Beauty at 10,200 feet: Camping and fishing at Turquoise Lake
It’s 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, and there is a mad scramble going on inside my household as we put the finishing touches on the camping trailer for the upcoming trip. The sun shines bright on a clear morning, which is good, as we plan our trip. We are headed on a five-day trip to Turquoise Lake, which rests just past Leadville. At 9 a.m., we are finally ready to depart, and the adventure begins with a nearly four-hour drive, though we are rewarded with beautiful mountain and canyon scenery.
We knew we were finally near our destination as we passed through the small historic town of Leadville, so named for the lead, gold and silver that was mined from the surrounding areas. Situated at 10,152 feet, Leadville most common nickname is “Two-Mile High City.” Passing through the small town, I noticed that the town itself seemed to be preparing for an event over the weekend. It was not till later that I found out that this event was none other than the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, and this year marks the 21st annual race.
But the race was not why we drove to Leadville. We had come for the lake. Reaching our campground, which was once no more than a parking lot, we found my grandparents parked and already setting up their trailer, and with boat at the ready. We pulled in behind them, and parked so that the camper door faced the lake through the trees. While the scenery was beautiful, a chill wind blew off the lake as we worked to set up camp, though the evening proved enjoyable enough. After both campers had been set up, we went and paid our fee for our time in the spot, as Turquoise is not a free camp ground.
Once we had eaten a simple, yet somewhat traditional meal of chicken noodle soup, I went about preparing a fire by splitting wood and collecting a few bucketful’s of water from the lake. Walking down to the lake it was truly a sight to behold stretching out in three directions from where I was standing.
Turquoise Lake itself sits at an elevation of 9,900 ft. and is a manmade lake marked by Sugar Loaf Dam. The lake has a surface area of 780 acres. Directly across from me, the lake stretched between a narrow points and then bent sharply making its shape most like an uppercase L.
Returning with the water, I stacked the wood in the fire pit, which was a big metal grate cemented to the ground and then filled with sand. Another wire post held a grill platform that could be adjusted over the fire pit. However, we had no desire to use this grill on this trip having several of our own. After roasting a few marshmallows, we put out the fire and so ended night one of the trip.
Day two dawned for me around 10 a.m. and we ate breakfast each of us excited for the day for today we would be exploring Turquoise Lake.
The wind was still blowing fierce as we went down to the boat ramp and it only intensified as we neared the lake. Before we could back the boat in, however, we had to get it inspected by dock workers.
This sort of thing has become the norm ever since the mussell scare several years ago. After this inspection, we carefully backed the boat into the water, unhooking it from the trailer and starting the engine. As we pulled out, my grandfather would drive the truck and trailer back to our campsite, before walking back down to the pier, where we would pick him up. While we waited, we each busied ourselves with a task about the boat, and, for me, this was as simple as stringing up my line and attaching a lure.
Almost as soon as I had finished this small a task, we had picked up my grandpa and it was time to cast in.
Dropping my line in the water, I watched as it zoomed out in the distance behind the boat, as we made for the narrow point that hid the larger part of the lake. Fishing out of a boat is not like going jet skiing or tubing. This is not a matter of speed and sharp turns but a matter of patience.
As we made our slow progress across the lake, the window picked up and was bitterly cold, and it began to drizzle, and on our first turn the fish began to bite on all sides. For the most part, we practiced catch and release, but we did keep some for dinner. As the day wore on the fishing remained good and when it was slow, I enjoyed an amazing view of snowcapped mountains with amazing cloud formations that seemed to scrape the mountain tops on their way by.
On either side of us now as we continued down the long portion of the lake, we faced steep slopes on either side covered in pines. Here and there along the shore were huge sand deposits, originally made by the miners who worked there before Sugar Loaf Dam was built. As we finally made our slow turn careful not to cross the fishing lines, the opposite shore between the narrow points came into view. There, plain to see, sitting nestled under the shoulder of mountain was Leadville and it was a truly beautiful site almost as if a postcard had come to life.
Finally around 5 p.m., we exited the lake dropping my dad off at the pier so he could bring back the trailer. Then we circled several times until he reappeared and slowly backed down the ramp. At this point we lined the boat up with the trailer and after securing it we pulled it part way up the boat ramp.
There, we received a second inspection upon leaving and the inspection process remained unchanged for the next two days.
Arriving back at our campsite happy with the day’s hall, we set about cleaning the boat and fileting fish for dinner. After supper, we played a new kind of rummy my grandparents had picked up not long ago. We played for hours enjoying every minute and it rained somewhat outside while we played and before we knew it was approaching midnight. Saying our goodnights, we all headed for the sheets, bringing a pleasant end to day two of the trip.
Day three we did not stay as long on the lake. It was not that the fish were not biting, because they were. In fact, at times, it seemed the rainbow trout and occasional brown trout we were catching, were all but jumping in the boat. Rather the weather proved colder this afternoon and so at about 3 p.m. we headed off the lake and back to camp.
Once back I took a small walk around the shore of the lake heading from my campground toward the dam. Looking out over the lake, I saw a jet skier zoom by to my right enjoying the lake for its other recreational purposes, and many other fisherman were still testing their luck from either shore or boat.
About half way down the path, I found a small beach that stretched a little further out into the lake, with the end point marked by a wood post.
That night after dinner we had a small camp fire, but all of us we’re somewhat tired and so we called it an early night saving what was left of our firewood for the following day.
Saturday dawned bright and early and promised to be a beautiful day.
Though I was up at 8 a.m. for the first time our camp took somewhat of a lazy day before we set out for the lake and another day of fishing on the lake. The campground had filled up to its bursting point now and many people we’re roaming the shore and waterside. Though the weather still acted up we enjoyed our time on the lake and that night participated in the camping tradition of s’mores as we had our last fire.
Sunday dawned bright and early, and after a few cups of coffee it was time to pack up camp. This proved to be a fairly time consuming process, yet all too soon we we’re ready to hit the road and make the return journey home. After saying our goodbyes we pulled out and put Turquoise Lake to our backs, writing another adventure into the books.
Drew Lane is a working writing student for Colorado State University-Pueblo and an avid outdoorsman. He writes a weekly adventures column for the Pueblo West View.