Before I tell you about our week, I have to mention that this is blog post number 250! Since today marks 716 days on the road, that means we’ve published a blog post on average every 3 days. Not too bad. Okay…onto the lake. This week we’re staying at Cochiti Lake.
This lake, like so many others that we’ve found here in New Mexicio, is the result of a dam on the Rio Grande River. Originally the dam was constructed as a mechanism for flood and sediment control only, but the state said if you’re gonna build a dam why not give us a permanent area of water for fish, wildlife, and people to enjoy? By some miracle the government listened to this logic, and between 1965 and ’75 the dam and two recreation areas on either side of the lake were constructed.
The 5.5 mile long dam is one of the ten largest earthfill dams in the U.S. While you can no longer drive on the road that traverses across the dam, you can walk or bike it. Which we did on Monday afternoon. We biked the entire length of the dam, and even though the water disappeared not long after mile two, we found some really nice views of the surrounding landscape.
There are two campgrounds at Cochiti Lake. Tetilla Peak on the east side, and Cochiti on the west side. For no particular reason we chose to stay at the Cochiti Campground. The campground, like the dam, is run by the Army Corps of Engineers. This is only our second time staying at an ACE campground. Not because we don’t like them, but because we tend to seek out other public camping opportunities such as state parks, national forests and BLM areas first. I suspect we will end up utilizing a lot more ACE campgrounds when we travel through the middle and eastern part of the country where national forest and BLM campgrounds tend to be less prevalent.
When we arrived on Monday we pretty much had the choice of any site we wanted. We must have timed it just right because the camp host told us that all 300 sites on both sides of the lake were full over the holiday weekend. Which is exactly why we decided to stay put in Santa Fe until the masses cleared out. Cochiti has a few loops with electric and water hookups, a few without, and some sites with views of the lake. We first had our eye on a site in the no hook-ups loop closest to the water, but there were some larger groups of campers down there that looked like the rowdy, run the generator 8 times a day types, so we bypassed that area in favor of the much quieter Elk Run loop. With the exception of a few overnight tent campers, we’ve had the entire loop to ourselves all week.
That’s not to say the campground has been empty, but every other RV in the park is in the nearby loop with electric and water hook-ups. Given a choice we almost always choose the dry camping sites. For the most part they tend to be nicer, quieter, and less expensive. Since we get all the power we need from our solar panels, and can easily go a week without a water hook-up provided we utilize the campground showers, there’s really no reason not to choose a dry site. Well, there is one reason. The one thing our solar panels (or generator) cannot power is the air conditioner. We really prefer not to use the AC, and try our hardest to stay away from temps that necessitate its use. But sometimes the heat just sneaks up on us. Like this past Tuesday when it climbed into the high 90s (which means it’s at least 10 degrees hotter in the Airstream) and while we sweated our you-know-what’s off, we wondered out loud why we hadn’t payed the extra six bucks per night for a site with electric. Thankfully the heat only lasted a few days and right now it’s a perfect 80 degrees with a light breeze.
The main reason we wanted to stay at Cochiti Lake was to visit a very cool rocky landscape called Tent Rocks. I know, I know…another geologic wonder in New Mexico. Will it ever stop? Will we ever run out of crazy rocks and caves and sinkholes and gigantic swaths of sand to explore? I beginning to think the answer is no. This state is just full of surprises.
The tent rocks are cone-shaped rock formations that formed 6 to 7 million years ago as the result of volcanic explosions. Pumice, Ash and Tuff rained down on the area during the explosions leaving behind a 1,000-foot thick layer. Over the years the layers have eroded into amazing cone and spires, some with balanced rocks on top.
There are several ways to explore the rocks, including two hiking trails and a drive to an overlook. We chose the 3-mile round trip Canyon Trail hike that took us through a slot canyon and up to the top of the mesa where we had views for miles. The slot canyon was a short but impressive jaunt through layered and sculptured rocks, and when we exited on the other side we found ourselves in the middle of strange world filled with gigantic rock cones and spires. The hike itself wasn’t too difficult, although there is a steep scramble at the end to reach the top of the mesa. The view was more than worth the exertion, and we even caught a glimpse of Cochiti Lake far off in the distance.
Another New Mexico must see checked off the list! Up next we visit Bandelier National Monument to view the cliff dwellings, and then onto Taos in search of some cooler mountain temperatures.