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Located 35 miles north of Yuma in Arizona's West Coast Region, Martinez Lake is a 640-acre freshwater lake that was created in 1955 as a fishing camp. Controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation, it is now a year-round resort that welcomes winter snowbirds, sightseers, fishermen, boaters, water skiers, and hunters. Martinez Lake is part of the Imperial Reservoir, which was completed in 1935 with the construction of the Imperial Dam on the Colorado River. Lake Martinez is one of the many lakes along this route; other lakes include Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Mojave, and Lake Havasu.
The Imperial Dam is part of the All-American Canal System, located in southeastern California, consisting of the 80-mile-long All-American Canal and the 123-mile-long Coachella Canal. Water diversions from the Colorado River at Imperial Dam provide irrigation water for nearly 600,000 acres of land in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys. The Imperial Irrigation District has constructed small hydroelectric power plants along the canal to provide electricity throughout the area.
With an average depth of 10 feet, Martinez Lake is ideal for fishing, boating, swimming, water skiing, and jet skiing. Anglers should expect to catch largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, tilapia, whiskerfish, and striped bass. There are jetties and docks in the lake creating a bass fisherman's dream; flooded flats, tree branches and stumps provide additional fish habitat. Cabins and vacation homes along the shore have spectacular views of the lake and surrounding desert, making it a wonderful place to relax and while-away the day.
Located just to the north of Martinez Lake is the Imperial Wildlife Refuge, a 55,000-acre refuge that fronts both sides of the Colorado River for almost 35 miles. As a stopping point for migratory birds, the refuge is home to 235 species of all types of birds. Other wildlife includes deer, big horn sheep, wild horses, wild burros, coyotes, raccoons, fox, beaver, muskrat, and bobcats. Activities in the area include canoe and boat rentals on Martinez Lake, historic boat trips on the Yuma River, hunting for quail, duck, geese, and deer, and a day at Picacho Peak State Park. Spend the day at Picacho hiking through the desert or visiting the exhibits and gift shop at the visitor center. Facilities include picnic areas, ramadas, grills, campsites, restrooms, showers, and historical markers along the trails.
There are two seasons in this part of Arizona: the high water period from spring through Thanksgiving, and the low water period from November to spring. While Martinez Lake is considered an oasis in the middle of the desert, there are other smaller lakes nearby including Hidden Shores, Ice Box, and Bullet Hole. All may be a bit crowded during the high water season, so call ahead for reservations in any vacation home or lodging.
While visiting Martinez Lake don't forget to visit Yuma, the winter vegetable capital of the United States. Yuma is close to Kofa and Cibola national wildlife refuges and the Imperial Sand Dunes, the largest mass of sand dunes in the state. The dunes extend for more than 40 miles in a band averaging 5 miles wide. Yuma has a restored riverfront featuring the Yuma Territorial Prison State Park where you can walk through stone cell blocks like the prisoners of the old west, and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot where forts were resupplied in the Southwest.
With several launch sites on Martinez Lake, it is the ideal place to bring your boat for a day of fishing, waterskiing, or just hanging out. The lake, which is well developed with vacation rentals, restaurants, stores, and campgrounds, offers leisure boat rentals, tours, and river trips.
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