PINK ROCK CANYONS carve out secluded coves with sandy-beach shores at Conchas Lake, the 25-mile-long reservoir crafted by the Canadian and Conchas rivers as they run out of the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Poking in and out of the now-submerged canyons, paddlers may spot petroglyphs etched into some of the boulders, partially worn away where the lake once covered them.
Being on the water in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard can create a profound shift in perspective that’s unlike being in a car, on a hike, or even aboard a motorboat. “It becomes your transportation platform into a different environment,” says Robert Levin, New Mexico state director of the American Canoe Association. “You can find just about anything from the water.”
Relatively inexpensive and easily transported, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards have experienced a “tremendous increase” in usage at state parks in recent years, according to State Parks Director Toby Velasquez. In fact, a Facebook group Levin moderates for canoers, kayakers, and stand-up paddlers has added 1,000 new members in just the first quarter of this year.
Interested in joining the wave? Levin reminds first-timers to wear a personal flotation device and carry a whistle, both per state law; watch the wind and water temperatures, which can turn a casual outing into a complete nightmare; and paddle with a partner.
“All the large bodies of water are prone to winds, so you have to be extremely careful,” he says. “Inflatable watercraft like to get blown around like a balloon.”
At larger reservoirs in the state parks system, open stretches of shoreline are available for primitive camping. Ambitious, solitude-seeking campers can load up an inflatable kayak or canoe, paddle out to a stretch of sand, sleep within sight of the placid waters, and wake to the morning breeze casting small waves against the shore.
“My primary goal out there is really wildlife and serenity,” Levin says. “You can find that really easily in a lot of places.”
Take the Plunge
At Navajo Lake, in the northwestern corner of the state, rentals are available at the marinas (navajomarina.com, simsmarina.com). Go big on a houseboat, jostle one another around on bumper boats, pedal an aqua cycle or hydro bike with oversize, inflated wheels, or explore the reservoir’s contours with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
Make your base camp at one of the RV-specific campgrounds at Ute Lake, in eastern New Mexico near Tucumcari, then explore nearly 13 miles of water by boat. The blue-green water laps at grassy banks spotted with boulders.
Brantley Lake, near Carlsbad, is New Mexico’s southernmost reservoir, a surprise in a landscape otherwise dotted with cacti. Strategize a route on hiking trails that wend along the shore, launch from one of the concrete boat ramps or floating docks, and clean up afterward at the bathhouse.