Elephant Butte Lake State Park:
Set in the lower Rio Grande Valley of southcentral New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park is the largest and most popular state park. Affectionately know as “The Butte”, this 40 mile-long reservoir servers as the state’s main watersports destination, offering opportunities for just about every form of waterbased recreation, including boating, water-skiing, fishing, scuba diving, and canoeing. It has sandy beaches, quiet little coves, full service marinas, and enough open water for cabin cruisers and houseboats.Elephant Butte Lake State Park first opened in 1965. Warm waters, abundant camping, picnicking, boating facilities and easy access off I-25 at Truth or Consequences, attract visitors from all over.
Mild climates create a haven for campers from cooler northern climates during the winter months. Traditionally, Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the high season at the Butte for many visitors coming from Albuquerque and El Paso. Visitation exeeds 100,000 during the holiday, which if the park was a city, would be New Mexico’s second largest.
The park has numerous camping and picnicking areas, with more than 200 developed campsites and 100 electrical hook-ups for RVs and trailers. Many campsites have shelters and grills. When lake water levels are low, large beach areas attract lake-side campers. Comfort stations with showers, nature trails, dump stations, playgrounds, boat ramps, and concession-run marinas provide comfort, convenience, and a wide array of recreation activities for park visitors. The visitor center contains interpretive exhibits of the geology, history, and ecology of the area.
Efforts to dam the Rio Grande to provide a reliable source of water for area farms began in the 1890s. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began construction of Elephant Butte Dam in 1911. When it was completed in 1916, it was the largest structure built in the United States to impound water, creating the world’s largest man-made reservoir at the time. The dam is 306 feet high and 1,674 feet long, and retains a reservoir that covers approximately 36,000 acres.
The Butte’s First Residents:
More than 100 million years ago, the area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Ancient ammonites, extinct relatives of today’s nautilus, have been found. After oceans covering much of New Mexico receded, the area became the warm, humid hunting ground of the tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. This fierce creature roamed the area more than 60 million years ago. It was the largest land dwelling predator of all time, weighing more than 7 tons and reaching a length of 40 feet. Fossils of this formidable reptile, along with those of an ankylosaur, or armored dinosaur, and a ceratopsian, or horned dinosaur, have been discovered in area rock formations.
Elephants at Elephant Butte?
The lake is named for a rock formation that resembles an elephant, at least to some observers who see the left side of its head, with a prominent ear, and its trunk curled by a foot. The formation, which is actually the eroded core of an ancient volcano, is an island in the lake, just northeast of the dam. Although not known when the rock formation and lake were named, this area once was home to real elephants. Fossils of a primitive ancestor of today’s elephants, the stegomastadon, have been found just west of the lake. The animal was about 7 feet tall and stocky, with a short skull and long upper tusks.
The region has been an important center of settlement for thousands of years. Until 1000 A.D., the area was occupied by indian groups, who appear to have lived primarily by hunting and gathering the abundant native wildlife and plants of the surrounding valleys and mountains. Over time, different groups lived and then faded from the area.
During the massive migration of European settlers into the West in the early 19th century, the threat of Indian attacks along the Rio Grande Valley made European settlers reluctant to put down roots in the area. The U.S. Military established Fort Conrad, Fort Craig, and Fort McRae in the mid-1800s to protect settlers. Numerous Hispanic agricultural villages sprang up during this time. The construction of Elephant Butte Dam led to condemnation of many of these settlements, which now lie beneath the waters of the reservoir. A few adobe ruins of old Fort McRae remain on the east side of the reservoir.
Courtesy of New Mexico State Parks Division
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Elephant Butte State Park
P.O. Box 13 Elephant Butte, NM 87935
Office: 575 744-5421
Fax: 575 744-9144
Campsite reservations are available only at the Desert Cove Campground of Elephant Butte Lake State Park
1-877-664-7787 for info
Visit New Mexico
State Parks Online at: www.nmparks.com
Take a Photo Tour of Elephant Butte Lake
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