No one’s seen Hodgee lately. Some hoped that as Lake Hodges disappeared, the monster would have fewer places to hide. That one day they’d be watching the sunrise from their quiet porches and suddenly catch a glimpse of a dark, lizardish hump — snaky Hodgee undulating through the water. At least it would provide something fun to talk about at the next town meeting or fire-station pancake breakfast. A Hodgee sighting would be a welcome break from the stress of dealing with the county water authority, building codes, lake-draining drought, arson fires, mud slides, shortcutting commuters, cars missing curves up on Del Dios Highway and tumbling into their back yards. And the newest influx of commuters who prefer $2 million North County clone houses with a Rancho Santa Fe address on a sterile golf course to 70-year-old fishing cottages under hundred-year-old oaks. But now the lake’s little more than a puddle, and Hodgee’s still nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s just had enough and moved on.
Every lake needs its own secretive monster, but Hodgee took his time making an appearance. About 1918, a year-round stream, a growing population, and a need for water begat the Lake Hodges Dam. The dam begat the lake, which of course attracted fishermen. The town of Del Dios (population in the mid-hundreds) began as a cluster of getaway cottages for San Diego anglers. Off the beaten path. A hamlet you wouldn’t know was there unless someone told you. Eventually weekenders became year-rounders. Poets, authors, artists, lawyers, retirees, die-hard hippies who maybe fished, maybe not.
Hodgee surfaced in the 1970s with a sighting report in a local newsletter. The community welcomed the amphibian; neighbors began recounting Hodgee sightings around the bar at the Del Dios Country Store. Disappearing cattle and hay bales were sure signs Hodgee had been around. For a TV interview, locals rigged up a compressor and air hose to create bubbles in the lake. On camera, they pointed to the bubbles and told the reporter that was where Hodgee usually slept. And if you don’t believe in Hodgee, then you need to see his website.
It’s not clear exactly who posted hodgee.com. Some outfit called the Lake Hodges Scientific Research Center, which traces Hodgee’s pedigree back to local Indian legends. Of course you’ll find the obligatory grainy photographs, unattributed quotes from highly placed sources, secret scientific investigations, and hush-hush attempts by government officials to poison the lake fish and Hodgee with them. So the monster lives on in the digital age.
Though it’s still green, shady, secluded, these days you can’t miss Del Dios. Blaring yellow signs on Del Dios Highway warn frustrated commuters that they can’t turn left, can’t roar down the hill and use dreamy, bucolic Lake Drive and Del Dios as a speedway shortcut home. Traffic backs up from Via Rancho Parkway to Rancho Santa Fe. The county water authority is about to burrow under the town with a huge pipeline from yet another new dam — because the population is growing, because we need water. It’s time for Hodgee to visit again. The community could use the encouragement.