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The quest for a reliable source of irrigation water in Colorado's dry Southwest Region brought Vallecito Lake into being. Twenty-two miles north of Durango, Vallecito Reservoir serves the water needs of approximately 55,000 acres of farmers and ranchers while providing recreation to thousands of visitors every year. The 2,720-acre lake was created in 1941 when a dam impounded the waters of the Pine River and Vallecito Creek. The Bureau of Reclamation contracted for the dam to be built but management of the water itself is assigned to the Pine River Irrigation District which apportions the water between several farmers' cooperatives and the Southern Ute tribal government. Hydro power is produced by a generating plant at the dam. Vallecito, Spanish for "Little Valley," is the area's largest reservoir.
Because the lake is surrounded by the San Juan National Forest, supervision of recreation and camping facilities is split between the irrigation district and the United States Forest Service. The crystal-clear lake receives snowmelt in the spring from the steep slopes of the San Juan Mountains, providing an excellent cold-water fishery that supports rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass and kokanee salmon. Colorado Dept of Wildlife stocks the lake yearly, leading to an abundant fish population. A pike tournament is held annually. The high altitude permits the lake to freeze over each winter and allows for ice fishing tournaments as well. Trout fishermen are often seen navigating the shallows in float tubes or casting their favorite flies on the two inlet streams.
The lakeshore has experienced very little shoreline development as nearly all of the 12-mile length is public lands. But, Vallecito Lake is anything but inaccessible; several public boat launch sites are located on the lake, and two marinas assure that fishermen or boating enthusiasts have everything they need for an enjoyable visit. Canoes, fishing boats, pontoon boats, buoy service, and fishing gear are available for rent. Bait, tackle, and gas are also available for sale. Vallecito Lake is an all-sports lake and extremely popular with boat owners who come to enjoy sailing, water skiing, tubing, wind surfing, pontooning, canoeing and kayaking. The 961 acres of public recreation land, managed by the US Forest service, holds several camping areas, hiking trails and picnic areas.
An additional two-and-a-half million acres are available in the San Juan National Forest, holding a wealth of hiking and back packing trails, off-road vehicle trails, mountain biking, river rafting and back-country hunting and fishing areas. Near Vallecito Lake, the Weminuche Wilderness Area is positioned along miles of the Continental Divide and offers dizzying heights, breathtaking views and trails that will challenge the most skilled mountain explorer. The roadless area serves as a refuge for wilderness-dependent species such as wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines. Elk, mule deer, turkey and black bear are hunted here in season, often by hunters traveling by horseback. The San Juan National Forest holds a wealth of unusual species of birds and mammals, making this a favorite of nature photographers.
Several lodges near Vallecito Lake provide vacation rentals to visitors. Most are open year round as the winter season is nearly as popular as summer. The surrounding area is a magnificent place for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, There are major ski areas within a two-hour drive, and Durango maintains a year-round indoor ice rink. Vallecito Lake makes an ideal home-base for visiting the famed Four-Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. No visit would be complete without experiencing the breathtaking scenery of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Train. The ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park leave the visitor in awe of the little-known people who created these elaborate fortifications. Helicopter and glider rides can be arranged at Durango, as can hunting and fishing guide services and white-water rafting trips. Durango also holds the Henry Strater Theatre which produces live music acts from around the nation. The Children's Museum will delight the youngsters and the eclectic shops and galleries are a joy to browse. Several golf courses are located in the Four-Corners area. Those with a penchant for pampering can indulge in a massage and a relaxing soak in natural hot mineral springs located at a lodge between Durango and Vallecito Lake.
Twenty-five miles from Durango, the little town of Ignacio comes alive each Labor Day week-end during Ignacio Bike Week. Not quite as large as Sturgis, Ignacio makes up in enthusiasm for what it lacks in size. Also in Ignacio, the Southern Ute Indian Cultural Center offers Native American dancing on Heritage Night and you can tempt the fates at the Sky Ute Casino.
Vacation lodgings aren't difficult to find near Vallecito Lake. Several lodges are located near the lakefront, many with private cabins, boats or canoes. Many private residences are rented by the week or the season, often with beautiful lake views. There are many bed and breakfast facilities in the Four-Corners area and larger towns such as Durango are well-supplied with hotels and specialty lodgings. Real estate is often available, some with lake views and others featuring the mountains. There is never a shortage of things to entertain the visitor at Vallecito Lake; it's a true four-season playground. Come and enjoy the best nature has to offer. Visit Vallecito Lake for the first time - it wont be your last.
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