Winter Wonderland paddling – kayak photography at Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande in New Mexico

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

A flock of Seagulls on a beautiful sunny winter day on the Rio Grande.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande panorama

Desolate Rio Grande mud bank in the dead of the New Mexican winter.

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Kayaking in the desert? That was my question when I lived in Santa Fe a few years ago. Coming from south Florida, the question might seems an oxymoron. Truth is the high desert environment of New Mexico has many rivers running through it. There are excellent seasonal white water paddling opportunities, yet I wanted a slower pace to focus on photography and to “get to know the place”. At first I really missed the ocean, then after a while the desert really grew on me, and I began to think of it as an ocean of dirt. I decided to bring with me a 14 foot sit on top kayak, the well known Necky Dolphin. Also, I was determined to make this a year round sport!

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Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak satellite New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande has two boating access points.

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Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak satellite New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Upstream on the Rio Grande towards Bandelier National Monument is where the best paddling is!

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Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the closest large body of water is Cochiti Lake, about 20 miles due west as the crow flies from the city. It is actually a part of the Rio Grande and was constructed for flood control and irragation needs. As you can see in the google earth image, agricultural fields start immediately past the earthen fill dam. There are two boating access points, both on inclined paved ramps. The east side on the Tetilla Peak Recreation Area and is seasonal access only in the summer months. The other, bigger ramp is on the west shore called the Cochiti Recreation Area and open year round. The lands surrounding the “lake” are property of Cochiti Pueblo, which is one of several Native American Pueblos in New Mexico.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Let’s go paddling!

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Kayaking on this section of the Rio Grande is generally flat water, although the “lake” section is big enough for a good fetch of wind to blow sometimes. This lower open section is favored by sailors and most boaters. The more interesting paddling is done upstream where there are many bends in the river and small seasonal geographical differences due to water level changes and erosion. At over 5000 ft elevation this area gets plenty of sun year round and offers incredible star gazing on a moonless night!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Launching my kayak into Cochiti Lake, New Mexico.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

My truck at the Cochiti ramp after an all night snow.

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When winter paddling anywhere but the tropics, multiple thermal layers and waterproof clothing are a must! For ultimate comfort and safety the best choice is a dry suit designed for paddlers along with a proper fitting PFD (lifejacket). I used a Necky Dolphin kayak with well sealed waterproof hatches, but as a a sit on top kayak it left me completely exposed to the elements. With careful layering of clothing I was always comfortable. I solved the final piece of the puzzle – keeping my fingers dry and warm, with neoprene Pogies. I also got some cheap extra large insulated snow boots that worked wonders keeping this Floridian’s toes warm!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

These snow boots worked great in my sit on top kayak.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

At one point there was a little makeshift shelter on the east bank of Cochiti Lake.

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It’s been over 40 years since the Cochiti Dam flooded and pooled into this valley. Piñon trees (a type of Pine tree) cover the hillsides of the topography all over the southwest and the flooded dead remnants still ring the perimeter of the “lake”. Their twisted branches make for picturesque and sometimes eerie frames of the landscape. The pine nuts from living trees are harvested and make a delicious addition to all types of cooking!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Snow covered peaks of the Jemez Mountains framed by a dead Piñon tree on Chochiti Lake.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Cold weather protection for this Floridian!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

I wasn’t planning on going snorkeling and there really wasn’t much boat traffic .. 😉

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

The day cleared up and everything became blue and white!

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The Continental Divide runs along the mountains to the west, so it feels like paddling on top of the (North American) world!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande cactus

Cholla cactus in northern New Mexico.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Frozen vegetation clapotis over the Rio Grande.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

On a mud bank with my sit on top Dolphin kayak.

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Sometimes beautiful and magical ice formations appear literally overnight and I was lucky enough to find and photograph them! Blessings!

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ART of the Rio Grande – Anthropomorphic magic forms and Riparian voices

2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande trinity

“Trinity on Ice”
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

A sheet of water frozen in time and left hanging off a Piñon branch.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande alligator

“Wood-b-Predator” – an anthropomorphic driftwood piece that found me!
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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Northern New Mexico is an interesting place. This “lake” has spoken to me many times .. through the seasons.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Looking north, upstream on a fine winter day.

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The best kayaking is done upstream on the Rio Grande. Later in the spring you can paddle right up next to Bandelier National Monument.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Enjoying the sun and paddling in the New Mexican winter!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande jesus mary

“Nativity in Ice” – Mother Mary and the baby Jesus with goat at Her feet.
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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I discovered the incredible ice formation above the day after Christmas .. and within five minutes it broke off and fell back into the water!

Bless!!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Jabba the Hut” chills on the shores of Cochiti Lake in New Mexico.
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

“Toong mee cha kulkah du Boonta magi…”

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Pearl necklace”

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Ice acting as a lens – the entire landscape is inside this 360 focal point on a stick.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande swan song

“Cochiti Swan Lake”
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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At one point I had a serious case of Anthropomorphism as I kept finding instance after instance of anthropomorphic ice formations and driftwood forms.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Ice Rhino”
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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ART of the Rio Grande – Anthropomorphic magic forms and Riparian voices

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Goose”
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Water drips off these icy teats on a winter afternoon in New Mexico.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Frog”
Kayakfari ART photography – ART of the Rio Grande series.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Dead Piñon trees in the warm afternoon glow.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

A Piñon tree lays on a bed of clay soil and desiccated winter vegetation.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande cave

A selfie at being 20 000 BC in a cave – good for an afternoon. 😉

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande geese

Canada Geese wintering over on the shores of Cochiti Lake in New Mexico.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Late afternoon shadow paddling close to winter dry vegetation that glows like gold!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

A “soft” landscape portrait shows off the winter colors of Cochiti Lake.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Soft” winter panorama over the Rio Grande in norther New Mexico.

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New Mexico is a sunny kind of place – winter, summer and in between. Because of the high altitude and all that radiant solar heat I could actually tan in the dead of winter!

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Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude art

Extreme chilling setup on Cochiti Lake.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

Breaks in the ice at Cochiti Lake.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande sunset

Winter sunset over the earthen Cochiti Dam on the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

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Winter paddling in New Mexico is a special treat. Don’t let the sunny pictures fool you – it is still cold in the dead of winter, particularly at night!!

Protective clothing such as a drysuit, dressed for immersion along with a PFD life jacket will ensure comfort and safety. Here are a couple of excellent articles on winter kayaking and Breaking the Ice: Winter Paddling that go in depth into the realities and risks of sub-freezing paddling!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande dreadlocks rasta

Jah Pastafari! My dreadlocks helped keep me warm on a cold clear night in the high desert! 😉

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There is one small island on the east bank of the open “lake”. At the time it had one lone tree on it and I dubbed it the “Burning Bush”. It was a small tree, maybe five feet tall, and always looked scraggly as on the verge of dying. Amazingly over the seasons it eventually prospered even through floods and drought. From the looks of google earth it’s still there and now has company! 😉

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande burning bush

“The Burning Bush” – in the high desert. Bless!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande stars

The skies are very clear on Cochiti Lake – at 5300+ ft almost already in outer space! 😉

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It’s a whole different world when everything is frozen all around!

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Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak satellite New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

The Rio Grande flows south past Bandelier Nat Monument and pools at Cochiti Lake courtesy of the Cochiti Dam.

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Now for some black and white beauty ..

I hope you’ve enjoyed this photographic journey through New Mexico’s winter wonderland on the Rio Grande at Cochiti Lake!

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande b&w

“Dead Piñon”

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande

“Arch over the Jemez mountains”.

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande geese

“Canada Geese in winter”

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2014 c. Flex Maslan Winter Cochiti Lake kayakfari paddling kayak photography New Mexico snow ice breaker Santa Fe high altitude desert art Rio Grande b&w

“Ice melt on Cochiti Lake”.

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Continue on to Part II:

Ice breaking on the Rio Grande!

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Flex Maslan kayakfari.com rasta 420 happy kayakfari kayak canoe paddle photography adventure fitness awakenthegrass everglades florida

BLESS!

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© 2014-2017 Flex Maslan / kayakfari.com / awakenthegrass.com . All original photographs, artworks and music in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Flex Maslan, unless otherwise noted. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited.

All rights reserved!

DISCLAIMER:: The maps and images on this site are not intended for navigation, I am not a guide; use any and all information at your own risk! Your mileage may vary .. so use good judgement before venturing out!

With that said.. Blessings friends!

:)

3 comments on “Winter Wonderland paddling – kayak photography at Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande in New Mexico

  1. Pingback: Winter Wonderland paddling – kayak photography at Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande in New Mexico | kayakfari ( kayak .. far .. i )

  2. Pingback: Keep your feet firmly in the kayak and stay limber! | kayakfari ( kayak .. far .. i )

  3. Pingback: Kayak photography and Winter Wonderland paddling at Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande in New Mexico | kayakfari ( kayak .. far .. i )

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