot, surprisingly nice pavilion, picnic tables, and non native trees. It’s definitely not an advertised destination, but last year the Bureau of Reclamation even opened up the road for “Customer Appreciation Day.” For now it is gated to prevent traffic, ask at the Visitor’s Center to ensure you are not breaking any restrictions.

Trailhead: Turn onto Obyrnes Ferry Rd from Hwy 120/108, the first right will be Peoria Flat Rd. Follow this road, curving right past the Conservation Camp and park at the Peoria Wildlife Area trailhead at the gate. Continue walking up the road to get to the overlook. Map
Distance: ~2 miles out and back

Melones Dam Overlook


After the hike I returned home to catch some football with Curtis, and then watched this documentary available now on Netflix instant. I had seen a preview of this before at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, and actually realized halfway through I had caught a few minutes of it at the Localizing California Water Conference (before I decided it was late at night and I needed to drive home to go to work the next day).

I am fascinated with the dams in my local area recently because of the 2014 drought’s transformation of the reservoirs into something vaugly resembling the rivers they once were. It’s startlingly and very powerful to see the difference between a human managed mass of water and wild living river. It makes you think about how we weigh the services dams provide versus the consequences of their existence and management. This documentary is a beautiful, sad, and sometimes empowering look at those choices. I fully recommend it especially if you live in the Western US , perhaps driving past a reservoir everyday as I do.