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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.