Just down the hill from Santa Fe lies an often-overlooked oasis in the desert where one can take a refreshing dip at the beach, fish for bass in a secluded cove or windsurf across the waves.
“It’s what we’re all about,” says Ranger Pat Segura, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Cochiti Lake.
Just a 30-mile drive south of Santa Fe, outdoor enthusiasts will find beaches, boating, fishing, camping, picnicking and sightseeing available at the 12,000-surface-acre lake.
Opened in 1975, Cochiti Lake was built on the Rio Grande for a flood and sediment control and its waters dedicated to public recreational use.
Although located on Cochiti Pueblo lands, the lake and recreational areas are controlled and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, says Ron Kneebone, Tribal Liaison for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque.
In the future, Cochiti Pueblo may elect to operate food concessions at the lake, provide sailboat and windsurfing rentals or provide hiking and sightseeing tours, Kneebone said,
But there are no immediate plans to reopen the once popular, public fishing area below the spillway, says Cochiti Governor Joseph Suina.
The spillway area featured tail-water fishing conditions, including trophy sized trout, but was closed by the Corps at the request of the pueblo several years ago.
Two handicap accessible fishing areas including paved parking lots, floating fishing platforms, shelters and restrooms have since been installed on each side of the lake in its stead.
In the meantime Cochiti Lake remains a remote, unspoiled kind of place with plenty of open space and water to enjoy.
And ranger’s like Segura are hard at work to make sure a visit to the lake is a pleasant experience.
“We want families to feel comfortable coming here,” said Segura, 23, of nearby Sile, an old Spanish settlement of about 150 located across the river from Peña Blanca.
Segura is starting his fourth summer working for the Corps at Cochiti Lake and enjoys working as a ranger along with his brother, Jacob, who started at the lake last year.
Some regulations Segura says visitors should be aware of include the prohibition of alcohol at the lake and the requirement that life vests be worn by anyone canoeing, kayaking or floating around in inflatable devices such as inner tubes.
Well-behaved pets are welcome at the lake but must remain leashed at all times and no open campfires fires are allowed, but gas and charcoal grills are.
Day use of the lake is free while primitive campsites can be used for $8 a night while those with water and electricity are $12. Boat launch fees are $3 for the day.
Cochiti Lake has a boat launch on both sides of the lake and fees for their use are $3 for the day. The entire lake is a no wake zone where outboard motors are limited to idling speeds, Segura said.
Segura said fishing at the lake is good with large and small mouth bass, crappie and perch in good supply as are walleye, pike and carp.
Fishing licenses and tackle are not available at or in nearby proximity to the lake. A state license is required despite the lake being on Indian land, he added.
Those visiting the lake will find the dam and the beach on the west side as is the visitor center and park headquarters. The east side features a windsurfing area and primitive day use and fishing areas.
For more information about Cochiti Lake visit the U.S Corps of Engineers website at www.spa.usace.army.mil and click on Find a Recreation Area.
Cochiti Laker is a haven for sailboats and windsurfers due to a steady supply of breezes. More information about boating at the lake can be found at the Boat Owners of Cochiti website.
If You Go: Take I-25 south to exit 264 at the bottom of La Bajada and follow State Road 16 to the west side of the lake and the beach. To reach the east side of the lake, turn off State Road 16 at the Tetilla Peak Recreation Area sign about three miles west of I-25. At the east side of the lake follow the paved road down to the boat ramp and then take the dirt road to reach the windsurfing area. This gate closes around dusk. About a 30-mile, one-way drive to either side of the lake. For gas, ice and groceries, take 1-25 past the Cochiti exit and get off at the Santo Domingo exit for fuel. Follow State Road 22 into Peña Blanca for groceries and then continue on State Road 22 to the west side of the lake. Take State Road 16 at its intersection with State Road 22 to double back to the east side of the lake. No fishing tackle or licenses available at the lake.
This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Outdoors section.