This weekend we find ourselves in the jungles of central Guam, venturing deep into a valley sitting behind Nimitz Hill in Asan, en route to a century-old water dam built to provide a source of fresh water for the village of Hagåtña during the early American era of the island.
The historic Fonte River Dam was built in 1910 as part of an organized effort of the U.S. Navy to provide a reliable water supply to the island’s major settlement.
Coming from either the south or the north up Nimitz Hill, you’ll find a designated parking lot outside of the ComNavMarianas building, while some people might also opt to park across that parking lot on the grass.
From the parking lot, you should be able to find a blue “Historical Trail” sign on the same side as the substation, pointing right. Follow the sign down a sloping hill, passing a string of power poles that extend across the path.
Count the poles along your way, as the hiking path will actually start on a diverted and somewhat hidden path, between the sixth and seventh poles.
Passing the sixth pole, keep an eye out on the left-hand side to find the hidden path just before you reach the seventh pole. At the entrance to this path, you should see a small rock with a “Fonte Dam” sign on it. It's very old and dilapidated, so it might be hard to see. Turn in here.
At first, this path is quite narrow and you’ll have to fight your way through thick vegetation, including sword grass, but, rest assured, that this will only last a few minutes, while the rest of path is much more open and very easy to follow all the way to the dam. At times, you will travel down short sloping hills and through a spot of jungle, but the trail is still open-ended.
In less than a mile and about 20 minutes or so later, you should find yourself at the top of the dam.
It’s easy to walk right past the top of the dam, as the path is covered in brush – but if you see the dam on your descent, be sure to stop at the top first for a great view.
Standing atop the 150-foot-long and 24-foot-high dam, know that you are standing on a century-old structure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
The dam was originally built with red bricks, which are visible sometimes; but for the most part, it looks like any other aged structure, covered with mud, moss, and grime.
As you continue your descent to the bottom of the dam along the same path, be sure to use nearby trees and the rope as handholds.
At the dam's base, take some time to explore it up close, but be aware of extremely slippery rocks. There is a pretty thick rope running down the face of the dam, which hikers use for fun and to test strength, as they try to climb up the dam’s wall.
After spending some time exploring, you might want to take a dip in the swimming area before you. It's less than six feet deep and great for wading and cooling off on a hot, humid day.
And if, after your cooling dip, you're game for more, you can explore two more fun things on this hike: a second swimming hole, and a vista of the vast valley between Asan and Agana Heights, with a distant view of Hagåtña.
Down to the old swimming hole (easy hike)
At the base of the dam, face downriver and find the path on the left riverbank. You’ll be following this path for about 15-20 minutes to reach the swimming hole.
This is a beautiful route, flat and easy to traverse for the most part, under jungle canopy and along flowing fresh water.
There will be about two or three times along this path that you will need to step down onto the dry river bed to get around a tree or hill, so be sure to watch your footholds along the way.
Note that there may also be times where walking over the riverbed is easier, but be careful walking over moss-covered rocks and wet ground.
At the end of the mostly straight river route, you'll come to a large sloping hill. To the right, you can gaze over the small cavernous swimming hole.
To get to the bottom, walk back across the river and up the large hill, looking over the steep, but obvious path to get down below you. Watching your footing and using the surrounding rock as handholds, make your slow and cautious descent to the bottom of the hill.
Reaching the bottom, traveling right toward the swim hole, hop over the stable rocks to get to the other side. You made it!
A hidden treasure, this swim hole is a nice treat in the middle of the jungle in the heart of the Fonte River. There are a few rocks to stand and sit on here, and the water, at eight to 10 feet deep, is great for swimming.
Up the hill for a great view (medium hike)
This hike takes you in the opposite direction of the swimming hole.
At the edge of the Fonte Dam area, where the river flows into the jungle, a tree stands before the path that leads up the hill. Cross the river here and follow the path up the hill.
Note that this hill is steeper – and harder to climb – than any of the preceding hills. The overlook will take about 10-15 minutes to reach.
Following the distinct path uphill, you will soon reach flat ground. While there might be colorful flags and a path to the right, be sure to take the path to the left through a bed of ferns that slowly ascend.
At the end of this path, you should be atop the large hill, with a view of the wide, green valley and of Hagåtña in the distance. Here, you'll feel like you're on top of the world!
To get back home – from either the swimming hole or the overlook – just retrace your footsteps to Fonte River Dam, and from there back to your car. Happy hiking!