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Steeped in history, remnants of civilizations long gone dot the landscape around Caballo Lake State Park. Abandoned old-west towns, cliffside dwellings of a mysterious, vanished civilizations, and dry wells, evidence of pioneers who tried to eke out a living in the arid, harsh desert. Lake Caballo takes its name from the Caballo mountain range that rings the lake to the east. In Spanish, Caballo means horse. Herds of wild horses once roamed these mountains.
Caballo Lake, and a few short years later, Caballo Lake State Park were formed in the 1930s when the locals created a large earthen dam to create a more convenient source of water, as well as to tame the desert wilderness. Though the reservoirs are used by the local farmers, the surrounding area is no less brown than it was prior to the damming.
Though less popular than its larger sister, Elephant Butte Lake, due to fewer amenities and smaller size, Caballo Lake State Park is no less scenic. The distant buttes and mountain range rise from the desert plains, carved by millions of years of scouring wind. Yarrow, sage, and witch broom bushes pepper the slopes, adding a hint of color to the landscape. After rainstorms pass, which tends to be fast and fiery, these hills virtually transform with a dazzling array of tiny fluorescent blooms. The warm waters of Caballo Lake are a perpetual soft leathery tan hue, tinted by the sediment at the bottom of the shallow lake.
In addition to swimming, boating, and fishing are popular activities and two ramps provide easy access to the water. Though there are no marinas or boat rental outfits in the area, nearby Truth or Consequences has a few boat-rental outfits. Anglers can expect to catch a few species of bass, crappie, bluegill, northern pike, catfish, and a few other less common fish. Boaters should exercise caution near the dam as a whirlpool occasionally forms in that area.
Birdwatchers and photographers will enjoy this lake, especially on a quiet morning. Bald eagles, herons, cranes, and several species of ducks are regular visitors. Experienced hikers can explore the deserts on the east side of the lake, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Hikers should keep an eye out for snakes, some of which are venomous.
Camping at Caballo Lake State Park means waking up to the sound of waves lapping at the shores and the sight of distant brown buttes transforming into warm rosy hues. This state park RV campground has around 115 sites with electric and water, and a handful has sewer hookups, as well. Restrooms and showers are a short walk from most sites. There is a dump station available, also.
A vast swath of BLM land to the east of the lake is available for backcountry camping, though there are no amenities at all. If parked off-road, camping with an RV in the desert poses some unique challenges, particularly during the rainy season.
The campground at Percha Dam State Park is smaller, but because it’s an underrated gem, it can be easier to find available sites during the high season. There are also a handful of small, private RV parks and campgrounds along the western shores of the lake.
In addition to a vast, sweeping desert, this region is well known for fantastic chili peppers and ghost towns. All along Highway 25 south of Caballo Lake State Park campground are roadside restaurants and stands to sell chili peppers. The towns of Arrey, Garfield, Hatch, and Rincon in particular. Hop into a rental motorhome and hunt for the best peppers. Choose from freshly picked, roasted, or prepared into savory, heat-laden dish options.
Camping at Caballo Lake State Park also means easy access to the local ghost towns. Remnants of a not-so-ancient civilization, these ghost towns stand guard, waiting for time to do their work. Wind blast the adobe walls, wearing them down. Sand grind the dry clapboard into tinder. Though most known ghost towns have long since been plundered, they can still be toured. Quite a few may even be inhabited by ghosts. Locals say that St. Francis de Sales Church in Hatch, has a host of curious ghosts who will often follow curious visitors who peek into the church windows home.
In spite of the arid desert environment, small farms and wineries eke out a living. The Shattuck Vineyard in Caballo, NM, produces a range of award-winning boutique wines. Within walking distance of the lake, its tasting view has a nearly 360-degree view of the desert from the Gila Wilderness to the west to the Caballo Mountains in the east.
Enjoy the slower pace of life and the transforming-yet-eternal desert landscape in New Mexico as you embark on an outdoor adventure with friends and family.