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Beautiful mesas, deep canyons, and steep rocky cliffs surround Blue Mesa Reservoir, the second largest lake entirely in Colorado. The clear, blue, mountain water of the fjord-like lake draws anglers, nature lovers, and vacationers from all over.
Created in 1965 with the construction of the Blue Mesa Dam, Blue Mesa Reservoir, along with its sister lakes, Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir, impounds 40 miles of the Gunnison River. Together the three reservoirs make up the Wayne N. Aspinall Storage Unit, and were created primarily for water storage for the Upper Colorado River Basin. They store water for irrigation and use in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah. The dams and water levels are under the control of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, which draws down the water seasonally and as need demands.
The Curecanti National Recreation Area was established in 1965 to manage the land on and around the Aspinall Unit. Today, the Curecanti National Recreation Area is a fantastic place to enjoy the reservoirs and the surrounding wilderness. Of the three reservoirs in Curecanti, Blue Mesa is by far the largest. It is popular with boaters, offering water skiing, jet skiing, and sailing. For the adventurous, there is good windsurfing, especially in the Bay of Chickens, and kayakers and canoeists will find plenty of secluded canyons to explore. Boating on the other reservoirs is limited to hand-carried craft, and Blue Mesa is the only reservoir with full-service marinas which also rent pontoon and fishing boats.
Almost a million people fish Blue Mesa Reservoir every year, and it's easy to see why. It is Colorado's largest lake trout and Kokanee salmon fishery, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife stocks the reservoir with approximately 900,000 rainbow trout and over a million Kokanee salmon every year. The salmon fry are put into the Gunnison River and allowed to float down to the lake. When it's time to spawn, they make their way back up the river. There are several types of trout in the reservoir including brown and rainbow trout. In 2007 an angler broke the record for lake trout by catching a monstrous fish weighing 50 pound 5 ounces. In addition to fishing from a boat, there is fly fishing on the creeks that feed into the reservoir and in winter, ice fishing. Regardless of their style, anglers will find plenty of fish to challenge them in this deep water lake.
The land around the reservoir, considered high altitude sagebrush steppe, is full of wildlife. There are prairie dogs, big horn sheep, deer and lots of birds including bald eagles and blue herons. Lucky birdwatchers may catch a glimpse of the fastest creature on earth, diving peregrine falcons, or the Gunnison Sage Grouse, recently recognized as a new species. Visitors can explore Curecanti on one of the many hiking trails, with trails for all skill levels, or extend their stay in the wild by back country camping. There is also horseback riding in specified areas with corrals at some campgrounds. The only overnight accommodations around Blue Mesa Reservoir are camping - either back country or at a campground reached by car or boat.
When the reservoir was created, it flooded three historical towns, Iola, Cebolla, and Sapinero. Old sections of Highway 50 were also flooded, and it's possible to see where the highway goes into the lake. The rerouted Scenic US Highway 50, which follows the Gunnison River, is a great way to explore the reservoir and the area's history. The highway follows the banks of Blue Mesa and crosses the reservoir on the Lake Fork Arm and at Middle Bridge. Visitors can stop to picnic and get their feet wet and then drive past Dillon Pinnacles, a strangely eroded geological reminder of the area's volcanic past. Further down the road is the town of Cimarron, an old shipping and livestock hub and the place where the Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad left the canyon. In addition to Highway 50, there are several other scenic drives around the reservoir.
Whether by car, boat, or on foot, Blue Mesa Reservoir and the surrounding Curecanti Recreation Area demand to be explored. With its sapphire blue water set against its rocky granite cliffs, the reservoir is one of Colorado's treasures and it is meant to be enjoyed.
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