Osprey, Indian Paintbrush, Eastern Fence Lizards, Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly, Big Sagebrush, Spring Star Cactus, Gambit Oak Leaf, Mule Deer, and Turkey is what you will find in Heron Lake State Park in northern New Mexico, about 12 miles south of Chama. Furthermore, El Vado Lake State Park is right next door (10 miles away) to Lake Heron.
If you are looking for peace and quiet, then consider checking this lake duo out. Elevation range is 7,180 ft to 7,340 ft. Fourteen women met on Friday at Lake Heron to spend the 4th of July Holiday weekend together. The goal: To kayak to our hearts content.
Many campgrounds are available at these lakes, primitive sites as well as sites with electricity and showers. Our group chose Brushy Point. The lake view from our camp was exquisite, with very little of those pesky mosquitoes! Dark clouds threatened several times, but the sky stayed calm for 3 days and 2 nights.
The first day out we all headed toward El Vado Lake State Park. We followed the channel back toward Heron Lake State Park to see if we could get through. Even though there has been lots of rain, the water level was dropping rapidly and we couldn’t get over to Heron Lake. The sun was intense even at 10 am, however the beauty of the surrounding cliffs and occasional wildlife made it all very enjoyable and mellow.
In fact, the whole weekend was pretty mellow. Just what I needed. Considering, the weekend before, a girlfriend and I had kayaked down the fast moving Rio Grande River from South Fork, Colorado about 7 miles. We took 2 vehicles to shuttle back and forth. Only things didn’t quite work out as we planned, because one of us locked their keys in my truck. But, that is another story… Everything worked out. Fortunately, a couple of gentlemen drove up at our out point and took me back to my truck.
Meanwhile, back at Heron Lake, later in the afternoon, Cathy and I ventured out Salmon Run Trail for a short walk in the forest. Flowers galore greeted us. This trail runs about 5 miles from the Visitor Center down to the dam. This dam diverts the waters of the San Juan River Basin to the arid Rio Grande Basin. Completed in 1972, the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project transports some 110,000 acre feet of water from the mountains of Colorado, across the continental divide through miles of underground tunnel. The water ends up at Heron Lake where it is collected behind the 1,250-foot-long dam. When it is needed downstream, water is released into the Rio Chama and flows to the Rio Grande where it services much of the state.
The evenings were warm, comfortable and full of laughter as well as a full moon bathing us at night.
The following morning, our group kayaked into Lake Heron where islands and coves beckoned us to explore, the overcast sky was welcoming. This lake felt bigger to me and at one point, I was rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the water.
Turns out there are a couple more hiking trails in these state parks. The East Meadow trail leads off from the Visitor Center for about 2.4 miles round trip. And the Rio Chama Trail which is 5.5 miles one way, connects Heron Lake and El Vado State Parks. Furthermore, in the summer, nature hikes are offered on Saturday mornings, weather permitting and also on Saturday evening, there is a free children’s movie, popcorn provided. This particular weekend there was also a dam presentation tour. I wasn’t able to attend, but I heard it was interesting. However, I plan on coming back to this oasis in the desert.
May the sun bring you new energy by day,
May the moon softly restore you by night,
May the rain wash away your worries,
May the breeze blow new strength into your being,
May you walk through the world,
And know its beauty all the days of your life.