Our original plan was to go to Mesa Verde after Great Sand Dunes, but it didn’t open until April 15. So we decided to head back to New Mexico and then go into Utah. Highway 160 west took us crossing the Rockies at Wolf Creek Pass (Elevation 10,857 ft). Snow was still on the ground of the forest in the high mountains. After some steep switchbacks, we descended from the San Juan Mountains to Pagosa Springs, a tourist town with hot springs and a gateway to Wolf Creek ski area. I smelled light sulfur odor from the hot springs. But the hot spring spas in by the San Juan River were still crowded with people. San Juan River from the melting snow of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado appeared muddy flowing through town and enters Navajo Lake.
Leaving Pagosa Springs, we saw Chimney Rock, a rock formation that looks like a chimney, from Highway 151. Piedra River runs along the highway and it also empties into Navajo Lake. Lots of oil pumps were pumping oil from this mountain area along Highway 151. West of Highway 151 is the Southern Ute Reservation. Leaving Colorado, the familiar desert view of New Mexico welcomed us back. It was another one-hour drive to Navajo Lake State Park in New Mexico after we first saw the lake. The lake is very long and sits on Colorado and New Mexico. About 70 percent of the lake is in New Mexico.
The San Juan Basin around Navajo Lake is the second largest natural gas field in the nation and 6% of the natural gas production comes from here. Land in the park has been leased for oil/gas production. Significant signs for natural gas pipelines are staked on the campground. Water is such a precious gift from the nature. My friend Natasha, who lived in the canyon near Trinidad, Colorado, gave me feedback on the writing about Trinidad, that the underground water near Trinidad was contaminated from fracking for natural gas. This raised my concern about the water quality in the campground. I was alarmed to see milky water filled the pot when I turned on the faucet on our first campsite. It took a while for the water to become clear. I asked the ranger about the water quality. She said the water is not contaminated. We moved to another site and the water seemed to have less white water treatment chemicals. I only used the tap water for washing and cleaning and drank store bought spring water. I miss the crystal clear water from the high Sierras.
After moving several times in Navajo Lake State Park, we finally settled on a campsite with the view of Navajo Lake. Snow capped mountains sit in the northern horizon above Navajo Lake. The water of the lake was clear. The silt carried by the San Juan River is settled in the lake. Navajo Lake is in the remote northwest part of New Mexico. It is hard to believe that up to 840,000 visitors come to the lake each year. I walked down the trail to the beach. There laid beautiful big rocks with the texture of mosaic rocks. Utah juniper and pinyon pines are growing on layers of rocks on the hills. Sandstones and shale are the major rock formations around the lake. The huge boulders on the beach are smooth with nice textures providing natural seats. It was an easy walk along the beach to the marina. The Pine River Marina has a nice store and café. The staff in the store told me that the store and café are only about one-year old. The old store behind them is 50 years old. It seemed that they are doing good business. Who wouldn’t want to escape the city life and come to the lake to have some fun? Be it fishing, boating, camping, swimming, mountain biking, water-skiing or just sitting in the chair doing nothing.
Navajo Dam was completed in 1963. It controls the flow of the San Juan River and stores water for irrigation and municipal use. As with all dams, it did create some issues. Several native archeological sites were inundated. Some fish species are endangered, such as Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Undergoing recovery program is bringing them back. It is hard to find the balance between natural resources and human needs. Sustaining development on natural resources is critical to the preserve of the beauty and bounty of nature.