Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cochiti Lake Offers Great Escape for City Dwellers

It may be just down the hill from Santa Fe, or right up the road from Albuquerque, but for many visitors to Cochiti Lake, it’s a world away from the hustle and grind of the big cities.

“And those who haven’t been here in a while should be pleasantly surprised by the many improvements we’ve made,” says Mike Carey, manager of the lake for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Visitors will find a brand new campground featuring attractive shelters with modern picnic tables, barbeque grills and solar powered lamp posts. There’s also water, electricity and improved access for today’s larger recreational vehicles at many sites.
Camping is $12 a night at the new campgrounds 16 primitive sites while another 16 with water and electricity are $20. There’s a 14-day limit on staying in the campground, reservations can be made at while many sites are set aside for use on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The new campground is part of $13 million overhaul of the lake’s facilities with even more campsites and a bathhouse with showers slated to open in the spring of 2011, Carey says.

Down on the lake’s beach and swimming area visitors will find new shelters where swimmers can get out from under the sun after enjoying a dip in the cool waters fed by the Rio Grande. 
And with family budgets tight these days a trip to Cochiti Lake can be refreshing in more ways than one, visitors aren’t charged a “Day Use” fee as is typical at many other federal and state recreational areas.

Pets are prohibited from the beach area but welcome while leashed in all other areas of the lake. Alcohol, glass bottles and firearms are not allowed at the lake. Only gas and charcoal grills can be used, no campfires, and anyone using any kind of floatation device such as an inner tube must also be wearing a lifejacket.

There are no concessions at the lake and visitors should be prepared for their outing with all necessary supplies. Some groceries and fishing tackle can be found at stores in Pena Blanca.

Cochiti Lake is a Mecca for windsurfers and sail boats due to its gentle but continuous breezes and many of the colorful craft can be seen out on the lake among other types of boats.

Cochiti is a no-wake lake, motorized boats are allowed but are restricted to idling speed, and there is a boat launch fee of $3 per day or $30 for an annual pass. The lake has two boat launches, one on either side of the lake.

The west side of the lake features the facility’s upgraded visitor center with informational displays, restrooms and offices. Here visitors will also find a scenic overlook and access to the road atop the dam which can be hiked or biked but is off limits to motor vehicles. 
The west side of the lake is where one will find the new campground and access to the beach and swimming area.

The east side of the lake is called the Tetilla Recreation Area and features more camping and picnic sites, another scenic overlook and a boat ramp and access to the shoreline along Santa Cruz Road. This area is popular among fishermen, windsurfers and those seeking greater solitude for swimming and recreational activities.
A visit to the east side of the lake requires visitors to turn off State Road 16 at Tetilla Peak Road and head towards the village of La Bajada and continue for about ten miles down a remote stretch of two lane blacktop bordered by vacant Indian lands. 

Anglers will find bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish, walleye, pike and some trout in the lake and a state fishing license is required. More information about current fishing conditions can be found online at

Rangers begin locking up the gates starting around 6 p.m. but anglers can park outside and walk back in to fish during the more productive evening hours. 

Despite its proximity to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Carey says he doesn’t expect the lake to be overrun with visitors this long holiday weekend.

“We’ll be full but it won’t be as intense as Memorial Day when everyone’s itching to get out after a long winter,” he says.

Carey, 63, of Placitas, retired several years ago after a 40-year career with the Corps but returned to manage Cochiti Lake after the assigned manager, Rebecca Miner, was deployed to Afghanistan to work on public building projects.

The agency has seen many of its employees sent overseas to assist in building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been relying upon retirees to voluntarily step back in and help out, Carey says.

“After three years of retirement I was looking for a little excitement anyhow,” he says.

So while the rest of the world hits the road and heads for the hills this long Labor Day weekend, Cochiti Lake, awaits those looking for something a little closer to home but seemingly miles away. 
If You Go: From Santa Fe take I-25 south to the bottom of La Bajada and take the turn off at the overpass to Cochiti Lake on St. Rd. 16. From Albuquerque do the same. To get to the east side of the lake take Tetilla Peak Rd off St. Rd 16 at the turnoff to the village of La Bajada. 
For the west side of the lake, continue west on St. Rd. 16 past the Tetilla Peak turnoff and follow down to St. Rd. 22. Go right and follow to the lake. If coming from Albuquerque and headed for the west side of the lake then one can get off I-25 at the Santo Domingo exit and follow St. Rd. 22 through past the pueblo and through the village of Pena Blanca and on to Cochiti Lake.

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