Flying high above Elephant Butte offers a delightful study in contrasts. The lake’s stunning cobalt-blue water strikes my eye as if a painter had left masterful strokes on the desert floor below. Draining into the once mighty Rio Grande, the blue water sends out tendrils in brilliant complex shapes, like veins. The colors vary splendidly in pastoral shades of green and yellow where water nurtures the conspicuous vegetation clinging to life at its banks. Have Van Gogh or Monet been here with his artistic touch, I wonder? The answer is clear, as is the evidence of the importance of the Rio Grande.
Over one hundred million years ago, this area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Once the sea receded, the area was the favorite hunting ground of the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur. Evidence of the Rex, one of the largest land-dwelling predators of all time, and other dinosaur species have been discovered in area rock formations. Evidence has also been found at Kilborne Hole, which I wrote about in a previous post.
Although fossils of the Stegomastodon (a primitive relative of today’s elephant) have been discovered near the lake, the area was not named for its former inhabitants, but for an island in the lake—once the core of an ancient volcano—that is shaped like an elephant. The lake itself formed when a dam was constructed across the Rio Grande in 1916. Forty miles long, the lake shoulders more than two hundred miles of shoreline.
The flow of the Rio Grande River through Southern New Mexico and West Texas is controlled at Elephant Butte. At certain times of the year river water flows like a mighty river and at other times one might wonder if the river has dried up.
Elephant Butte is yet another example of the beauty you can find if you take the time to explore El Paso and one hundred and twenty miles around. All of the areas I mention throughout this blog may seem like a massive amount of area to cover. The truth is, however, each destination is roughly a day trip from El Paso.
I’m a fairly particular traveler in that I never want to feel as if I’ve wasted my time traveling to a place. I’ve gone to great extents and expense traveling to some places. I know the feeling of disappointment. So, when I highly recommend exploring the Desert Southwest, I do so with confidence. I do so knowing you’ll be in awe if you follow these trails yourself.