San Juan River water Sources and
related river systems
The San Juan River flowing below Navajo Dam originates high in the San
Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. These high mountains contain
several peaks over 14,000 ft which draw significant snowpacks as moisture
moves inland. The San Juan Mountains are an important water source for
the state of New Mexico as the San Juan and Rio Grande river systems formed
in southwest Colorado provide the an important contrubution to surface water of
all river systems flowing through New Mexico, although the two river systems
are located on opposite sides of the continental divide. The San Juan Mountains
are located in southwest Colorado on the
continental divide with eastern
slopes sending water to the Atlantic Ocean and western slopes flowing to the
Pacific Ocean. The eastern slopes of the San Juans form the upper
ranges of the Rio Grande River which flows through south central Colorado,
through central New Mexico and forms the western border for Texas as it
flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Northern slopes of the San
Juans contribute to the Gunnison River, among others, in western Colorado which join
the Colorado River on its way to Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon and
eventually the Pacific Ocean. The San Juan River is increased in
volume by contributions from the Animas and La Plata rivers near
Farmington and joins the Colorado River after turning northwest
past Farmington, passing briefly through
Colorado near the Four
Corners Monument and continuing to the eastern San Juan branch of Lake
Powell in southeast Utah.
The San Juan River forms on the south facing slopes of the San Juan
mountains flowing to the southwest through Pagosa Springs, CO and then joins
the Navajo River before it runs into Navajo Resiorvoir (Navajo Lake) near
the Colorado / New Mexico border east of Arboles, CO. Also
contributing to Navajo Lake are the Piedra River and the Los Pinos.
The Piedra River is formed from smaller streams high in the San Juan
Mountains on southern slopes east of the San Juan headwaters and northwest
of Pagosa Springs, CO. The Piedra flows in a general
southerly direction until it empties into the largest branch of Navajo Lake
near Arboles in southern Colorado. The third major contributor to
Navajo Lake is the Los Pinos River. The Los Pinos forms in the slopes
north of Vallecito, CO where it is dammed forming Vallecito Reservoir.
From the reservoir the Los Pinos flows south past Bayfield, CO and then
Ignacio, CO to enter Navajo Reservoir a little south of the Colorado
border. As you drive from Navajo Dam, NM north to Ignacio, CO on
NM 511 you parallel the branch of Navajo Lake formed from the Los Pinos
river. The Bureau of Reclamation has diverted about 110,000 acre feet
of water annually across the continental divide from Navajo Dam
tributaries to tributaries of Lake Heron in NM and thus to the
Rio Grand System. Most of this diverted water is for
municipal use by several municipalities on the middle Rio Grande
valley, although some is used for irrigation. Downstream
from the town of Navajo dam another major water source from the San Juan Mountains
joins the San Juan river near Farmington. The
Animas river is formed high in the San Juans near Silverton, CO, flows
through Durango, CO eventually joining the San Juan river with its
confluence near Farmington, NM. The Animas river system is a
significant river system although smaller than the San Juan with an annual
yield a little more than 2/3 that of the San Juan below Navajo Dam.
This area was first thought to have been explored by Europreans
in the late 1700's. During this time Capt. Juan Marie de
Rivera (1765) and Padre Francisco Escalante explored parts of
San Juan county from Santa Fe. During the Escalante
Expedition in 1776, many of the areas rivers were named
including the San Juan (Rio San
Juan - St. John River), Piedra
(Rio de las Piedras - Stony River),
Animas (Rio de las Animas Perdidas - River of Lost
Souls), Los Pinos (Rio de los
Pinos - Pine River) and Florida
(Rio Florida - River of Flowers).
Navajo Dam History
The San Juan river was a free flowing river prior to July 1958 when the
Bureau of Reclamation started bulding Navajo Dam, the dam being dedicated in
September 1962. The dam is an earth filled dam over 2/3 mile in length
with a height slightly over 400 ft. Prior to the dam being completed
the San Juan river was a fishery with
Rainbows and Browns as well as some
warm water species, although the water was warmer and often carried more
silt than today. The top of the dam is located at an eleveation of
6,108 ft (Bureau of Reclamation) with the riverbed below the dam at about
5,720 ft. Navajo Lake provides storage for a drainage area of 3,190
square miles in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. From the
dam at Navajo Reservoir, the lake forms 2 major branches extending north and
northeast. The Pine
River branch (Los Pinos), extends approximately 13 miles north through high
desert canyons to near the Colorado Border. The midde branch, formed
from the Piedra and San Juan Rivers, extends 35 miles in a northeasterly
direction all the way past the state line to near Arboles, CO. As you
near the Colorado border, the terrarin looses some of it's high desert
canyon character as the elevation increases and more moisture is available.
Serious consideration for building a dam at the present site began in about
1930 based on investigations of the area dating back to about 1904.
Funding for the dam project was not available until the 1950's when Congress
funded the project by making the dam part of the Colorado River Storage
Project (Bureau of Reclamation). The dam was built to provide the
benefits of a siltation basin, flood control, recreation and water for
irrigation and industry. As part of the funding agreement, the dam was
to provide water for the Navajo indian tribe to irrigate approximately
110,000 acres of the NIIP (Navajo Indian Irrigation Project) southeast of
Farmington. In addition to the NIIP Project, the enabling legislation
to build the dam provided for a diversion of some SJ basin
waters through the Continental Divide to the Rio Grande as the
San Juan Chama Project. In the 1980's, a 30 Megawatt
capacity hydroelectric plant was completed at the base of the dam by the city of Farmington adding
benefits to the existing structure.
Indigenous Peoples of northwest
New Mexico, northeast Arizona, southwest Colorado, and southeast
believe that some of the earliest known humans in North America
inhabited parts of New Mexico, these are referred to as the
Clovis People. The Clovis People were big game hunters as
demonstrated by their distinct arrowheads and spear points,
these points being named Clovis Points after the people. The
Clovis people got their name from the NM town in southeast NM
where they were first discovered. The Clovis people are
estimated to have lived in this area 11,000 - 13,500 years ago
following the last ice age, depending on what type of dating is
used. Evidence indicates that the Clovis People hunted mammoth,
horse and camels prior to these animals extinction in NM.
Although the evidence is less clear, there is some evidence that
indicates that humans may have been living in NM as early as
20,000 years ago. The Clovis culture was followed by the Folsom
people. As Clovis and Folsom people hunted primarily in
small bands following game animals. These cultures did not
leave behind structures and are primarily identifiable by
remains of small hunting camps where various artifacts have been
The area around the San Juan river has an extensive history with indigenous
peoples. Ancient ruins near Bloomfield, Aztec, Chaco Canyon and Mesa
Verde provide an insight into the lives and culture of native peoples
from about 750BC through 1300BC. The fate of these early inhabitants, the Anasazi, is
not certain as
the culture has disappeared without records. The Anasazi are
be the ancestors of the modern day pueblo peoples, may have merged with other tribes, died out, or were
displaced by incoming more powerful peoples. In more modern times, three
indian tribes are known to have lived in the San Juan area.
These tribes are believed to have migrated to the four corners
from the north, some as far as northern Canada. These
three tribes are present in the area today and a fourth, the
Southern Ute's has relocated to the area. The
largest of these tribes, the Navajo, inhabit parts of northwest
New Mexico, northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. The Navajo
indian reservation is the largest in the US and is home to the
largest native american indian tribe in the country.
The Navajo in NM today are located primarily south of the San Juan River
from near Farmington south to Gallup, and north to the
Colorado border from the Farmington area. North of the Navajo in
in southwest Colorado are found two branches of the
Ute tribe. The Southern Utes occupy parts of southwest Colorado north
and west of Navajo Lake east to north of Dulce, NM, their
reservation residing entirely along the southern Colorado border
below Highway 160. The main tributaries to Navajo Lake
pass through Southern Ute territory as well as the Animas
further west. The tribal headquarters of the Southern Utes is in Ignacio, CO.
The original range of the Southern Utes included the eastern slopes
of the front range near Denver, CO down to near Las Vegas, NM, and the San Luis valley in south
central Colorado. The Southern Utes relocated to their present
location following a treaty in 1880. The Ute Mountain Ute tribe is located in southwest Colorado
bordered on the east with the Southern Ute reservation and on
the west at the Colorado / Utah border, with tribal headquarters at Towac, CO, south of Cortez, CO. This
band of the Ute tribe was found north of the Navajo around the San Juan
river in southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah.
The third tribe in the area today is the Jicarilla Apache found in the
Dulce, NM area directly east of present day Navajo Lake. From Dulce,
the Jicarilla Apache reservation extends southward and then southwest to
an area northwest of Cuba, NM. The original range of the
Jicarilla Apache included much of northeastern NM and
southeastern Colorado. Navajo Reservoir and the San
Juan River below the dam are bordered on three sides by present day
indian reservations including Southern Utes to the north, the
Jicarilla Apache to the east and the Navajo to the west.
Geologists have divided geologic time into several periods going
back over 600 million years ago. The granite in some of
New Mexico's high mountains is thought to come from the earliest
period called the Precambrian, more than 540 million years ago.
This granite is found mostly in the high mountains of north
central NM. During the next period of time in NM, the
Paleozoic, from approximately 250 - 540 million years ago,
shallow seas left a history in fossils and sedimentary rock.
Following the Paleozoic is the Mesozoic, from about 65 - 250
million years ago. This is the period of the dinosaurs and
many species have been demonstrated to have lived in NM
including San Juan county, although seas remained in some parts
of the state. The latest period, the Cenozoic, from 65
million years ago to the present led to the current NM desert
environment. It is during this period that NM's mountain
ranges developed and the seas present in earlier times
disappeared. Volcanic activity reshaped the terrain in
many places and large mammals replaced the reptiles of earlier
ages. Mammoths and camels among other mammals roamed the
landscape in a cooler climate.
Navajo Reservoir and the San Juan River lie on the eastern side
of a large geological formation called the Colorado Plateau.
The Colorado Plateau extends from the four corners area east to
about the Rio Grand River, west deep into Arizona and near Salt
Lake City in Utah, north well past Grand Junction in Colorado
and south in NM below Interstate 40. Rocks from the
Cambrian period to the Cenozoic period are present in the San
Juan Basin portion of the Colorado Plateau, but not always on
the surface. The area of the San Juan River
immediately below the dam and Navajo Lake is comprised primarily
of sedimentary rock from the Tertiary and Quaternary time frames
of the Cenozoic period. Sediment carried downstream from
the San Juan Mountains and the lower portion of the Rocky
Mountains formed 40 - 80 million years ago filled the San Juan
Basin forming the sedimentary rock you see today on the canyon
walls of the San Juan river and along the shores of Navajo Lake.
These sedimentary rocks are primarily various sandstones and
Several major Stream Improvement Projects have taken place on
the San Juan in recent years beginning in late 2005. The
projects have been designed to provide better cover for trout
and to improve flow in some parts of the river. More
details are available at the link below.
San Juan Stream
The San Juan River below Navajo Dam runs through a broad
riverbed with a relatively low gradient, often spreading out
into multiple channels. At normal flows of 450 - 500
cfs much of the river is wadeable without depth or strong
currents being an issue for strong waders.
As air temperatures cool going from fall to winter, the surface
layers of the lake become more dense than the water below them
and sink, displacing the water below which moves towards the
surface. The result of this process on the river is that
from late December through about March the water on the San Juan
in some years is slightly off color. This is a result of
fine clay particulates suspended in the water. The river
fishes well during this period.
Navajo Lake State Park, NM and Navajo
State Park, CO
Navajo Lake State Park is a large NM State Park comprised of
Navajo Reservoir and immediate lands around the lake and below
the dam. The park covers 21,000 acres with a lake surface
area of over 15,000 acres. The lake provides fishing for
both warm water species and cold water species with marinas at
the Pine River Site, Sims Mesa site and near Arboles in southern
Colorado. At the Colorado state line the New Mexico's
Navajo Lake State Park ends but Colorado's Navajo State Park
begins. Colorado's Navajo State Park provides year round
improved campsites, fishing, hiking trails and a marina.
Facilities for Colorado's Navajo State Park are near Arboles,
Navajo Lake State Park in NM provides improved campsights at the
Pine River Site immediately north of the dam off Highway 511 and
at Sims Mesa, accessible from from the south via Highway 527,
and at Cottonwood Campground a few miles below the dam on the
San Juan River.
Lake State Park
Navajo State Park
San Juan River Climate - Temperature and Precipitation
|The San Juan has a comfortable climate for fishermen as the
highs of summer days are warm but not humid, winter
temperatures not so cold as to prevent you from enjoying fishing
when properly equipped.
The high desert of the San Juan canyon country has large overnight
temperature changes in the range of 20ºF to 30º F.
Moderating breezes are present many days in the afternoon,
especially in springtime. The warmest days of summer are often
tempered by thunderstoms which quickly cool the air. When
compared with trout rivers further north the San Juan enjoys a long,
steady fishing season as the consistent temperatures from the dam
provide consistent Midge hatches in the Quality Water along with
Baetis year round. Air temperatures in the winter are
generally above freezing providing several hours of comfortable
fishing each winter day. The San Juan is located at a high
altitude with the top of the dam near 6,000 ft and the riverbed
below around 5,700 feet. Sun protection is recommended all
year long, especially in warmer months.
Navajo Dam Weather Forecast
Temperatures generally have overnight lows just below 20º F
with highs near 40º. Precipitation for the month is about
1" with light snows accounting for some of the moisture.
Following the brief snow storms, the sun generally comes out and
clears the roads quickly. There are Midge and baetis hatches
in January, fishing is not uncomfortable for those who are properly
equipped. Layering is the best way to keep warm along with
appropriate gloves, hats and wading boots large enough for heavy
socks. January is usually the coldest month of the year.
Temperatures begin to warm slightly with overnight lows in the low
20's and daytime highs in the mid 40's. As with January, there
is moderate moisture some of which comes in the form of snow.
Daytime highs are generally warm enough to melt snow and ice from
the roads. Winter fishing continues in February with both
Midge and baetis hatches. Layering is important again for
protection from the elements.
Spring is on the way in March as overnight lows are near 30º F
and daytime highs are in the mid 50's. March brings a little
more moisture than January and February, again, some of it may be
short lived snow. The warmer afternoons sometimes bring on
seasonal breezes. A properly equipped fishermen can be
comfortable and catch fish - lots of people have great fishing days
Ovenight temperatures continue to warm with overnight lows in the
mid 30's and daytime highs in the mid 60's. As with March,
some afternoons are breezy but overall temperatures are comfortable
for fishermen. April generally has fish moving out of their
winter holds in slower water and reoccupying faster water including
riffles and runs. Toward the end of April the Bureau of
Reclamation may be starting to progressively release greater flows
from Navajo Dam, normally peak flows do not occur until sometime in
May. The moderate amount of precipitation in April is
generally in the form of rain.
Overnight temperatures continue to rise with lows in the mid 40's
and daytime highs in the low 70's. The flows generally
go up in May to about 5,000 cfs. Flows above 2,000 cfs are
generally difficult or dangerous for wading fishermen. The
higher flows often relocate fish to near the banks so the higher
flows do not prevent fishermen without boats from being successful,
however, fishing with a guide in a drift boat is highly recommended
during higher flows as the guides know how to be successful in these
conditions. In addition, not wading the river when it is high
is strongly recommended as a safety measure. Precipitation in
May is moderate.
Both overnight lows and daytime high temperatures continue to
increase as summer conditions begin to prevail. Daytime highs
are in the mid 80's with overnight lows in the low 50's. June
is usually the driest month of the year with average June
precipitation close to .5". During June the flows generally
start to return to normal with more water being open to wading
fishermen toward the middle and end of the month.
July is the warmest month of the year and also one of the wettest.
Overnight lows are near 60º F and daytime highs average about
90º F. Afternoon thunderstorms are present along with
lightning. These thunderstorms are generally short in duration
and localized, but they can be intense. Take appropriate
precautions when lightning is in the area. During July the
flows are generally returned to normal. Seasonal trout foods
such as Pale Morning Duns, Caddis, terrestrials and Stone Flies may
be present on the water in the areas that they inhabit. Midge
and Baetis hatches continue. To stay comfortable while sitting
out thunderstoms waterproof outergarments are recommended.
Fishing jackets made with GoreTex are the most comfortable as
they are highly breathable.
Temperatures begin to cool slightly in August with daytime hights in
the upper 80's and overnight lows generally around 60º F.
August is the wettest month of the year, most moisture coming in
afternoon and evening thundershowers. As with July, these
thunderstorms can be intense and when there is lightning around,
they can be dangerous. As in July, rain protection can be
important to sit out short thunderstorms.
As days get shorter the temperatures are dropping with September
daytime highs averaging a little under 80º F and overnight lows
in the low 50's. September precipitation is in the form of
rain and averages about 1". Fall fishing can be supurb.
As the temperatures begin to come down in the high country of the
San Juans, the Aspens begin to turn color. If you are able to
spend a day in the Colorado high country as the leaves are turning
you will be well rewarded.
Shorter days and cooler temperatures than September. Daytime
highs are a little below 70º F and overnight lows average just
under 40º F. October precipitation is about 1" in the
form of rain with some thunderstorms. The cooler fall
temperatures turn the San Juan valley gold in color as the large
cottonwoods adapt to the season. Fishing continues to be good.
November fishing is quite beautiful, the year round hatches continue
and the summer crowds are gone. The temperatures are cool but
generally not cold with the daytime highs averaging over 50º F.
Overnight lows begin to dip slightly below freezing so this will
change a few things for campers. Precipitation in November is about
1" with most of this as rain.
Temperatures continue to go down in December with overnight lows
around 20º F and daytime highs about 40º. The days
are short and the nights are long - but the trout continue to feed.
Midges and Baetis continue to hatch on various parts of the river.
December precipitation is about 1" with mostly rain but some snow is
possible. As with other months, snowstorms in December
generally do not produce accumulated snow and ice as the storms are
generally short in duration followed by warmer days and sunshine
which melts the snow and ice quickly.
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Ph: 505-632-5385 888-475-5770 #4 County Road 4251 Navajo Dam, NM 87419