RV Saga

Rio Chama Valley and Heron Lake State Park


Mesas and Heron Lake

Leaving Rio Bravo Campground, we went through Taos and across Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, then took Highway 64 west crossing Tusas Mountains. It was an easy drive in the Carson National Forest until we passed the Summit Pass (el. 10,505 ft.). Then the mountain road took some deep switchbacks down the mountains. There was little snow left on the ground in the mountains. Some deciduous trees were still bare. When we got to lower elevations, we were surprised to see an oasis swelled with creeks. The creeks might originate from the melting snow. People live in the mountains raising horses on their ranches. It is a total different image of the stereotype landscape of New Mexico.

We came down the mountains near Tierra Amarilla, and got on Highway 84, then we took Road 531 heading west, thinking that might be a shortcut to Heron Lake State Park. The road was OK at first, but when the roadside sign said “Narrow Road,” we had no way to turn around but to keep going. We started to get a little worried. Our trailer drove through the narrow country road among houses, farms and a small town. Finally, we came to the intersection of Highway 84.  It seemed like we made a U turn among the maze of the country road. Eventually, we took Highway 84 north and then turned onto 95 to Heron Lake.

The scenic Rio Chama Valley is a hidden gem in New Mexico. Rio Chama River winds its way through the valley, and confluences with Rio Grande. It is a beautiful valley with mountain view, green trees, and horse ranches along Highway 84 towards Chama. “It looks like Michigan!” Stephen said. The lush green trees, lilacs, and tulips sure reminded us of Michigan. We were excited to see six cute lamas on a ranch. Two of them were white, two were brown, and two were black. The country view of Rio Chama Valley was pleasing.

Rio Chama River is one of the rivers that feeds Heron Lake, a lake with ever changing scenery. From the lines of vegetation on the beach, it seemed that the size of the lake has shrunk significantly. The hillside was filled with blooming white desert primroses. Gentle mesas lie on the west of the lake. The lights and shades of Heron Lake were mesmerizing. Sometimes it was blue, another time it was green. Occasionally it was a lake without waves that had mirror images of the surroundings on the surface of the lake. Walking down to the shoreline, sitting on the dead stump on the rocky riverbed, and enjoying the serene scenery were my daily retreat when we were camping at Heron Lake Campground.

The lake came to life with wildlife. A couple of ospreys perched on the bare trees on the hill, then took flight and hovered above the lake. One time, an osprey was eating its catch by the shore. Another time, an osprey was standing in the shallow water. A few grebes were making their exotic mating dances on the lake. One grebe bent its elegant neck back, stroked its plumes, and the other would do the same. The finale was a quick duo tiptoe dancing across the water accompanied by a loud sound of splashing water and flapping wings. Some ducks and Canada geese also made appearance here. White throated swifts crisscrossed in the air.

The edge of the hill by the lake has layers of rectangular rocks. They were so uniform as if they were machine cut. At the north end of the hill, the layers of rocks formed two levels of smooth walls. It was hard to believe that they were natural rock walls. Part of the rock wall has tumbled. Some trees at the edge of the hill only had the last grip of the soil with exposed roots. Don’t know how long they could hang in there. Dry tumble weeds piled up among the tall ponderosa pines and junipers at the edge of the hill. Desert plants such as sagebrushes, and yucca hug the ground. Some small wild flowers were in bloom, such as red Indian painted brushes. Temperature sometimes dropped below freezing at nights and heated up to 70s during the day. Because of the severe draught, fire restriction was in effect. Lots of clouds formed above but there was no rain for an extended period. The wind picked up and the waves were high on the lake. Fish jumped in the air. Dark clouds covered the sky above the lake as if it was going to rain. The surface of the lake shone reflecting the sun. But it didn’t rain until late afternoon the next day. The rain seemed to green up the grass. And the air smelled fresher. Even the bark of the pines emitted a creamy aroma.

The notice on the wall of the bathroom notified us that we were in a cougar country and bear country. And it is advised not to go out alone at dawn and at dusk. So we didn’t go to the lake at these times to see the sunrises and sunsets. Our stay in Heron Lake State Park was a quiet time for trailer improvements and reflections. Stephen installed a string of LED lights in the cupboard and waxed the trailer. I finished the movie of our 2017 RV Saga Travelogue. We met a tough little elderly lady from San Diego who was traveling in her van. She has been on the road for several months and planned to travel until the end of September.


A Singing Spotted Towhee

A Female-Evening-Grosbeak

A Female Evening Grosbeak

A Clark's-Nutcracker

A Clark’s Nutcracker

Heron Lake State Park is a peaceful place. We saw mule deer crossing the forest in the morning. Everyday, a humming bird favored the top of the same stick of the tree near our campsite. A couple of lizards liked to take some sun on the edging wooden trim of the site. We were thrilled to see a beautiful yellow western tanager with a red face. Evening grosbeaks like to eat the clusters of flowers on the trees. Clark’s nutcrackers like to visit the big pine by our campsite. They have distinctive harsh calls. And they could store tens of thousands of seeds for winter and have the ability to locate them later. A red-eyed spotted towhee sang a beautiful song on top of a tree. I have heard the same familiar loud bird call around the campground. At last, it finally showed its face when it proudly announced its existence by singing on top of a tree. I got a long shot of it. From the photo and its song, I think it might be a western meadowlark.

I hope the monsoon will bring some rain in summer and give some relief to Rio Chama Valley and keep it green.


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