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Elephant Butte State Park, a large state park in New Mexico, was established in 1916 when a dam was built. The dam was a major engineering accomplishment in its day, and as a result of the construction, a massive 40-mile-long lake formed. The park is named for an elephant-shaped butte near the dam. The choice in the name turned out to be doubly apt: a stegomastodon fossil was found there in 2014.
Far from civilization, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped back into the Old West. Steeped in history and culture, search for an RV in Sierra County, NM, and explore it fully when you go out on your recreational adventure. The closest large town is Truth or Consequences, about five miles south.
Under a vast blue sky, rust-colored mesas and buttes rise from the waters. These ancient monoliths are formed by millions of years of wind and water erosion. Scrubby yarrow, yucca, witch broom, and other native desert plants dot the far hills, painting them a muted brownish-green. After rare storms sweep through, hills dazzle with tiny specks of yellow and fluorescent pink. With over 100 miles of shores, there’s plenty of room to stretch out and find a private cove to fish in. Considered a fisherman’s paradise, Elephant Butte Lake is known for producing record-breaking bass, walleye, crappie, catfish, and bass. A popular magazine named Elephant Butte Lake one of the top 150 fishing lakes, and local and national fishing tournaments are held here regularly. Should anglers want to hit the water but lack a boat, there is a handful of marinas and boat-rental outfits with a variety of boats to rent, ranging from kayaks to pontoon boats.
Over 20 miles of established trails wind around the lake. The terrain can be challenging at times because some of the ascents take hikers over loose, rocky shoulders that hug the buttes. Patient hikers are rewarded with a vast, sweeping view of the Gila Wilderness, Rio Grande River Valley, and Mogollon Mountains. Hikers should exercise caution when navigating the small boulders and bushes. Rattlesnakes are extremely common, as are several other native nonvenomous snakes. Other desert wildlife like lizards, skinks, and turtles are frequently spotted on the trails.
An advantage of camping with an RV instead of a tent is you minimize the chances of having a midnight visitor slithering into your sleeping bag. With over nine campgrounds in Elephant Butte Lake State Park to choose from, the decision comes down to the preferred amenities. Some campgrounds have full hookups, and others have easy access to fishing docks, marinas, or hiking trails. A couple of campgrounds have “comfort stations,” which are, basically, air-conditioned bathrooms, a nice plus in the intense summer months.
Alternatively, there are a handful of RV parks and campgrounds in the town of Elephant Butte, NM, which may be a good option if you want to be within walking distance of local restaurants and shops.
Another option to consider, if space runs out, is the campground at Percha Dam State Park near Arrey, NM. The smaller state park RV campground has 50 sites, 29 of which have electric and water hookups. RV camping at Percha Dam State Park in summers is made more comfortable by the tall cottonwood trees that lend some shade.
Surrounded by an arid, flat desert that’s interrupted only by an occasional butte rising in the distance, it’s easy to think there isn’t much to do in the area. With a trusty RV rental and an adventurous soul, embark on a hunt for ghosts. Dozens of ghost towns litter this part of New Mexico, stoically ignoring the harsh sun and dry winds. Waiting to be discovered. Though there are a handful of residents living in the towns to the south and north, these towns are a faint shadow of their former selves and are often regarded ghost towns: Cuchillo, Arrey, Garfield, Salem, Rincon, and to a certain extent, Hatch. Though a small community around the original Hatch town experienced a revival in the ‘50s, the only remnant of its glorious Old-West town is the St. Francis de Sales Church Historic Site, which is kept open for the tourists. Local lore says that on occasion, ghosts will follow visitors who enter the church home.
Hatch’s main enterprise is growing chili peppers and pecans. Stop in any one of the restaurants or at one of the roadside stands for fresh-roasted peppers and other chili-laden dishes. The amount of flavor bursts on one’s tongue is simply astounding. The grocery store varieties cannot compare to these locally grown ones.
Under the vast sky and wide-open desert, camping at Elephant Butte Lake State Park will allow you to enjoy the stars that scatter across the night sky like glittering diamonds. Make new memories with the family to last a lifetime in New Mexico.