Elephant Butte State Park

Address:  Elephant Butte NM
Phone: (505)744-5923
Directions: From I-25, take Exit 83 and follow the road to the State Park entrance.


Opened in the 60s, Elephant Butte State Park was immediately a favorite attraction to the Southwesterners wishing to escape the baking hot sun and dry desert climate. Each year, especially during such holiday periods as July 4th, the heavy traffic of visitors transforms the town of Elephant Butte into a bustling city.

This was our second visit to the park. Due to the heavy demand for campgrounds around the July 4th holiday period, I booked our camp site on early May. Though still more than a month ahead of schedule, only a single site remained available. Lack of a site picture due to some database error was probably the only reason that this one was still available.

We arrived there around noon on Saturday, July 1st. Cars were already lining up outside the park entrance. Once we got in and settled on our camp ground, I found that, aside from the heat, humidity, and low wind, the camp site was very nice. The facility near the site was clean and comfortable. Once our tents were set up, we set out to explore the area.
We found the years of drought have changed the appearance of the lake. What was depicted on the park map show little resemblance of what lay in front of us. Many of what used to be islands have turned into peninsulas, leaving paths wide enough for cars to drive to and fro. There were many newly formed islands, one of which had been claimed by a small tent. And what used to be underwater has become almost a mile of dry sandy ground.

The shoreline was packed with people, tents, trailers, recreational vehicles, trucks, dogs, boats, chairs, tables, campers, etc. I was stunned to see cars and boats alike parked inside the water while tent and campers were setup in groups, making it very hard to approach the shore line. Once we were there, looking at the haphazard maneuvers of the power boats and jet skies, the thought of launching small man-powered boats around the area seemed ill-advised. I was surprised to see some people actually swimming near anchored boats and cars while other power boats zoomed nearby. We decided to drive up north and see the other sections of lake. As we went further north, the signs of drought could be see everywhere. The Three Sisters site has turned mostly into a marsh land. As we walked around, the muddy, sticky ground made it almost impossible to walk around without getting ones foot stuck in the mud. When we arrived the South Monticello Point Marina and Camp Site, first we were amazed to see though the camp site was newly built with modern commodities, those well maintained camp sites were barely occupied. Upon our drive down to the boat ramp, the reason for the lack of visitors here became apparent. On the bottom of the boat ramp, two what used to be buoys laid haplessly on the dry sandy ground as miles of dry lakebed laid in front of our eyes. It is no wonder the boat ramp was closed, for it was hundreds of yards from water.

For the people who had lived here, the rate of receding water level in Elephants Butte must not only be alarming but also depressing. The large declining of water was partly due to the lack of rain, but also due to the larger demand of water supply from Colorado cities such as Denver. Looking at the vast stretches of dry lakebed, we were overcome with a sense of dismay.

When we returned to our camp site, our spirits were lifted a bit by the visitors who frequented our camp site: a couple of roadrunners, a jack rabbit, a cotton tail rabbit, a couple of herds of quail, several types of songbirds, and an oversized kangaroo rat that, unintimidated by the sight of people, paid our picnic table a friendly visit. From the back of our camp site, there was a small trail leading to the Visitorís Center and the playground. My four year old had a great deal of fun running around and playing on the playground. As the afternoon sun slowly descended toward the horizon, with the promise of fireworks later, he finally gave in and we headed back.

Sitting in front of our camp site, while sipping ice-cold drinks and eating some chips with freshly made Pico de Gallo, we watched as the brilliant firework bloomed in the night sky. Along with each amazing shower of light, cheers from all over the lake could be heard accompanying the loud booms. My four year old was elated and cheered loudly at each explosion.

On the second day, coming closer to the shoreline proved to be much easier. After a large portion of holiday crowd had left the park, we had the luxury of getting closer to Rattlesnake Island, now a peninsula. We were amazed to find the open shoreline with cool and clear water. We launched our rubber raft there and soon were padding toward the former island. Several small ducks were fishing around the boat as if we were one of them. They made amazing dives near us. Outside the No Wake zone, we landed on the Rattlesnake Island and climbed to the top of it. At the time, it didnít occur to me that maybe it was called "Rattlesnake Island" for a reason. We climbed to the top without any unpleasant surprises. At the top, we had a good view of the surrounding area. The sky was so blue and the water was so green that I had an urge to jump right in.

Once we paddled back to the stretch of land that lay between the island and the shore, we jumped out of the boat and went swim around near the beach. The water was cool and refreshing. For a while, I almost felt that I was still swimming in the beach at Laguna Park, Kauai. With the exceptions that the rushing waves were replaced by a gentle current and the salty-tasting sea water was replaced by a more sweet-tasting fresh water. The area looked as serene and as picturesque as one of the Hawaii ads. I have to admit that I miss the added buoyancy of the salt water a bit when it comes to swimming.

As I watched my little boy jumped and kicked around in water with delight, I was a bit of relieve to found that amidst the hot and dry desert, we could still find a small piece of paradise.
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