Navajo State Park ~ Colorado
The lower elevation lakes of the mountain west do have a much longer summer season than the lakes that are located way up high in the mountains. Springtime happens during the spring season instead of July and the warm temperatures last till late autumn, instead of late August. How many feet above sea level a lake destination is does make quite a difference when making travel plans and so do recent weather trends. After a winter of severe drought, the shorelines in western lakes greatly recede and the lack of water can make drought stricken lakes unnavigable. On the opposite extreme, after a heavy winter snow melt, the lakes in mountain regions can literally overflow and the lakeside campgrounds can be like swamps. As can be gathered, checking on the lake conditions is best to do before packing the bags and setting sail for an aquatic destination in the western mountains.
The reason the forewarning was mentioned is because the west has been subject to severe droughts in recent years and there is nothing like arriving at a lakeside picnic area, just to find out that there is no water there. This actually happens quite often, because modern mapping systems usually only picture a full big blue lake on a map, instead of depicting the actual current size of the body of water. In some cases, even the dry lakes in the desert will appear to be an aquatic playground when looking at a map, but when you get there, the lake ends up being nothing more than a pile of dust.
Receding reservoir lake shorelines have been a trend out west due to years of drought and because of natural resource depletion. The demand for water is high and this makes the problem even worse. Nearly every man made lake in the Rocky Mountain Range acts as a snow melt flood retention dam and a water reservoir, so these lakes are drained just before winter begins to make room for the spring season snow melt. If it is a winter of drought, then the reservoir lake will likely never be completely full during the summer season and this can leave boaters up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Reservoir lakes can have wide swings in water levels, so once again, checking on the lake conditions prior arrival is best to do.
The Navajo Reservoir Lake is located in the mountains on the Colorado and New Mexico Border. This lake is managed as Navajo State Park by both Colorado and New Mexico. The deep water end of the lake is in New Mexico near the Navajo Dam and the shallow end of the pool is in the Colorado side of the line. Because the Colorado section of the Navajo Reservoir is shallow, the actual shoreline can vary greatly, depending on drought or a heavy snow melt conditions.
The Navajo Dam serves as a snow melt flood retention device for the San Juan River, which flows all the way west to Lake Powell, where it merges with the Colorado River. A lot of snow melt water flows down from the San Juan Mountains into this river, so flood water management is necessary. The Navajo Reservoir Lake provides drinking water to this arid high desert region, which is well known for dry river beds during the summer season.
The Navajo Reservoir Lake is a big body of water that is often compared to Lake Powell. Both of these reservoir lakes are subject to wide swings in lake water levels, but the overall trend has been depletion in recent decades. This can be frustrating when making plans, as I found out at Lake Powell a few weeks ago. I drove a long Jeep trail to the north end of Lake Powell near Hite and when I got to the end of the dirt road, there was no lake to be found. There was nothing but dry mud and after looking at satellite images back home, it would have been a very long walk to get to where the shoreline currently is located. Needless to say, there were no majestic Lake Powell views that day.
The same can be said about my visit to Navajo State Park in Colorado, which is the north end of Navajo Lake. Because the San Juan River flows south, the shoreline in the northern end of the lake can vary by more than a few hundred yards between seasons of drought and heavy snow melts. On the day I visited this State Park, it was after a winter of severe drought and of course, the map depicted the lake as being full. Every lakeside campsite in the north end of Navajo Lake looked like a dried up ghost town graveyard that day, so I had to travel many miles further south just to actually see water.
After finally arriving at the main body of deep water, it truly was a beautiful sight to see! Desert lakes are always fascinating to look at and this high desert lake setting is as picturesque as can be. Towering rock outcrops and high mesa plateaus covered with sparse juniper and piñon forests surround the branching arms of Navajo Lake. Plenty of colorful barren sandstone bedrock can be seen too, which adds a bright contrast to the deep blue water. The Navajo Lake setting certainly is like paradise in this mountainous high desert region!
Finding the way to points of interest around Navajo Lake is easy to do, because both State Road 151 (paved) and County Road 169 (dirt road) run along either side of the long Colorado Navajo State Park shoreline. The town of Arboles is located at the deep end of the lake and amenities can be found in this area. The Windsurfing Beach is located near Arboles too. It is easier to get to the main marina in New Mexico by boat from here, but the winding roads will eventually get to the marina in the New Mexico Navajo State Park.
There are many campsites in the Colorado Navajo State Park, but as mentioned earlier, some of the campsites are no longer on lakefront real estate because of water depletion. For this reason, it is best to check the Colorado Navajo State Park website for campsite and point of interest locations, then take a look at recent satellite images with a mapping system. Confirming the Navajo State Park destinations ahead of time will save plenty of time scrambling for a better spot when arriving in the blind.
The deep end of Navajo Lake certainly is navigable and there is a lot of room to roam. There are many hidden coves between the branching high mesas, so some cozy house boat spots can be found. This big lake is a haven for small sail boats and wind surfing, especially during the breezy spring season. The Colorado Navajo State Park is where the lush green mountain meadows meet the water and this end of the shoreline sure is a peaceful place to be!