Wednesday, June 20, 2012

El Vado Lake State Park, NM



We left Columbine Campground on Sunday and drove west from Taos across US Hwy 64 to Heron Lake State Park, near Chama. There was a warning in the Mountain Directory West for 64 between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla but since we didn’t actually go over a pass, the elevation wasn’t given. It warned about 30 mph curves and 6% grades. We didn’t realize we were going from 7,000’ up to 10,500’ along the way. We normally unhook the car and I drive it separately to make it a bit easier on the Lazy Daze at those kinds of elevations, but we made it just fine. Wondered if anyone can recommend a guidebook, website or map that gives the elevation of highways so we can do a little better job of planning in the future.

The drive was beautiful but we thought the aspens were all dead, then realized it was still too cold at those elevations for the leaves to have come out yet.


It was in the mid 80’s when we arrived at Heron Lake, so we pulled into a couple power sites and drove around in the car to see if we could find any spots with lake views. None of the campgrounds with views have hookups, but we’ve been so spoiled by views of lakes, streams and mountains lately that we were not impressed with the power sites. All of the dry campsites that we would have fit into were taken or reserved, so we went back to set up and plug in the power for some AC. We were unable to run the air due to low voltage, so Jim went to talk to the camp host. They had an electrical issue last year, which had been repaired, but it left the park with lower voltages, so we couldn’t use the AC or microwave. There were some campers running their air but they had something called an Autoformer, which boosts your power by 10%. That is something we don’t have, and although with our NM state parks pass we were only paying $4, it was the principle, since the AC and microwave are the only two things we can’t run off solar. We decided to spend the night and check out nearby El Vado Lake the next day.


Debbie and I went to Chama to pick up a few groceries, and Jim was in charge of finding us a new spot. Since nobody would answer the phones at El Vado Lake, he drove the 25 miles over to see if there were vacant sites and whether the power was adequate. Our temps have risen to near 90, so we wanted to be able to run the air if needed.

He found a double site right on the lake, with water and electric, and talked with the park manager and a couple other campers about the electrical situation. No problem with low voltage, so he called and told us to drive on over, which we did. It was definitely worth it, as we have fantastic views and we are nice and cool during the heat of the afternoon. Also the showers are great and there is a dump station.


Plus we are loving our new backyard.




The only downside is there are lots biting gnats, probably the same thing the ranger at Wild Rivers warned us about. When the wind blows hard enough, though, it keeps them away.

Since we had our packages sent to Heron Lake, we will have to pick them up over there at the end of the week. There is a 5.5 mile trail from El Vado to Heron, so Jim and I plan to hike over and Debbie will pick us up. At least she says she will! I don’t think we’re up to an 11 mile hike, especially in this heat.

Today we took a ride to the other side of the lake to look a the primitive area. We crossed El Vado Dam and the Rio Chama.


There is a warning sign before crossing the dam about the 10’ width. It says if you hit the guardrails don’t continue on over the dam. Duh! We made it fine in the car, and continued along the dirt road. The state park has several primitive areas for camping and picnicking on the other side of the lake. There was nobody there. You can barely see our campground looking across.


It’s very nice here, but also very remote, the closest town for supplies being Chama, 35 miles away. We debated on just hanging out here for our 21 day limit, which would get us through the week of the 4th of July, but we decided to live on the edge and head to Colorado on Sunday. Hope we can find a cooler spot early next week where we’ll stay put until the holiday is over.



  1. Glad you got the electric and can use your air with the temps that high. It is 90 here right now too, almost like being in Texas again. Safe travels to Colorado!

  2. Hope you didn't have to pay more for the electric.

    WHAT...if you hit the guardrails...did they think you would be drinking? Crazy.

  3. Wow, that's really high up! Let us know if you find a good guide that will give those altitudes. The water looks way down from normal, is it?
    Happy for you finding a nice alternative site where you can use the air...sounds like you will need it for sure!

  4. You guys are really running into some nice spots. Too bad it isn't a bit cooler.

  5. Really nice pictures of beautiful spots. That last one is a stunner.

    You certainly do pick convenient spots so that if one doesn't work out, you just drive 25 miles and there is a better one. I think I need you to plan my trips especially if we can find the altitude guide.



    this url was on the LD yahoo group today. Exacatly what you want I think for mountain pass information, however, the ebook is only for Windows = for the Mac you'd have to buy the paper book.

    Andrea E

  7. Guess I skimmed your post and saw you already have the so I don't know of another one.

  8. Heading for Mesa Verde next week and hoping to stay one night on the way at Heron. Glad to see your post!