A Tiny Treasure of a Park

A relatively new state park in the cool mountains New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle

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On our recent week-long trip to the Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico, we had the opportunity to visit several places to take our RV on future trips.  One little state park we found was pretty and one we would consider for a night or two on a return trip.

Eagle Nest Lake State Park is not a big park, but it occupies some prime real estate on the west side of Eagle Nest Lake, which is quite beautiful.  It is a relatively new state park, only founded in 2004.

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Main entrance to Eagle Nest Lake State Park
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Visitor’s center area

 

We took the opportunity, after paying our day use fee at the gate drop box, to tour this little park and check out some of the RV sites.

We started our tour at the visitor’s center, but it was locked up on that Wednesday morning.  In fact, we never saw a park employee anywhere in the park during our visit.  It looks like a very nice visitor’s center, and I wish we could have checked it out to see what was offered inside.  There were about six RV campers in the campground, but they obviously could not use any of these facilities, at least on the day we were there.  (I will give some credit here for at least keeping the park open for day visitors and campers, though, unlike the national forests in New Mexico who just seem to pretty much close up shop after Labor Day and completely lock their parks and campgrounds up to everyone.  Ugh.)

For anyone with a boat, there is a boat ramp next to the visitor’s center to give easy access to the lake right in the park.

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Visitor’s center
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Wish we could have seen inside the visitor’s center, but it was locked up. 😦
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A little info on the park

 

There are some nice, tall trees in the day use area, along with beautiful lakeside covered tables.  A picnic here would be a lovely experience, for sure.  We were the only people in this area during our visit, too.

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Unlike the day use area, there are no trees in the RV campground, which is unfortunate.  The draw to camping here for us, though, would be the great lakeside sites with the nice covered tables.  These particular sites are also pull-through sites and looked to be pretty level.  And as if to try to make up for the lack of trees here, the yellow and purple wildflowers were absolutely beautiful!

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There is a small area of private residences just behind the state park, including the campground, so if you want a campground that is away from more developed areas, this one might not be for you.  All of the RV sites are dry camping sites, too.  However, for a small nightly fee, camping by a beautiful lake with mountains behind it, a covered table at the site and cooler summer temps is still a good deal to us!  I think the nightly fee was about $10?

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The tiny town of Eagle Nest sits at the north end of the lake and is easily seen from the visitor’s center area.

 

 

The town of Eagle Nest is nearby, and Angel Fire is only about ten miles away to the south. When planning a visit to this area, it would be worth checking to see what businesses are open and what businesses are closed in each community, especially if visiting in the off-season on a weekday.  The little town of Eagle Nest was pretty much buttoned up on this same day when we went there and hoping to check out some restaurants and shops.  There is a Lowe’s grocery store in Angel Fire, if needed.

This was a fact-finding, or RV park-finding, trip for us, and if/when we return to this area again, I think we might spend a night or two in this pretty little park.  The nightly rate is so cheap, and it would put us a bit closer for day trips to Eagle Nest and Red River, as compared to staying in Angel Fire where we stayed during our trip.  Our only disappointment was finding the park facilities to be locked up with no one on duty, but for just a night or two, we would probably be fine with that.

We also paid a quick visit to two campgrounds at Cimarron Canyon State Park, Ponderosa Campground and Maverick Campground.  I was driving the car and did not take any photos, unfortunately, but we really liked that park.  Just like Eagle Nest Lake State Park, the sites are dry camping, but we would most definitely consider camping there for a few nights.  The draw to that park for us is a true forest camping experience with access to the Cimarron River and some nice hiking trails.  Larger RVs use the Ponderosa Campground in that park, but smaller ones have a few more options in campgrounds.

Since I have no photos to share of this pretty park, here are two helpful links.

Photos of Cimarron Canyon State Park

Campsite Photos – Cimarron Canyon State Park

I have more to share on our trip soon. 😉

Easter Week at the Lake

We enjoyed a few days at Lake Brownwood State Park just before Easter once again.  Springtime is such a great time to visit this lovely park, and for the first time since we began visiting here is early 2012, the lake was completely full!  This was also our yearly pilgrimage to see our beautiful Texas bluebonnets once again.  A trip to see the bluebonnets in spring holds a special place in my heart, dating back to my childhood days with my family when we would make a trip to another lake in central Texas in the spring, often during this very same week when we had a break from school for Easter.

Here are two views of the same spot at Lake Brownwood in the day use area.  The first photo is from last year at this same time, and the second photo is from last week.

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2015
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2016

 

While we certainly missed all of those beautiful bluebonnets that we saw last year, it was such a treat to finally see this beautiful lake completely full with green grass and trees all around.  The lake actually filled up shortly after our visit last year after significant rains came to much of the state to finally end the drought that began in 2011, but this was our first time back to the lake since the rains came.

There are several campgrounds in the park, and we always enjoy the Council Bluff campground with the full hookups, nice shady sites, great views of the lake and easy access to some nice trails afforded there.  In fact, the overlook in this campground is one of my favorite places in the entire park, especially at sunset.

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Council Bluff overlook, about a minute walk from our campsite
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View from Council Bluff overlook
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Council Bluff overlook
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Council Bluff campground in the morning
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Area behind our campsite in Council Bluff where we saw some wild turkeys
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Sunset view from Council Bluff overlook

 

I captured a few photos of some pretty birds in the campground, including my first photos of our state bird of Texas, the mockingbird, which we do not see very often in our part of the state, unfortunately.  These pretty birds have a beautiful wingspan, too.

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Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas
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Northern Cardinal
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Mockingbird

 

The Willow Point campground, which sits right on the lake, is another beautiful place to camp in the park, offering water and electric sites with easy lake access.  The gorgeous day use area also sits next to this campground, and a nice fishing pier and boat ramp is within an easy walk.  We actually decided to return to the park midweek at some point and camp in Willow Point to take full advantage of the lake access, too.

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Swimming spot at the day use area
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Lovely day use area
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A nice campsite in Willow Point campground
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Lakeside campsites in Willow Point campround
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Willow Point campground
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Patch of bluebonnets near the day use area
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Beautiful bluebonnet

 

Lake Brownwood State Park is one of 29 CCC Legacy Parks in the Texas State Park system, and the most impressive site in the park is the historic lodge, built by the CCC during the Great Depression.  Hubby’s father was part of a CCC group in the hill country in that time, so all of the CCC facilities throughout the state hold a special place in our hearts, for sure.

I always enjoy seeing this beautiful and impressive building on each trip, and each year on Easter Sunday, a sunrise service is held here at a gorgeous overlook that has a great view of the lake as the sun shines its first golden rays over the lake.

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Historic CCC lodge
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Monument at the historic lodge
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Big patio behind the historic lodge
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Beautiful overlook area near the historic lodge
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Sunrise service is held in this beautiful spot every Easter morning.

 

Of course, a visit to this area is not complete without enjoying a meal at a truly iconic restaurant in the town of Brownwood, which is 22 miles south of the park.  Underwood’s Cafeteria is not to be missed when in this area, and you can’t miss it when driving through town with those large signs.  We opted to dine here at lunch on Thursday before the holiday crowds came to the area, which was a good plan.  Underwood’s Cafeteria has been in business for 70 years as of this year and is still going strong with some of the best BBQ anywhere at a fair price.

We had a great, relaxing trip back to this area, and even the dogs had a great time, I think.  We took the car along on this trip instead of the motorcycle, as the weather was a bit cooler than on previous trips, so we took them with us on some nice drives here for the first time.  Easy access to some of our favorite hiking trails from our campsite also allowed us to take them hiking every day, and we especially enjoyed hiking the Texas Oak Trail above the lake at sunset each day.

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Big Red loves to look out the window at our fellow campers.
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Girly Girl enjoying a morning nap in the sunshine in the RV.

 

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Nymph and Dream Lakes

After we finished our half-mile walk/hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, we began our uphill trek to see two more beautiful Alpine lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  Our goal was to hike to both lakes, then return to our car for a late picnic lunch before hiking to Alberta Falls in the afternoon, although we held open the possibility of hiking on to Emerald Lake once we were at Dream Lake.

While our hike around Bear Lake was on a trail at an elevation of 9,475 feet that was basically flat, the trail up to the other lakes was a slow and steady climb, with a few breaks along the way.  Fortunately, we were more acclimated to the high altitude on this day than we were two days earlier at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, when we attempted our first hike above 9000 feet and had to cut it short.  In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed this particular hike to the lakes and got a good, calorie-burning workout in the process.

The entire hike was amazingly beautiful, and that is likely an understatement.  This is one of the most beautiful sites that anyone will ever see, so rather than repeat that fact over and over again, I will try to refrain from stating this fact and just show a few photos to share that fact.

 The first part of the hike to Nymph Lake climbed to an elevation of 9,705 feet over a distance of a half-mile, and the climb began right away once we left Bear Lake.  It felt like climbing a long staircase for much of the way, but it did not take long to finally arrive at our first scenic stop at Nymph Lake.  We had a nice rest break here, enjoying the view and catching our breath a bit.  I was surprised to see that I actually had a little cell signal here, so I took that opportunity to take a picture with my phone camera and send it to a couple of good friends who were dealing with brutally hot weather at their respective locations that holiday weekend.

Nymph Lake 1
Nymph Lake
Nymph Lake 2
Pond lilies at Nymph Lake
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Beautiful Nymph Lake
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A curious squirrel posed beside me as I took a hiking break at Nymph Lake.

After taking photos and enjoying the views, we then continued onward and upward to Dream Lake, which sits at an elevation of 9,912 feet and is .8 mile from Nymph Lake.  It was the highest elevation we ever attempted to hike, and thankfully, it was a great experience for us.

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Hiking to Dream Lake
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The trail to Dream Lake often rimmed the edge of the mountain.
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Mountain stream on the hike to Dream Lake

Dream Lake is just amazingly beautiful.  There, I said it again.  It is hard to not gush over the beauty of this place.  We spent quite a bit of time here at the end of our planned morning hike and just enjoyed being there.  I was quite surprised to see how many people were already there along the banks with their fishing poles, too.  It was such a peaceful, serene place at almost 10,000 feet, and our reward for our climb was definitely worth it.

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Hallett Peak (12.720 ft) and Dream Lake
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Emerald green water at Dream Lake
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Looking back over Dream Lake from the west end
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People fishing at Dream Lake
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Fishermen at Dream Lake
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The trail hugged the edge of this beautiful lake for amazing views.

After hiking to the far end of the lake and just a bit beyond, we made a decision to return to the car for a late lunch, rather than skipping lunch to hike on to Emerald Lake.   It was nice to hike downhill for a change, too.  Just like a trip by car, the scenery is often quite spectacular behind us, and we discovered that happy fact as we made our way back to Bear Lake.  It was just a grand hike in both directions.

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Dream Lake 8

Dream Lake 9

Dream Lake 10

Once we were back at the car, we enjoyed another picnic lunch in the park at a scenic spot nearby, which was handy for us.  It was nice to not have to sit in the car to eat this time, as the weather was pretty much perfect.  Clouds and cooler breezes began to roll in a bit, so we made it a quick lunch, then set out for our last adventure in the park on this trip – a hike to beautiful Alberta Falls, which I will share in my next post.

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Hiking at Bear Lake

On our last day in Rocky Mountain National Park, the skies cleared for the first time in our trip, and we were finally on our way back into the park to do some hiking.

RMNP Sign
Sign near the Beaver Meadows entrance

After looking over our park map and reading reviews of the different trails in our Fodor’s guide-book, we opted to begin our hiking day in the Bear Lake area.  The trails at Bear Lake are among the most visited trails in the park, and we were aware that we needed to begin our day pretty early to get a parking spot, especially since it was Labor Day and many people were in the park this day.

Long's Peak on a beautiful morning
Long’s Peak on a beautiful morning
Driving to Bear Lake
Driving to Bear Lake

We arrived in the area just before 10 am, which was a bit later than we hoped to arrive in the area, and we were not surprised to find a sign stating that the small parking lot at Bear Lake was already full.  The sign directed us to park in the large overflow lot, and we were quite surprised to find that lot almost full.  Thankfully, we found a parking spot toward the back of the lot near a picnic table, which would come in handy for our picnic lunch a bit later after our first hike was done.

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Overflow lot and bus stop near Bear Lake
Bus Stop in RMNP Overflow Lot
Overflow lot and bus stops near Bear Lake

The overflow lot had stops for three different bus routes, so after seeing a bus called “Hiker’s Route,” we decided that must be the bus we needed to take us to the Bear Lake area.  We waited about ten minutes, then hopped on the bus with a few other people.  When the bus turned the wrong way on Bear Lake Road, however, we immediately knew we had made a big mistake.  Fortunately, we were sitting right behind the bus driver, who was kind enough to return us back to the overflow lot, and he directed us to the bus we needed to take.  We definitely detected more than a little irritation in his voice, but we were just grateful to not have to ride that bus *all the way back to Estes Park!*  Seriously, that bus should have that destination listed somewhere for visitors to see, at least on its return trip back to town.  I seriously doubt we are the only ones that have made that mistake, too.

A few minutes later, we boarded the correct bus, which finally dropped us at Bear Lake after making a few stops at other trailheads along the way.  The Bear Lake bus stop reminded me of a bus stop in a major city due to the large number of people there, and my heart sank just a bit.  I knew we would not have any trails to ourselves on this busy holiday, but this seemed a bit much.  Fortunately, there were several trails that people could take from that drop point, and we enjoyed a truly great day of hiking, despite a few more people on the trails than we would prefer.  The fabulous scenery made up for it, and people were dispersed on the trails pretty well for the most part.

 We saw three beautiful Alpine lakes on our 2.5 hour hike – Bear Lake, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  It was such a fabulous hike in absolutely perfect weather, too.  Bear Lake sits almost adjacent to the bus stop area, and the half-mile trail around the lake was our first hike.  This was an easy trail on a level path, and our early reward this day was some truly gorgeous views!  No wonder this is such a popular place, especially for people who are not up to more strenuous hikes but still want to see some beautiful scenery.

Bear Lake 1

Bear Lake 2

Bear Lake 3

Bear Lake 4

Bear Lake 5

Bear Lake 6

Bear Lake 7

In my next post, I will share the rest of our beautiful morning hike to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  Both are amazingly beautiful and at altitudes higher than Bear Lake.

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