Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

History and Culture

Elephant Butte Dam is one of the most interesting engineering structures in New Mexico. Construction began in 1912 and work was completed in 1916. There was an extensive infrastructure including railroads, water tanks, and a large construction community. American and Mexican workers lived in temporary camps and the population ranged from 1800 to 3500 people throughout the construction.

Although most of the camps no longer exist or are underwater visitors can see significant historic structures of this time. The dam itself is intact and can be viewed from an overlook nearby. The former administration building of the Bureau of Reclamation still exists at the Dam Site Recreation Area and has been converted to a bed and breakfast facility. It retains its historic character of the early Elephant Butte community.

The Civilian Conservation Corps at Elephant Butte
Although the dam was constructed to regulate water flows in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, the lake became a recreational attraction from its inception. Recreation took off significantly after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed buildings, landscaping, roads and trails throughout the park from 1934-1940. The CCC also constructed a fish hatchery below the dam which was operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1965, when it became part of New Mexico State Parks.

Visitors to the Dam Site Recreation Area can see this era preserved in buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Visitors to the Dam Site can see the fruits of this labor as it is still preserved in this National Register of Historic Places district. The CCC constructed tourist cabins along the lakeshore and visitors can stay in these historic structures. The Dam Site restaurant is also a historic building. From Dam Site to adjacent Winding Roads, visitors can see the landscaping and masonry talents of the CCC. The Paseo del Rio Recreation Area is located below the dam and is site of the historic CCC fish hatchery, which still stands along the Rio Grande.
Elephant Butte Lake not only offers fishing, boating and swimming, but also an interesting history and many well-preserved historic structures.