Special Issues » Summer Guide

Treading (to) water

Believe it or not, a short trip over Colorado's scorched earth can yield cool, wet relief


Whitewater parks in Buena Vista and Salida will challenge - the best.
  • Whitewater parks in Buena Vista and Salida will challenge the best.

On a hot summer day, Colorado's weakness is exposed. Where's the beach, where the sand burns your skin and you can work on a tan that includes your ankles and feet?

Its not that were water-challenged. With four major river basins the mighty Colorado, the Arkansas, Missouri and Rio Grande Colorado is alive with water.

But most of it is far from a beach, and if you do reach it, your feet will turn blue, not red.

Arkansas River water temperatures hover in the mid-50s this time of year, creating a chilled environment that is perfect for trout but not so good for thin-skinned humans.

At the end of summer, the Arkansas River gets warmer, maybe in the 60s, says Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

Considering that the average motel pool hovers around 80 degrees, Pappenforts warmer isnt a big selling point for playing in the Arkansas.

But its basin is Colorados largest, and the river perhaps the best-known to legions of water lovers. Each year, more than a quarter-million rafters take to the Arkansas on guided or private trips. The river offers classic rafting, but the rocks and rapids that appeal to rafters make it tough going for swimmers and tubers.

Large parts of the river arent conducive to tubing, says AHRA ranger Rob White. Rapids and rocky sections make it unsafe.

Tubers can access a short portion of the river at the Salida Whitewater Park, Pappenfort says, adding that tubers and others in the water there must don life jackets.

Farther upstream in Buena Vista, the new South Main River Park has just been completed and is waiting for more runoff to become operational. It will provide public access to a full mile of the river, creating what organizers are boasting could be the largest whitewater park in America.

For a more classic swimming experience thats still part of the Arkansas system, check out Lake Pueblo State Park, one of the largest bodies of water in Colorado.

The reservoir there is fed by the Arkansas, and on most hot summer days at the parks Rock Canyon Swim Beach, hundreds of sunbathers vie for a spot on the hot sand. The swim area is part of the reservoir, but a dam separates it from the boating and fishing areas.

Water is fed from the reservoir to the swim area, says Brad Henley, assistant park manager. So that means most of the reservoirs inhabitants catfish, walleye and bass are kept away.

We do have grass carp to help keep the algae managed in the pond that makes up the swim beach, but they rarely bother the swimmers, Henley says.

Rock Canyon doesnt offer a remote swimming-hole kind of experience. More than 25,000 people show up each year, offering a great venue for people-watching as well as soaking up the sun. On a Saturday or Sunday in the summer, more than 1,000 people will stake out their piece of the beach.

Some of them are drawn to the nine-acre area of sun and sand by a five-story water slide and paddle boats (extra fees apply).

The water is only 10 feet at its deepest spot, but because its fed by the Arkansas, Henley says, water temperatures usually hover around 60 to 65 degrees.

He reassures prospective beach bums that the brrrr factor is appreciated on those 100-degree days in Pueblo.



For more water-related information, visit the following Web sites.

Lake Pueblo: parks.state.co.us/parks/lakepueblo

Prospect Lake: springsgov.com/page.asp?navid=5884

Salida Whitewater Park: salidachamber.org

South Main River Park, Buena Vista: southmainco.com

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