John Martin Reservoir State Park – August 22nd to 25th, 2020

Attitude is everything. During our three night stay in John Martin Reservoir, Right Buddy (RB) let some things get the best of her and her attitude took a nose dive. Keeping a positive attitude helps dealing with problems that pop up. And problems will always arise.

The drive from Trinidad to John Martin Reservoir is along US 350 and US 50. It is the Santa Fe Trail Auto Route and closely follows the original Santa Fe Trail (National Historic Trail). Crossing the grasslands was a monotonous drive, but as we approached the Arkansas River and Las Animas, the landscape became a little greener with some trees, to our relief. Our reservation was in the Hasty Campground at John Martin. For a change, we had one of the nicer spots, in the section with lots of shade among the trees. It was a rather long walk to the restrooms, but hey, you can’t have everything! We arrived close to dinner time, but the temperatures were still in the 100’s. The shade was nice, but there wasn’t much of a breeze. RB put a wet bandana around her neck and wet down her hair and t-shirt until she felt comfortable. Somehow LB managed to sit there in the heat in long pants; he’s not much of a shorts guy. After a dinner of hash browns and applesauce, we worked in the shade. The previous couple of nights were cool enough that we didn’t run the air conditioner. Even though the temperatures were supposed to drop down into the 60’s that night, it was still pretty warm by the time we went to bed, so we turned on the air conditioner but left the vents in the front door windows. So part way through the night, the air conditioner no longer needed to turn on.

It was surprisingly cool in the morning. We drove around John Martin Reservoir to get a lay of the land. First stop was the Visitor Center to verify the boating rules. They were the same as before, no motor means no inspection required. The ranger at the Visitor Center recommended we use our kayak in Lake Hasty instead of the large reservoir. We drove down to Point Campground and Point Overlook to check them out. On the way is a Santa Fe Trail historical marker. There is a hiking trail from Lake Hasty to the marker, but it did not look that appealing to us, probably because it was August and the trail is rather exposed.

The Point Campground and Overlook are down a dirt road. The camp sites there are primitive, meaning no hookups, and there are no trees, so probably not the place to camp in August. However, there was one camp site where the people were packing up to leave. All the other sites looked unoccupied. The view of the lake from the overlook was nice. The overlook is on top of a short, rocky cliff. John Martin Reservoir is the second largest body of water in Colorado. The largest is Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison. We saw a couple of tarantula hawks at the point. They are large wasps with an excruciating sting. Thankfully they are not aggressive, but we made sure we kept our distance.

From there, we drove down past Lake Hasty on the eastern side, past the swim beach. The swim beach is small and not very inviting. No one was there. We tried to drive down to the South Shore of the reservoir, but we missed the turn and realized we were heading the wrong direction. We turned around and drove over the dam. The turn off to the South Shore is just before the dam. We circled back around to the west side of Lake Hasty, near the Fishing Pier.

After having lunch at a picnic table there, we put the SS Little Buddy (our Sea Eagle 370 kayak - paid link) into the north side of Lake Hasty. There is a little strip of land across the middle of Lake Hasty. The water level at the time we were there allowed two small channels of water between the two halves of the lake, but they were too narrow and shallow to get our kayak through, so we had to pick which side we wanted to paddle in. We circled around the north half of the lake a couple of times, following the shoreline. A few blue herons were getting tired of us chasing them around the lake. We were not trying to chase them, we would just eventually catch up with them again as we circled around. We shared the lake with a family paddling around in four red kayaks. Their camp site was in the adjacent row from ours.

RB thought they would be bored paddling around the small lake, but there was a lot of wildlife to observe along the way. A turtle scurried away from us as we put the SS Little Buddy into the water. Swarms of blue damselflies parted as we passed through. A large group of water skimmers fled away from us. Dragonflies passed by us. We think we spotted a piping plover along the sandy shore. John Martin Reservoir is one of the few remaining nesting areas for the threatened piping plover and for the endangered least tern. Every now and then a gull would fly by. Several great blue herons waded near the shore looking for their next meal. When we got close to one, it would fly to another area of the lake, only to do it again when we circled around to them again.

When we got back to our camp site, we discovered our table cloth had been taken. Shortly after we got back, the camp host was driving around in his golf cart. We asked him if he knew anything about the missing table cloth, hoping that he had taken it thinking that we had left it behind. No, no one had turned anything in. The table cloth was cheap, but the bungee cords we used to hold it down were probably worth more.

The rest of the day we sat outside working on our computers. The biting flies became quite a nuisance. RB tried to ignore them, stomping her feet and waving her hands to try to shoo them away. By the end of the day, RB’s arms and legs were covered with bug bites. Since LB had long pants on, he faired much better. RB was no longer asking how he could stand to keep long pants on in the heat. We had a cold, simple dinner, chicken salad sandwiches.

RB woke up with her arms and legs still itching from all of the bug bites. She got up and lathered hand lotion over her legs and arms to soothe them and keep her from scratching them so much. Even though she felt it was too warm for long pants and long sleeves, she put on her long hiking pants and long sleeve hiking shirt to keep the flies off of her while she ate breakfast outside.

Our camp host stopped by. He had spotted some bungee cords near the dumpster and picked them up in case they were ours. They were! At least we got the bungee cords back. They are worth more than the cheap table cloth. Thank you, camp host! That was going a step beyond your duties and we appreciate your efforts.

We drove over to the South Shore to try kayaking in the big reservoir that day. LB didn’t feel like kayaking, so RB went by herself. The shoreline was sandy and mucky. The water was very shallow where we put the SS Little Buddy into the water. The muck sucked up RB’s feet and she fought with it a little bit to get into the boat. Despite trying to wash her feet off in the water as she got in, she brought some of the black gunk in with her. The biting flies did not find her while she was out on the water.

RB paddled around for a little over an hour, staying on the south side of the lake. She made it as far west as the Point Overlook on the north shore that we had checked out the day before. Along the way, there was a large section of the South Shore that was marked off with buoys to indicate a protected nesting area for the piping plover and least tern. She saw several great blue herons and lots of sea gulls. A large flock of white pelicans were in the distance, but they flew away before RB got anywhere close to them. There were not many other boats on the large reservoir. A motorboat was pulling someone in a tube. People were fishing from a couple of other boats. A pontoon boat cruised by. Someone launched a canoe from the South Shore.

RB noticed a couple of butterflies out on the lake near the kayak. They seemed a little far from shore. She wondered if they intentionally fly out over the lake or end up there by mistake. What benefit would they get from flying that far over a body of water? Maybe they were just enjoying the view!

We ate lunch while the kayak was drying. The biting flies were not as bad on the South Shore as they were in the campground or by Lake Hasty. However, a large wasp or hornet flew over to check us out. From a distance it must have looked like we were doing some sort of strange dance as we moved around in an attempt to keep the insect from landing on us. It was not a tarantula hawk, but we still were not interested in experiencing its sting.

After SS Little Buddy was dry, we packed it up and headed back to our camp site. RB tried out the showers in the camper services building. Similar to Trinidad Lake, the showers were 25 cents per minute and a half with a minimum of two quarters. The water temperature was easily controlled and there was decent water pressure.

At this point, RB’s attitude spiraled downward. She was fed up with the biting flies, was tired of feeling hot, and didn’t like the taste of the fresh water at the campground. We plugged in and turned on the air conditioner. We spent most of the rest of the day inside the van. Lots of flies had found their way into the van, so we kept the fly swatter within reach and the bodies of dead flies started piling up on the van floor. RB felt a little guilty for feeling a twisted kind of pleasure while killing the flies. The flies gained a little advantage when we broke off a quarter of the fly swatter on the corner of a cabinet. To cover up the taste of the water, RB made lemonade and tea, but since we have no ice, it was warm lemonade and warm tea. From the heat to the flies to the bad tasting water, RB was more than ready to move on to the next park.

An egg scramble was on the menu for the evening, which required cooking outside on our butane stove (paid link). RB cut up all the ingredients inside the van while LB cooked at the picnic table outside. While LB was cooking, he noticed that significantly more flies were hanging out on RB’s camp chair than on LB’s. Perhaps we just need to hose down RB’s chair. She sat in it several times while still wet with lake water over the past week. That may be what was attracting the flies.

After dinner, we both walked down to the restroom together. The closer we got to Lake Hasty, the stronger the wind was blowing. By the time we were close to the shore, the wind was so strong that LB had to take his hat off and hang on to it so it wouldn’t blow away. Above our heads was about 20 turkey vultures soaring in the wind. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The next morning, RB woke up in a better mood. Maybe it had something to do with the fact we were leaving John Martin Reservoir that day. She realized that she had let the flies get the best of her and that affected how she felt about everything else that didn’t go perfectly. For some reason, we didn’t think to put on bug spray for the biting flies. We’re not sure how well bug spray would have worked for the flies as we normally only use it for mosquitos.

Looking back on our experience at John Martin Reservoir, RB’s opinion of the state park has improved over how she felt our last day there. Would we recommend going to John Martin Reservoir in August? Probably not. A cooler time of year would be better. Just be prepared to deal with the biting flies. Oh, and bring along a positive attitude!

Check out our related video: John Martin Reservoir State Park

(RB)