On Sweetwater Lake
Letter by Jack Bombardier. Photos by Todd Winslow Pierce
Sweetwater Lake is a jewel of spot, nestled against the eastern flank of the Flat Top Mountains. The Flat Tops aren’t the most famous or visually stunning peaks in Colorado, but they do have some of the clearest, cleanest water in America, making “Sweetwater” a very appropriate name. The west side of the lake is public land and has a steep escarpment rising up from the lake’s edge. There’s a small campground and hiking trails that go past huge aspen trees to a Ute Indian cave with ancient pictographs, and to a spot to view the enormous bald eagle nest that overlooks the lake. The east side is private, with a restaurant, cabins and a horseback riding facility.
I live nearby on the Colorado River, where I guide anglers through its colorful canyons. Being near moving water has always been something I’ve been drawn to, whether it be oceans, rivers or streams. Lakes and ponds have never had much of an attraction for me, since the water just kind of sits there. Fishing on a lake is kind of boring, it doesn’t take nearly as much skill to be successful as moving water does. But Sweetwater Lake is different somehow. When the river is too off-color to fish, it doesn’t take much of an excuse for me to run up to Sweetwater to wet a line. The inlet end is my favorite since it’s the most riverine part, but even fishing along the cliffs on either side with their overhanging branches and abrupt drop-offs can be stimulating. Its also possible to catch browns, rainbows, brook and cutthroats there, so when you feel that tug on the end of your line you never know what will be on the other end of it. Since motors aren’t allowed, whether you catch a lot or a few you are assured of having a quiet experience while you are on the lake.
But the other thing that makes the lake special is the restaurant. AJ Brinks is more than just a spot to get a meal, it’s also the social center of the entire area. It’s a small, homey place, and if you live anywhere nearby it’s impossible to go there without running into friends and neighbors. If you eat inside, the room is filled with the smell of good food cooking. My personal favorite is the bison steak, which comes from a ranch just down the road. Also famous is the pie, served in portions that practically overflow the plates they’re served on. Or, you can dine on the outside deck overlooking the lake, surrounded by buzzing hummingbirds and watching the eagles and ospreys as they search for their dinner.
The Sweetwater Lake area is like no other, as Colorado as anything could possibly be. Its worth saving it for those who love it now, and for future generations of Coloradans and those visitors yet to come.