Keep Oakland Beautiful Point Of Interest: Lake Temescal.

Keep Oakland Beautiful Points Of Interest remind us of how interesting and beautiful Oakland is and why we should care about protecting it. Please click on the photos to enlarge and clarify them.

Lake Temescal 1

Located atop the Hayward Fault, a major earthquake zone that runs beneath the eastern side of the lake, Lake Temescal appears serene. Oakland’s second largest lake (after Lake Merritt) sits at the southeast corner of the junction of Highways 13 and 24, near the Caldecott Tunnel.

The lake gets its name from the creek that feeds it. ‘Temescal’ is derived from the word ‘temescalli,’ meaning ‘sweat house’ in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs of central Mexico. The name is several hundred years old and likely references former structures found along the creek, built by the local Ohlone people, that resembled heated huts used for sweat baths in 18th to 19th century New Spain, also called ‘temescalli.’

Temescal is a man-made lake, dug by Chinese immigrants almost 150 years ago as a source of drinking water. After the depression was excavated, the lake was created by damming Temescal Creek. It’s said that wild mustangs ran over the top of the earthen dam at the north end of the lake to compact and  strengthen and the dirt wall. The dam itself is 600 feet long, 16 feet wide, and stands 105 feet above Temescal Creek.

Due to sedimentation, the lake must be periodically dredged. It’s currently about 20 feet deep at the deepest part of the lake, only about a quarter of its former depth.

Soon after the lake was filled, the area became popular as a camping and recreation destination. In the early 20th century, a trestle of the Sacramento Northern Railroad was built in the east side of the Lake Temescal, supporting electric train traffic between Oakland, Concord, Sacramento, and Chico.

In 1936, Lake Temescal became one of the first three parks established by the East Bay Regional Park District. Lake Temescal Regional Park (the word, ‘Lake’ has since been removed) included a swimming area, a beach house (now available for weddings), a hiking trail, and picnic facilities. Today, the park serves about 200,000 annual visitors. The lake is stocked with fish (e.g., rainbow trout, large-mouth bass, red-ear sunfish, bluegill, catfish).

Lake Temescal 2

During the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991, water-dumping helicopters nearly drained Lake Temescal, while scooping up huge buckets of water to fight the horrific blaze. The lake was used again in 2009 to combat a smaller fire on the eastern side of the Caldecott Tunnel.

This past summer, the lake was closed to swimming for 46 days because of a toxic bloom of blue-green algae. To combat the algae and clean the water, the East Bay Regional Park District had to treat the lake water with an oxidizer and use a special truck to suck off surface scum. The algae was removed and the lake was reopened in time for Labor Day weekend. The District says it will act more aggressively, should the algae return, in order to keep the water clean and prevent a recurrence of this past summer’s closure.

Lake Temescal 3

When I walked around the lake recently, I encountered others walking dogs, jogging, and fishing. Despite the proximity to Routes 13 and 24, it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful. As I circled the lake, I saw coots, mallards, buffleheads, goldeneyes, cormorants, a great blue heron, a green heron, pied-billed grebes, wood ducks (shown below), a belted kingfisher, and a river otter (who dove beneath the surface before I could turn my camera his way — “argh!…”).
Lake Temescal 4

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

We encourage you to share your thoughts in the reply section. We welcome the dialogue and learning of others’ perspectives.


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