Location: Saguache County
Size: 2040 acres
Landowner: The Nature Conservancy
Mishak Lakes Natural Area is part of a series of natural playa lakes on the floor of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. To the casual traveler, the basin of the valley appears continuously flat. However, the northern end of the valley is in fact a closed basin; streams which descend to the floor of the valley in the northern end never reach the Rio Grande River, which drains the southern portion of the valley. As a result, the area contains numerous playas - broad flat desert basins which often contain ephemeral lakes. These lakes are seasonally filled by snowmelt runoff, but ordinarily dry up by summer’s end.
The shallow, seasonal wetlands support unusually high-quality plant communities which vary in composition according to the magnitude and duration of flooding. Extensive marshlands of spikerush (Eleocharis palustris) and three-square bulrush (Scirpus pungens) are found at lake margins. The area also supports populations of the rare slender spiderflower (Cleome multicaulis). Nearby flats and dunes support greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) and rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) communities.
Most of the playa systems in the San Luis Valley have been greatly affected by water use patterns in the valley. The Mishak Lakes complex is one of the few playa systems in the area which still enjoys a largely natural hydrologic regime. The site is currently managed for conservation, and is not open for public access at this time.