Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Dozen Places to Sail Before You Die in the Desert and Mountain Southwest

(1) Elephant Butte Lake, Sierra Co., southern New Mexico, is home to the Rio Grande Sailing Club, www.rgsc.org, which hosts a variety of regattas and social activities. The lake has three concrete boat ramps with mast-raising poles adjacent to two of them. When full, this is New Mexico’s largest lake, with 50 square miles of surface area. Its climate is generally mild and sunny, although water temperatures chill into the 50s or occasionally 40s (F) during the colder months. Numerous isolated coves, some with sandy beaches, offer inviting nooks.

Three commercial marinas offer slips, fishing boat rentals, guide services, fuel, and convenience store items. The Rock Canyon Marina is the closest marina to the sail racecourse and offers overnight slip rentals. The communities of Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences offer one-of-a-kind shops and lodgings, along with boat storage and repair facilities, and the lake is close to the New Mexico Spaceport and wildlife-oriented ranches owned by Ted Turner. The RGSC’s signature event is the 50-mile Sunrise Regatta, held typically during a full-moon weekend near the end of September.

(2) Heron Lake, Rio Arriba Co., northern New Mexico, is home to the New Mexico Sailing Club, www.nmsailing.org, which owns and operates the Heron Lake Marina and offers reciprocal hospitality to visiting yachties. With a somewhat remote location, lake surface elevation of over 7,000 feet, and views of snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance, Heron is a place where sailors go to get away from it all. Motorboats are restricted to no visible wake and the lake is rich in wildlife and cold-water fish.

The state park that borders much of the lake has two concrete-surfaced boat ramps, with a large mast-raising pole adjacent to the Willow Creek boat ramp and mast-up storage near the marina. The marina is seasonal, generally operating from May through October; the marina cove freezes during winter. Marina facilities are basic but overnight slip rentals are available.

(3) Cochiti Reservoir, Sandoval Co., central/northern New Mexico, is home to the casual Boat Owners of Cochiti, whose World Headquarters is a houseboat that is anchored in the lake during warm-weather months. Excess seriousness is discouraged but keeping the beer cold is strongly encouraged. The members of the BOC also have some hope that a marina will be constructed at this lake.

(4) Navajo Lake crosses the border of New Mexico and Colorado (correction) and is home to the San Juan Sailing Club in Arboles, Colorado. The state park and community in Arboles, at the lake’s northern end, offer a boat ramp, mast-up storage, two mast-raising poles, and a small motel and café just outside the park. At the southern end of the lake in New Mexico are two campgrounds with boat ramps at each and a marina at one.

(5) Lake Pleasant, Arizona, is located to the northwest of Phoenix, about 30 minutes to two hours’ drive for most Valley of the Sun denizens, and is home to the Arizona Yacht Club, www.arizonayachtclub.org. The AYC is known for its biggest race weekend of the year, the AYC Birthday Regatta, Leukemia Cup fund-raising challenge, and Eventagram Centerboard Race, which occurs in January. The sailing season here is the opposite of what New Englanders are accustomed to; most sailing begins in the autumn and continues through mid-spring, with a few die-hards sailing in the summer and others making the very easy day’s drive to San Diego.

The main marina is private and not generally open to the public. A second marina is in the process of being permitted to open. A private mast-raising pole is located at the Sailboat Shop. Sailors with larger boats should consult locally as to the best way to launch larger boats, as some ramps may be more suitable than others and some special arrangements might be helpful.

(6) Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, Arizona, is an impoundment of the Salt River located right in the urban Phoenix area, lying under the Phoenix Sky Harbor flight path adjacent to Arizona State University. The sailable area is about 600 feet wide by 4000 feet long. The Arizona Yacht Club hosts dinghy races here every other Sunday afternoon during the spring and fall seasons and the Arizona Sailing Foundation offers sailing lessons. Arizona State University’s sailing team also practices here. The lake has a concrete-surfaced boat ramp.

(7) Lake Havasu is home to London Bridge sailors who usually are able to keep quite warm. Havasu is quite popular with water skiers, jet skiers, jet boaters, cigarette boaters, and other folks with large, noisy, fire-breathing mechanical contraptions on their water craft, but also hosts sailors and regattas. I’ve visited Havasu but not tried to sail there.

(8) Lake Powell lies in scenic terrain along the Arizona – Utah border. High cliff walls, extreme temperatures, sometimes big winds, and long distances between points of interest make it a bit more of a place for powerful motorboats or for large houseboats. I have not tried to sail here.

(9) Dillon Reservoir is located in the high mountains of Summit County, Colorado, about 80 rugged miles west of the Denver metro area, and is home to the Dillon Yacht Club. The DYC likes to brag that their regatta, held on a lake with a maximum surface elevation of 9,017 feet, is America’s highest. Both the Dillon and Frisco marinas have concrete-surfaced boat ramps with mast-raising poles. The Dillon Marina also has a crane, which is made available for launches during the Dillon Open. Special pre-launch boat inspection procedures are in force to try to prevent introduction of harmful shellfish (drysenid quagga or zebra mussels).

(10) Cherry Creek Reservoir is set conveniently within the Denver metro area in Aurora, Colorado, in a regional park. The lake is not huge or deep, but it has some interesting nooks and crannies to explore. It is home to a marina, yacht club, and Community Sailing of Colorado, a program that teaches hundreds of kids to sail every year. The lake is only about seven miles from the nearest West Marine.

(11) Carter Lake is a relatively small lake set in mountain foothills north of Boulder and west of Loveland, Colorado in Larimer County. The Carter Lake Sailing Club is friendly and operates one of two small marinas, with boat ramps and a mast-raising pole. Their marina and clubhouse are home to the Carter Lake Open regatta, usually held early in June.

(12) Lake Granby is a large lake just west of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountains National Park. It has spectacular views of rugged mountains and is also a good place for sailors to get away from it all.

This list could easily swell with the addition of Pueblo, Ruedi (Aspen), Standley, Union, Vallecito, and other lakes in Colorado; Conchas, Abiquiu, Eagle Nest, El Vado, Santa Rosa, and more in New Mexico; Roosevelt and Apache in Arizona; Mead in Nevada/Arizona/Utah, and lakes in Utah, west Texas, Wyoming, and adjacent areas. But, the list should be sufficient to give people the idea that sailing can and does happen in the southwest!

The site http://desertsea.blogspot.com has sailing pictures from several of these lakes.

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At 6:58 PM, May 12, 2009, Blogger JRuth said...

number 4:
navajo lake
crosses borders with new mexico and *Colorado*

At 6:58 AM, May 25, 2009, Blogger Tillerman said...

Hmmm. I just realized that your title is delightfully ambiguous. Some things to do "before you die in the desert..." I didn't know I was going to die in the desert!

At 8:54 AM, May 25, 2009, Blogger Pat said...

Yes, word placement is a wonderful thing and serves both the wicked and the just. Oh, the joy of squinting and carefully placed adjectivals, adverbials, and miscellaneous modifiers.

Sometimes we desert sailors think we'll perish before we'll reach the far paradise shore of our dreams. Yet, at other times our lakes and our ability to sail them are the saving of us and keep us from feeling entirely desiccated.


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