Caballo Lake State Park:
In the shadow of the rugged Caballo Mountains, this long lake surrounded by Chihuahuan Desert provides ample opportunities for fishing and water sports. Relatively quiet and family-oriented, the park also has several hiking trails and good bird watching possibilities.
Another in a series of lake parks created by damming the Rio Grande, Caballo Lake has a surface area of more than 11,500 acres, making it New Mexico’s third largest state park. Created in the late 1930’s with the construction of an earth filled dam 96 feet high by 4.558 feet long, the lake’s main purpose is to catch and store water released by Elephant Butte Dam (25 miles upstream) during electric generation. The water is released in the summer for irrigation. When full, the lake is 18 miles long.
The main activity here is fishing, primarily for White Bass and Walleye, although anglers also catch Black Bass, Crappie, Catfish, Northern Pike and Sunfish. Outside the main section of the park but close by, are several fishing supply stores.
Although most boating here is for getting to the best fishing spot, the lake also attracts small sailboats and windsurfers, especially in spring. Canoeists often put into the Rio Grande just south of Elephant Butte Dam near the town of Williamsburg and paddle down to Caballo Lake, a distance of about 10 miles. There is no designated swimming beach, but the best swimming is usually just west of the dam and in the upper flats, which is on the north edge of the main park campgrounds.
There are developed campsites on a bluff overlooking the lake, with all the usual amenities, and even a few trees. There is also a lesser-developed beach camping area to the north of the main section, which has chemical toilets, and where campers can set up their tents or park their RV’s wherever they want.
The bulk of the park’s facilities are in the main section, on the west side of the lake, just north of the dam. Another campground is located along the Rio Grande just south of the dam. It has more trees…cottonwoods, black willow, green ash, and Arizona sycamore…and is more secluded than the lake section of the park. It is here that the park’s RV rally site is located…the only one in the New Mexico State Park System…with a large group shelter, huge barbecue grills, and a gated campground that can accommodate over 200 recreational vehicles.
Trails at Caballo Lake are more for walking from place to place than serious hiking, and all of the park’s 5.5 miles of sandy trails are considered easy. The 0.25 mile Overlook Trail is a loop over a grassy and cactus studded knoll that offers good views out across the lake. Another trail heads north from the campgrounds about 3 miles to an area called Eagle Point. A branch of this trail also goes south of the visitor center to the lake. The park also has several well tended cactus gardens, with yucca, agave, ocotillo, prickly pear, mesquite, and other desert plants.
Bird watching is most successful mid-week when there are fewer boats on the lake, although it is generally not quite as good as at nearby Percha Dam State Park. In recent years, a breeding pair of Bald Eagles have made Caballo Lake their winter lake. Also seen are Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Loons, Snowy Egrets, Scaled Quail, Sandhill Cranes, American White Pelicans and Roadrunners. There are dozens of songbirds, several species of Hummingbirds, and numerous Geese and Ducks.
Mammals include a seemingly endless parade of rock squirrels and cottontail rabbits, plus the park is also home to coyotes, wolves, foxes, raccoons, mule deer, and an occasional black bear. There are also rattlesnakes, lizards, frogs and turtles.
The small visitor center has displays on archeology of the area and historic photos from the construction of Caballo Dam. There are color photos of the birds, fish, and plants of the park to help with identification, and there is a sandbox with stamps to create footprints of the park’s wildlife, including deer, bald eagles, frogs, and snapping turtles. Annual events at the park include several fishing tournaments, including a youth fishing derby in late September. Each April Earth Day is celebrated with tree plantings.
The busiest season at the park is summer, when campsites with electric hookups fill quickly, especially on weekends. Summer temperatures usually hit the 90’s and sometimes exceed 100 degrees F during the day, but drop into the 60’s at night. Fall is pretty, and the park is less busy. The water is still warm enough for swimming in October, and air temperatures are usually in the mid-70’s during the day and the upper 40’s and low 50’s at night. Winters are quiet in the park, making this a particularly good time for bird watching, with daytime temperatures in the 50’s, and nights in the 20’s and 30’s. Spring can be windy, with high temperatures ranging from the 60’s to low 80’s, and lows from the upper 30’s to low 50’s. The cactus often produce their best flower display in late March or early April.
Courtesy of New Mexico State Parks Division
Caballo Lake State Park
P.O. Box 32 Caballo, NM 87931
Office: 575 743-3942
Fax: 575 743-0031
Take a Photo Tour of Caballo Lake
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