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san juan river

The San Juan
It has been said that trout only live in beautiful places. The San Juan River that flows through the high desert of Northern New Mexico only offers credence to the quote. From its humble origin high on the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, its crystal clear waters tumble and cascade down remote canyons and rocky mountainsides, until it is gathered and harnessed in its impoundment of Navajo Lake, straddling the border of two great western states. The release from deep behind the high walls of the dam that hold these waters in restraint and issue forth— gin clear, highly oxygenated, and nutrient rich, provide a perfect habitat for the trout below. It is a place that fly fishermen dream about, when they dream about places to fish.

If it only offered beautiful, healthy fish that number in the thousands, then the San Juan would be enough to earn its accolades as one of the top destinations to fish in the U.S. But there are more; far more, reasons that make this river a Mecca for trout fishermen the world over. Its broad flats, interspersed with deep pools, runs, tailouts, and eddies, make it one of the most wade-friendly rivers in the West. The predictable and controlled consistent flows also create a tailwater fishery that is a pleasure to float by driftboat, without encountering anything beyond intermediate class waters, unlike many other well known western rivers.

And then there is the scenery—miles of it. Picture gin clear water flowing between the bluffs of high mesas, dotted with pinon pine and juniper, changing in color as the sun makes its arc through a bluebird New Mexico sky. Picture the home of ospreys, eagles, and great blue herons along the banks of a river in the high desert, lined with giant cottonwoods and willows. Picture the home of mule deer, elk, river otters, beaver, coyotes, and mountain lions. Picture all of this; if you can, and when the sun begins to sink behind a spectacular horizon and the sky begins to fill with deep hues of reds, pinks, and yellows that turn the ochre buttes and bluffs into a remarkable natural light show, you will know why they call this river and its surroundings The Land of Enchantment.

- Jay Walden 


Watercolor by: Tim Oliver

upper-flats-on-the-san-juan-tim-oliver (

Watercolor by: Tim Oliver

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