Navajo Lake is often compared to Lake Powell, because length of the shoreline is comparable and both lakes are in high desert environments. The shoreline of the Navajo Lake Reservoir follows the outline of many canyons and mesas that were partially submerged after the dam was constructed, so there are countless coves and bays to explore. Several creeks feed Navajo Lake and the main source of water is the San Juan River. After passing the Navajo Dam, the San Juan River runs nearly 200 miles west, where it merges with the Colorado River in Lake Powell, so these two big reservoir lakes do have something in common. The one big difference is that Navajo Lake is in a higher elevation, so sparse juniper and piñon forests dot the landscape and the green colors are easy on the eyes. In comparison, the bare bedrock landscape at Lake Powell looks like it belongs on another planet in outer space. Since Navajo Lake does have trees, this means that there will be some shade available and when combined with the higher elevation, a cool summer breeze can be found in this place!
Navajo Lake covers so much ground, that it straddles the border of Colorado and New Mexico. The entire lake is managed by both Colorado and New Mexico as two state parks on either side of the border. However, the Colorado side is the shallow end of the pool and the main marina is located in the deep end near Navajo Dam in New Mexico. When the lake is full after a heavy winter snow melt, nearly all of the Colorado side is navigable, while after a season of drought, the shoreline in the north part of the lake will greatly recede. If a waterside picnic is in the plans, it is best to check the lake conditions before heading to the beach, which may or may not have water nearby. On the New Mexico side, the waterlines pretty much just fluctuates vertically on the steep walls of the canyons and mesas, because this is the deep end of the big pool!
The best way to get to the New Mexico Navajo State Park is to come from the direction of Aztec, because there are some interesting points of interest along this travel route. When on Highway 550 (Aztec Boulevard) in the north end of the city, the road to look for is Navajo Dam Road (NM SR 173), which is well marked. Navajo Dam Road first goes by a motocross park, that is worth checking out if you happen to have a dirt bike in tow. A little further down the line, the forests become thick and the tall rock outcrops leer over the green canopy. The scenery looks surreal in these parts and there are many hoodoos and mushroom rocks to be seen.
Eventually Navajo Dam Road meets the San Juan River a few miles downstream from the lake. The road then follows the river to the Navajo Dam and there are many State Park day use picnic areas, campgrounds and boat launch ramps in this area. There is a gas station, boatyard, boat rentals, a classic Route 66 motel and a few bait shacks in this area too. The tall cottonwood trees by the river provide plenty of shade for a lazy summer afternoon picnic and the sport fishing is good. The views of the lush green San Juan River basin are as picturesque as can be, so the river section of the New Mexico Navajo State Park certainly can be a summertime paradise of its own.
After getting to the historic Navajo Dam, is is just a short uphill climb to Navajo Lake and when the deep blue water is first seen, it is enough to make the jaw drop in awe! This lake definitely enhances the contrasting colors of the tree dotted sandstone mesas and the blue skies in this high desert environment. The views from Navajo Dam also reveal the big marina and the main section of this State Park, which offers lakeside camping, RV hookups, boat docks and launches. Rentals are also available, so anybody can join in on the fun!
For those who seek pristine landscapes, there is a downside to the southern end of Navajo Lake. Nearly all of the surrounding BLM territory is covered with gas fracking wells and transfer stations, so if you have environmental concerns, many of the views will be disturbing. The gas fracking industry has a track record of poison gas leaks in this area, so it does stink like an oil refinery at times. The gas lines are all over the place and no effort was made to make them blend in with the landscape, so be prepared to curse this environmental threat on the way to the pristine river and lake.
The New Mexico side of Navajo Lake definitely is the deep end of the pool and the shoreline truly is amazing to see. Navajo Lake is a perfect destination for house boaters and water skiing is the primary aqua sport. Spring season winds are steady and strong, so this is also a prime sailboarding destination. Best yet, the New Mexico Navajo Lake State Park offers cool relief from the extreme heat of summer and this is more than reason enough to do the trip!
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