Monday, June 28, 2010

Forest Service Cabin Rentals Provide Unique Outdoor Opportunities

The Platoro river above the summer vacation community of Platoro in the Rio Grande National Forest outside of Antonito, Colorado.

Looking for something new to do on your next outdoor adventure? Why not consider renting a Forest Service cabin for a touch of nostalgia, history and better access to the backcountry’s beauty.

For example, just across the state line in southern Colorado one can rent a cabin in the old mining town of Platoro, located on the Conejos River just below the big reservoir.

The facility is an old forest service work camp with two recently remodeled cabins sitting next to each other on a large piece of property on the edge of this small, summer vacation community.

First made available this year over the Memorial Day weekend , a visit to one of the cabins revealed propane heat, plenty of hot water, a modern bathroom and a kitchen with an electric stove, refrigerator, a table, chairs, and cooking utensils.

The bedroom was equipped with two bunk beds featuring a futon mattress on the bottom and a traditional spring mattress on the top. The mattress proved to be the more comfortable of the two.

What the cabin lacked in ambiance - the interior was painted a bright, Government Issue, mustard color and the floors were covered in cold linoleum tiles - it made up for in location, historical intrigue and scenery.

Guests are within walking distance of the excellent fishing on the Conejos River and at several nearby high mountain lakes including Platoro Reservoir and Mix Lake. The area offers abundant hiking opportunities, spectacular scenery and plenty of wildlife to view.

A fox made its way through the property on a regular basis and the swallows nesting in a neighboring barn were a joy to watch with coffee in the morning as they swooped and dove about in mass flight.

On the property are several interesting outbuildings which upon exploring might prompt one to wonder about their previous use.

One of the other aspects of renting a Forest Service cabin is the special feeling that comes from occupying a public space for a weekend. Visitors are entrusted with its care and expected to clean up after themselves. One might experience a feeling of communal responsibility and special pride while sitting on the porch, waving at the passing neighbors.

The Platoro cabins are just one of many cabins available for rent within a day’s drive of Santa Fe, including the highly popular, incredibly rustic, Elwood cabin located at 11,000 feet near the old, gold mining town of Summitville.

This cabin is high in the mountains above Platoro and provides the kind of solitude and scenery one can only dream about at lower elevations. 

Mix Lake above the old mining town of Platoro, Colorado offers good fishing and spectacular scenery. 

Reservations for Elwood go quickly due to its spectacular setting, says Mike Blakeman, Public Affairs Officer for the Rio Grande National Forest.

But many other Forest Service cabins remain available even through the height of the summer.

Visitors can find remote line camps in the forest between Saguache and Gunnison or rent a cabin near the summer resort town of South Fork or even an old, fire lookout tower near the town of Mancos.

The lookout tower is operated by the Jersey Jim Foundation and is a 55-foot tall tower equipped with propane stove, refrigerator, heat, kitchen utensils and a double bed. The cost is $40 a night and visitors will find fishing and swimming at nearby Jackson Lake State Park or can tour the ancient Indian ruins at Mesa Verde National Park.

Those interested in renting the tower need to telephone the organization directly starting on the first working day in March as they only book a year at a time, says Clara McNeil, reservation clerk for the group. The telephone number is 970-533-7060.

The lookout tower is booked for the 2010 season which typically runs from late May through mid October. However, those interested can call and ask to be placed on the waiting list in case of a cancellation for this season, she said.

More information about these and other rental opportunities can be found on the Forest service’s website at while rental information, availability dates, fees, directions, etc. are managed through the government’s reservation contractor

Blakeman said one of the primary benefits of renting a Forest Service cabin is that 95 percent of the rental fees go back to the local ranger district’s coffers for improvements to the facilities. The reservation company only collects a $9 fee above and beyond the rental fee, he said.

The Forest Service's Platoro cabins are located near the historic railroading town of Antonito, Colorado where visitors can board an old steam for a scenic journey into the woods.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Nambe Lake and Falls Beats the Heat - Great Fishing, Hiking, Scenery.

When the summer heat comes down on Santa Fe, there’s a great little spot this side of the Pecos where one can fish, picnic and play in the cool waters running under the shade of many a cottonwood tree.

Nambe Lake and Falls is just up the road from Santa Fe, a short 16-mile drive that takes one a world away from the heat, noise and congestion of the city. 

The 56-acre lake is well stocked with trout and provides great fishing in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from which its lifeblood, the Rio Nambe, flows.

Located on scenic Nambe Pueblo’s lands, the lake and falls offers visitors a great place to wile away a day, wading in the cool waters of the river, basking in the soothing mist of the water fall or hiking streamside under the shade of its many cottonwood trees.

The falls area offers a plaza surrounded by adobe and viga picnic shelters, many shade trees and the river running through it.

The area is popular for family gatherings, reunions, graduation parties and other events.

In the same area but further downstream the falls area offers group and individual camp sites including some with water and electric for recreational vehicles, all under the shade of the many cottonwood trees.

Visitors here will find streamside trails that lead to the base of a waterfall fed by a continuous summertime flow from the dam above. A steeper hike along but above the stream will take one up almost parallel to the dam where yet another waterfall can be seen.

Behind the dam, anglers will find the lake chock full of trout and many coves and other good spots to fish from. From up here one can view the Jemez mountains off across the valley and watch as lazy, summer clouds float by. 

Nambe Chief Ranger Joe Vigil, 63, who was born and raised on Nambe Pueblo, says the lake’s primary attraction to many area anglers is its summer-long trout season.

Many competing tribal lakes at lower elevations stop stocking trout during the summer and turn to catfish because the trout won’t survive the heat.

But not at Nambe Lake and Falls. The trout here are stocked all season long, usually once a month with upwards of four to five thousand fish in sizes ranging from 10 to 15 inches, Vigil says. 

Miguel Espiricueta, 21, of Arroyo Seco and his son, Miguel Jr., 2.5, show off the hefty stringer of trout they caught using powerbait during a June 2010 outing to the well stocked, tribal lake.

Vigil, a retired sheriff’s investigator, says that growing up on the pueblo he used to hike and fish in the same mountains visitors can enjoy now and it remains relatively unchanged. 

Back in the 1950s, when Vigil was growing up, the pueblo was much smaller in population and most families farmed and raised livestock.

The living was much simpler then for him and his four brothers and one sister.

Vigil attended grade school on the pueblo along with a handful of other kids and they spent most of their spare time playing marbles or baseball and riding horses. They also fished and played in the nearby woods where visitors can do the same today.

Vigil joined the Navy after graduating high school in 1965; enlisting was something many young men from the Pojoaque valley were doing then. There was war on in Vietnam and the draft loomed, so Vigil signed up and became a boiler tender on the destroyers, the Cromwell and the Norris. His Navy career was uneventful having spent most of his time stationed on the East Coast.

After his stint in the military he returned to New Mexico where he pursued a career in law enforcement, starting out in the village of Questa and then moving on to the Taos and Santa Fe Sheriff’s Departments in those counties before finally retiring from the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Department just a few years ago.

Vigil says he liked police work because every day was different and presented a new challenge.

Vigil says he took over managing the pueblo’s recreational area because he needed something to keep him busy in his retirement. He’s since found he now enjoys the more laid back nature of his work when compared with his previous career.

Vigil is married to Teresa and has been for over thirty years. The couple have two sons, Joey, a Tesuque Tribal Police officer and John, a state government employee in Santa Fe. Their daughter, Crystal, is a home healthcare worker who lives on the pueblo as does her brother, Joey.

Vigil says life on the pueblo has changed some over the years but visitors will still find the pueblo a sleepy little village, surrounded by farms and the mountains, all brimming with pastoral beauty. 

The valley through which the Rio Nambe flows and where Nambe Pueblo exists, as seen from the road leading to the lake.

“It’s quiet and cool up here and we make sure everybody’s happy and enjoying themselves,” Vigil says.

Rangers are on duty everyday during the summer season when the lake is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A carload of up to five people can visit the falls for $10 for hiking, wading and picnicking. Photographers need to purchase an additional $5 license for the right to take pictures.

Anglers pay $15 for a day of fishing with a bag limit of up to five trout and no state fishing license is required. Seniors over 60 pay $10 while kids under the age of 12 pay $8 with a five fish bag limit. Kids six and under get in for free and can catch and keep two fish.

Boats with electric trolling motors are allowed as are float tubes and rafts. Swimming in the lake is not allowed.

Visitors can bring well-behaved leashed dogs to the lake and falls and alcoholic beverages and their responsible use are not prohibited

Camping can be had for $25 a day or $35 with electric and water.

Reservations of the falls area day use areas is negotiable. Call Vigil at 455- 2304 for more information.

If You Go:

Take US 84/285 north out of Santa Fe to State Road 503 just past Pojoaque. Take St. Rd. 503 to Nambe Pueblo Road 101 and follow to the Nambe Lake and Falls guard shack. Returning from the lake or falls one can visit the pueblo’s plaza by taking Nambe Pueblo 102 which winds its way back to St. Rd. 503 for the return trip to Santa Fe.


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