Float 'N Fish San Juan History

Early NM Geologic History

New Mexico early history is revealed to us through geologists who have reconstructed the past through the geologic record.  Geologists have located granite in the high mountains of north central New Mexico believed to have come from the Precambrian period, more than 540 million years ago.  The Paleozoic period followed the Precambrian period and ranges from about 540 million years ago to 248 million years ago.  During the Paleozoic period parts of NM were covered by shallow seas leaving a fossil record in sea creatures and sedimentary rock.  Following the Paleozoic period is the Mesozoic period.  The Mesozoic ranged from 248 million years ago to 65 million years ago.  During the Mesozoic some of the seas receded and dinosaurs roamed the land areas including San Juan County.  During the latest period, the Cenozoic, from 65 million years ago to the present, the current NM mountainous and mostly desert environment evolved.  During this period the mountains rose, remaining seas receded, volcanic activity shaped many parts of the state and dinosaurs were replaced by large mammals.  The present day San Juan River owes its presence to the development of the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado approximately 40 million years ago.  After the San Juans Mountains evolved and began to erode, eroded material was carried downstream into the San Juan Basin of the Colorado Plateau.  Over time these deposits formed the sedementary rock, primarily sandstone and shales, of Navajo Lake and the canyons of the San Juan River. 

1NMBGMR Geologic Tour:  Navajo Lake State Park 5.  San Juan County Fossils
2The San Juan Mountains  
3USGS  A Tapestry of Time and Terrain  
4.  The Paleontology Portal  

First known presence of Humans in NM and the Chaco Culture

Early man begins to show up in NM around 10,000 - 12,000 years ago with the Clovis People and some evidence suggests that man's presence in NM may go back as far as 20,000 years ago (Sandia).  The early indigenouse peoples of NM did not leave a significant history in either dwellings or tools until about 1,150 years ago.  The physical remains of dwellings at Chaco Canyon provide insight into an advanced culture which built significant dwellings, made roads, grew crops, developed an advanced understanding of the sun and moon, and appear to have traded goods with cultures as far away as Mexico.  This advanced Chaco culture is present in many parts of northwest NM and extended into San Juan County with dwellings at Aztec Ruins in Aztec, NM and Bloomfield Ruins, just west of Bloomfield, NM.  Chaco Canyon and related settlements appear to have disappeared about 1250 A.D. to 1300 A.D.  The exact reason for the relatively quick disappearance of the Chaco Culture is unknown, however, disease, drought and the influx of new peoples from the North may all have led to the dissolution of the Chaco Culture.  It is believed today, that these peoples evolved into the various Hopi tribes of northern New Mexico and Arizona. 

1  Paleoindian and Arahaic Peoples 5.  Chaco Canyon - National Historic Park
2The Salmon Ruins 6.  Aztec Ruins National Monument
3Chaco Culture National Historical Park  
4.  Mesa Verde - National Park Service  

Modern indian tribes move into the 4 Corners area

About the time of the dissolution of the Chaco Culture new peoples from the northwest, from as far away as northern Canada, begin to show up in the present day four corners area.  These peoples are believed to represent the Apache, Navajo and Ute indians of today.  Early on these tribes were primarily nomadic hunter gatherers living in small family groups which traveled periodically to get to fresh hunting grounds.  These cultures began to change in the late 1600's and 1700's as they began to have contact with the Spanish who had occupied the Rio Grande valley in the 1500's.  With contact with the Spanish the indians acquired horses, stock animals and learned new agricultural techniques.  Contact with the Spanish also exposed the native peoples to Catholicism and European Diseases.  These diseases took a significant toll on native peoples.  The addition of the horse allowed the indian peoples to be more mobile and have greater contact with their neighbors.  Stock animals and new agricultural techniques allowed previously nomadic groups to be more sedentary if they chose to.  The area comprising the San Juan river of today is influenced heavily by these events.  The Navajo settled primarily south of the San Juan in areas of northwest New Mexico, northeast Arizona and southeast Utah.  The Ute Mountain Utes settled primarily north of the San Juan river and today have a reservation in southwest Colorado.  The Jicarilla Apache are located today east of the San Juan.  Much of the water flowing into Navajo Dam flows through the Southern Ute reservation of southwest Colorado.  The Southern Utes relocated to this area, as their original territory was located in the San Luis valley and along the eastern side of the Colorado front range from Denver south to about Las Vegas, NM. 

1.  Ute Mountain Ute History 5.  Extended Navajo Tribe Timeline
2Southern Ute History  
3Jicarilla Apache History  
4.  Navajo History

Anglo and Hispanic Settlement in San Juan County

What is currently San Juan County today was originally known to be visited by Europeans in the late 1700's.  Two groups from Santa Fe, the Capt. Juan Marie de Rivera (1765) and the Padre Escalante (1776) expeditions visited the area traveling through parts of Rio Arriba county, over to the Mancos River, and further north into the Gunnison River Valley.  Padre Escalante named several of the rivers of the area including the San Juan (Rio San Juan - St. John River), Piedra (Rio de las Piedras - Stony River), Los Pinos (Rio de los Pinos - Pine River), Florida (Rio Florida - River of Flowers) and Animas (Rio de las Animas Perdidas - River of Lost Souls). 

Current San Juan County was primarily inhabited by Navajo, Ute and sometimes Apache Indians from the 1400's through the early 1800's.  Prior to the Civil War an Anglo settlement called Baker City was started in present day SW Colorado but it's development was interrupted by hostilities between the Union and Confederacy (New Mexico Territory seceded as a southern state).  Blanco was an early settlement established by the Spanish on the banks of the San Juan and appears to have been present when the county was formed in 1876.  Due to hostilities with the Indians, European's of Spanish or Anglo descent did not begin to occupy the area permanently in larger numbers until after the Civil War and after treaties and reservations were defined for the Navajo, Ute and Apache Indians.  On July 4, 1876, parts of San Juan County were opened to settlement and settlers came into the area, mostly from Colorado and Texas to farm, ranch and raise sheep.  Some of these early settlers were cattle rustlers from Colfax County, NM (Clay Allison Gang) which caused some difficulty for legitimate settlers in the early years.  Ruffians of this period also caused unnecessary friction with indian tribes, at one point killing indians nearly causing indians to go on the warpath.  Early court records indicate that these ruffians were brought to court on charges, but none were ever sent to jail.  It appears that "Frontier Justice" resulted in a number of them being killed. 

The abundance of water in San Juan County and fertile soils led to the development of agriculture, supported mostly by irrigation.  In addition to agriculture, San Juan County has large Coal, Natural Gas and some Oil deposits.

1New Mexico Office of the State Historian - San Juan County  
2.  San Juan National Forest History  

Western Water Issues
Prior to the construction of Navajo Dam the San Juan was a free flowing river, warmer and siltier than it is today.  Some rainbow and brown trout were present in the river as they moved down from cooler waters upstream.  In addition to trout were some native warmwater species.  The land around the river was primarily leased to sheep and cattle ranchers. 

Water is essential to all human development in the southwestern United States.  In 1922, an agreement was signed between 7 western states called the Colorado River Compact.  This controversial agreement essentially provided for the division of Colorado River Basin water sources between the upper states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the lower states (Arizona, California and Nevada).  Following the agreement between the states, signed near Santa Fe, the agreement was formally approved by Congress in 1922.  As the annual water yield of the Colorado River varied considerably from year to year, it was necessary to build storage dams at various points on the river system to provide more uniform annual water distributions for the users in the system.  The addition of dams to the system would provide water storage, siltation basins, flood control and recreation.  This need evolved into the Colorado River Storage Project, approved by Congess in 1956. 

The Colorado River Storage Project
The Colorado River Storage Project was developed by the Bureau of Reclamation (B.O.R) to provide for the development of the Colorado River basin including flood control and hydroelectric power generation.  There are four separate units within the Colorado River Storage Project, each including dams to store water and manage flows on the different river systems contributing to the Colorado River.  From north to south these are the Flaming Gorge unit with a major dam on the Green river, the Aspinall Unit with 3 dams on the Gunnison River, the Navajo Unit with a dam on the San Juan River and the Glen Canyon unit with a dam at Lake Powell on the Colorado River.  Hoover Dam, also on the Colorado River, was built prior to the Colorado River Storage Project. 

Navajo Dam on the San Juan River
The San Juan river was a free flowing river prior to July 1958 when the Bureau of Reclamation started bulding Navajo Dam, the dam being dedicated in September 1962. The dam is an earth filled dam over 2/3 mile in length with a height slightly over 400 ft. Prior to the dam being completed the San Juan river was a fishery with Rainbows and Browns as well as some warm water species, although the water was warmer and often carried more silt than today. The top of the dam is located at an eleveation of 6,108 ft (Bureau of Reclamation) with the riverbed below the dam at about 5,720 ft. Navajo Lake provides storage for a drainage area of 3,190 square miles in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. From the dam at Navajo Reservoir, the lake forms 2 major branches extending north and northeast. The Pine River branch (Los Pinos), extends approximately 13 miles north through high desert canyons to near the Colorado Border. The midde branch, formed from the Piedra and San Juan Rivers, extends 35 miles in a northeasterly direction all the way past the state line to near Arboles, CO. As you near the Colorado border, the terrarin looses some of it's high desert canyon character as the elevation increases and more moisture is available. Serious consideration for building a dam at the present site began in about 1930 based on investigations of the area dating back to about 1904. Funding for the dam project was not available until the 1950's when Congress funded the project by making the dam part of the Colorado River Storage Project (Bureau of Reclamation). The dam was built to provide the benefits of a siltation basin, flood control, recreation and water for irrigation and industry. As part of the funding agreement, the dam was to provide water for the Navajo indian tribe to irrigate approximately 110,000 acres of the NIIP (Navajo Indian Irrigation Project) southeast of Farmington. In the 1980's, a 30 Megawatt capacity hydroelectric plant was installed at the base of the dam by the city of Farmington adding benefits to the existing structure.

1.  BOR - Navajo Dam 5.  The Animas - La Plata Project
2BOR - Navajo Dam - Details 6.  NIIP - Water Rights Abstract
3BOR - San Juan / Chama Project  
4.  BOR - The Colorado River Storage Project  

Development of the San Juan into a Premier Tailwater River
Following the building of the dam at Navajo Dam the character of the San Juan River immediately below the dam was changed significantly.  The dam provided the benefit of a large siltation basin effectively removing most sediment from the river, and the low release point for water from the dam provided consistent low water temperature's uncharacteristic to the native climate.  The result is a new tailwater river with low water temperatures that extend for several miles downstream before the desert climate reclaims the river as a warmer, siltier desert river. 

In the early years, New Mexico Game and Fish stocked the river with Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat and Brown Trout.  Trout in the San Juan were shown to have phenomenal growth rates due to the abundance of food items in the river.  Early on, New Mexico Game and Fish recognized the outstanding characteristics of the river and set aside the upper 3 3/4 miles of the river as Special Trout Water (Quality Water) with catch restrictions and fishing method restrictions.  Over the years Rainbows have been consistently stocked in the Quality Water and in the lower river, Browns have reproduced naturally with very little stocking.  In recent years, more Browns have been present in the Quality Waters.  The end result is a unqiue tailwater river with remarkable consistency offering a year round high quality fishery. 

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