It’s summer and Denver and Colorado are in the grip of the season’s first real heat wave. The National Weather Service says the state will be pushing triple digit heat for much of the next week. In Pueblo, that means the crowds will also be lining up for a spot at southern Colorado’s wettest getaway, Lake Pueblo State Park.
The lake, which is actually a reservoir, attracts boaters, fishermen and women, hikers, birdwatchers and anyone who just wants to recreate in a place where they can beat the heat. “Just depends on what activity you want,” said Mathew Taylor, one of the park’s rangers. The lake accommodates anyone looking just to catch a fish, mostly bass and walleye---and there are plenty---or just enjoy a summer getaway.
While the lake and surroundings are big enough, spending time there does require a bit of planning, said Taylor. “We have 400 campsites,” he said. “Last year, we were filling them pretty regularly.” That’s why Taylor is recommending that anyone interested in hitting the lake for the Fourth of July or Labor Day make their camping reservations as early as possible.
For those who just want to make a daytrip visit to the lake, reservations aren’t necessary. But Taylor recommends getting to the park early to increase your odds of getting the best spot you can. When things are busy, seeing cars turned away is not unusual. Taylor said park entry is $10 while camping reservations range from $22 to $36. The veteran park ranger said all of the campsites come with shower and bathroom facilities. The high end spaces come with electricity.
Interestingly, while this season’s crowds are filling the place up, COVID-19, even in its darkest and disheartening days of 2020, barely impacted crowd sizes. “We were trained to adjust to it.” He attributes it to the fact that people just wanted to escape the regular diet of bad and sad news the virus brought with each passing day. Attendance remained steady through the pandemic’s run last year.
The Pueblo Dam, which fills the lake, was part of a 1960’s Bureau of Reclamation’s Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The reservoir, while certainly one of the state’s big recreational draws, provides water for the region’s agriculture, along with municipal and industrial use. It also serves as a buffer against flooding. The city of Pueblo just marked the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Flood, when the Arkansas River overflowed its banks and decimated much of what is today the city’s business district.
An article from a June 1921 Pueblo Chieftain news story read: “Down Union Avenue and Main Street a few street lights are burning. They disclose masses of wreckage of every description and drunken buildings with gaping sides like the black mouths of caverns.” The flood, considered Pueblo and southern Colorado’s worst ever natural disaster, caused $19 million dollars in damage, a figure that would exceed a quarter of a billion in today’s dollars.
Despite expectations of a full house for the Fourth of July holiday, Taylor said there are no plans for a fireworks display. Any celebrating of the nation’s birthday will have to be done with friends and family somewhere else. The drought has pretty much put an end to public fireworks show. The fireworks ban, though, has an upside for pet owners, said Taylor. Dogs and cats won’t have to endure their human’s idea of entertainment. Just remember if you’re planning a trip: keep your animals leashed.
Taylor offers a friendly warning that celebrating should always be done responsibly. Rangers will be patrolling the water for boaters who may have had too much to drink. “If a boat is under suspicion, they can be stopped.” Boating under the influence also carries penalties similar to driving under the influence. All park ranger boats are marked.
While all of Colorado is currently under drought conditions and the water level of the lake is slightly down, Taylor said boaters need not worry that the lake will not accommodate their needs. “Our lake tends to fluctuate a lot with water levels just because we have the dam here.”
But the water is just one appealing part of the Lake Pueblo experience. “People who don’t know about this park,” said the veteran lake ranger, find out that “it’s like a little oasis.” Outdoors lovers will encounter a bevy of wildlife that includes both things you might expect like deer and fox but also bobcats, an occasional bear, coyotes, snow owls, blue herons and osprey that you can actually see “dive into the water.”
From Denver, the drive to Lake Pueblo is less than two hours. From the lake, getting into the city where there are scores of other attractions, it’s a fifteen minute drive.