Summer 2021 Tour Chama, New Mexico Episode 3: Echo Amphitheater and Heron Lake and Dam

In this post we wrap up our time in Chama, New Mexico, with a quick visit to Echo Amphitheater and Heron Lake State Park.

Echo Amphitheater

As we headed west on US 84 from Ghost Ranch toward Chama, we noticed Echo Amphitheater and had to stop. The rainbow of sandstone cliffs were created during the Triassic and Jurassic periods between 251 and 154 million years ago.

A cave in the making to the left and amphitheater to the right

We followed the concrete trail and ramps until we reached the dead end, where concave cliffs towered above and wrapped around us. Water cascading over the sandstone cliffs created the amphitheater over millions of years.

Information panels tell the amphitheater’s geological story
Flower growing in the parking lot

Picture the land mass of New Mexico as a grassy plain in a tropical or subtropical region located only 10 degrees north of the equator. Deposits from flood plains, lakes, and the rivers that once flowed across the grasslands created the Chinle Formation, which we recognize as the red siltstone and fine sandstone in the lower layers of the cliffs.

Jon stands on the observation deck

Then along came the Jurassic period, when a large lake formed across the Chama Basin region depositing additional layers of basal limestone and shale. As the lake evaporated, a layer of gypsum formed to create the gray caps on top of the cliffs.

Myths of murder posit the cause of the stains. I’ll believe the scientific hypothesis.
From bottom to top: red siltstone and fine sandstone, then basal limestone and shale, gypsum forms the gray caps on the top.

Native Indians and Hispanos harvested the limestone to prepare maiz concho (a hard-shell white corn) into pozole (a dish similar to hominy) and corn tortillas.

The rounded edge of this cliff, with its protective beret on top, seems to evoke a sense of power and movement

At the observation platform, we tried a few shy yells, and then we followed with full throated hoots and hollers. We couldn’t help but smile when the sounds echoed off the walls. It’s too bad carrying a tune is not in my repertoire of skills. I could only imagine what it would feel like to belt out a song in that space.

Dead or alive?

Besides the amphitheater, visitors can find tent camping spots, a hiking trail, and covered picnic tables at Echo Amphitheater.

Heron Lake State Park

One day while in Chama, New Mexico, we drove south on US 64 and transitioned to NM 95, where we stumbled upon the Heron Lake State Park. At the visitor center, we looked at the small exhibits, paid our $5.00 day-use fee, and picked up a map.

Don’t forget to pay the $5.00 fee

We pulled into one of the day-use sites at the west end of Heron Dam. The colorful rock mesa and lake landscape caught my attention and became my subjects for several photographs.

Heron Dam

The earth-filled Heron dam is part of the Colorado River Storage Project and operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. It measures 1,221 feet (372 m) long and 276 feet (84 m) high. Constructed in 1971 near the confluence of Willow Creek with Rio Chama, the dam creates Lake Heron. At its fullest, the reservoir covers 5,905 acres (23.90 km2) and contains 401,000 acre-feet (495,000,000 m3) of water.

View of lake from dam

Developed and primitive RV and tent camping are available, some of which are along the shoreline. Only a few of the sites have full hookups, many have electricity and water, some have no electricity and/or water, and about half require a reservation. Campers will enjoy having fresh water, the dump station, and restrooms with showers.

View from day-use site

Visitors will find plenty of recreational activities to engage in year round. Fancy a bit of winter ice fishing or cross-country skiing? Lake Heron has it. In the summer, anglers can try their luck catching trout, or kokanee salmon.

Shoreline camping

Motorboats are allowed at trolling speed only, so no summer water skiing is allowed. Kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and sailboats are welcome.

Colorful rock mesa

For adventurers who prefer to keep their feet, or wheels, on the ground, the 7 miles of hiking and biking trails should suit them just fine. While hiking and biking, keep a watchful eye open for black bear, elk, deer, marmot, bald eagles, and osprey. They all call the park home.

Where’d that onion come from?

Then we went to the other end of the dam to see the water flow out and down river to El Vado Lake, another storage and release lake of the Colorado River Storage Project.

Backside of dam
Outlet from Heron Dam
Ponderosa pine forest in the canyon

Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit El Vado Lake where there’s a day use area, mostly tent camping, a few RV reservation sites, and a launch ramp.

Next up: We stay a couple nights in Green River, Utah, and visit the JW Powell River History Museum.

Safe Travels

4 thoughts on “Summer 2021 Tour Chama, New Mexico Episode 3: Echo Amphitheater and Heron Lake and Dam

  1. What a great place to explore. The Echo Amphitheater is really unqiue! The picture of the parking lot flower is beautiful – love the color. This area looks so large, and it doesn’t look like there are crowds there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope the same. We rebooked the Hawaii trip we had planned for April 2020 for June this year. Our fingers and toes are crossed it works out. We’re thinking of driving Route 66 later in the year and hope to explore Missouri and visit a couple relatives who live there. Will 2021 be another travel year for you and Dan?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.