Just a week ago, a middle-aged woman sat in a lawn chair — propped up on the shady side of her recreational vehicle — and read a book next to a quiet Ute Lake. Hers was among only six RVs in the lot.
That serenity ended over the weekend. By Saturday, the place was overcome with vehicles and camps as far as the eye could see. For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer and Ute Lake is where they spend much of their summer. While activities range from hiking to flying small airplanes near the site, most of the bustle surrounds the essence of the lake itself. “Boating is probably the biggest priority of most people that come out. They enjoy the water,” said Rodney Paris, 26-year-old park manager at Ute Lake State Park.
“We have an adequate amount of water for recreational users — fishermen to water skiiers to personal water craft. There’s a wide variety; you even see some parasailors now and then.” The cost to rent what’s called a “primitive” camp site at Ute Lake — basically, just a spot to set up a tent — is $8 a night. A “developed” site, one that includes a table, grill, shelter and nearby water, runs the user $10 each evening.
For an extra $4, electricity is provided at 77 sites throughout the 13-mile-long lake. During the summer, seven permanent employees are joined by seven more seasonal workers.
Paris a San Jon native, said safety enforcement is among employees’ priorities. Signs, which include, “Don’t Booze + Cruise,” dot the landscape. “Most people don’t come out to just drink. Most have another reason — that just seems to be an accessory to a weekend at the lake,” Paris said.
Glass containers of alcohol are prohibited. “Of course, boating while intoxicated is against the law and it’s strictly enforced,” he said.
“But you can swim, you can fish, you can ski. The surface temperature of the lake right now is 66 degrees. Anything you want to do, there’s a place to do it.” The lake is mostly inhabited by eastern New Mexico residents, but travelers are also drawn to its atmosphere. Visitors from Nebraska were recently at park headquarters, contemplating the purchase of a season pass for RV spaces at New Mexico state parks.
“We always wanted to come here (to Ute Lake), but we never had the time,” said Charlette Cshwanke. “It’s a really nice place.” And a busy place, as of last weekend.