ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With rain still in short supply, the drought has indirectly taken its toll on another state park as Cimarron Canyon State Park, while spared the ravages of the nearby Ute Park fire, is still closed for the foreseeable future.
Still, three other state parks within the northeast region remain open and welcoming visitors.
Clayton Lake State Park
In 1982, flood-level rains washed over the spillway at the park in the northeast corner of the state, slicing off a level of sediment, unveiling an extensive trackway of dinosaur prints.
With more than 500 different dinosaur footprints, most dating about 100 million years ago from the Cretaceous period, the collection is one of the top-six in the country in terms of variety of dinosaur tracks.
The tracks are accompanied by slithering S-shaped ruts from tails, a feature drawing interest from as far away as Japan, Australia and England.
“In the early to mid-90s they made it an attraction,” said Mark Funk, park manager. “They built a walkway around the track and a pavilion with signage about the dinosaurs that made the tracks. They do look pretty cool, but they are eroding some because they are exposed.”
In addition to the dinosaur tracks, the 440-acre park is filled with the 170-acre lake that is an attraction in its own right.
“What it’s known for is its fishing,” Funk said. “We have a lot of rainbow trout from hatcheries in Red River. We have walleye state record of 16-pounds, nine-ounces and 37 inches long. There are still big ones in the lake. We have channel cats that are 15 to 20 pounders and bass.”
The park also is an International Dark Sky Park, one of the top-three dark-sky observatories in the country. Unfortunately, the volunteer group of astronomers who ran the observatory and its 11-inch, computer-assisted telescope has disbanded. But there are still other pads there for amateurs to set up their own scopes, he said.
At one end of the park, a short nature trail also meanders past old rock sheepherder pens. The wildlife ranges from mule deer to bobcats to porcupine and wild turkeys.
Conchas Lake State Park
North of Tucumcari, Conchas Lake is actually at its highest levels in almost two decades, despite the ongoing drought.
“Late last season, we had some really good rains in our part of the state and the lake came up to the highest level in 18 years,” said park manager Randy Bates. “We’re still holding onto most of that water. The lake originally was built for flood control and irrigation and in April they started drawing water for farmers. But we are still at historically high water levels for the past 18 years. That increase in water has really had a good affect on the fish population.”
Walleye, small- and large-mouth bass, crappie, blue gill, catfish and carp all have been plentiful not only with good-sized fish being pulled from the lake, but also plenty of young ones that bodes well for the future fish population, he said.
The lake is almost 25 miles from the entrance of the Canadian River to the egress of the Conchas River, making it one of the state’s largest and leaving plenty of room for water craft of all varieties. Visitors this year, however, will have to bring their own as the contract with the marina’s concessionaire was discontinued last year and has not been replaced yet.
The dam that created the lake is occasionally opened for tours through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; for more information call 575-868-2221.
Coyote Creek State Park
About halfway between Mora and Angel Fire, Coyote Creek is one of the state’s smaller parks, but it has a nice, mellow aspect to it, said park manager Chris Vigil.
“There’s a small creek that flows through the park,” he said. “And it has several beaver dams.”
It’s stocked on a biweekly basis with about 300 trout, making it a great place for beginning anglers to get their feet wet.
“The fishing is great,” Vigil said. “Due to the small body of water and high volume of fish, fishing is very successful here at the park. It’s great especially for the children because the fish aren’t big.”
The creek is lined with willow trees and smaller indigenous trees.
“It is a beautiful creek,” Vigil said. “Right now, it’s pretty shallow. The deepest pool is about five feet deep. But the creek is accessible through the park, 99 percent of the creek is accessible to fishing.”