Elephant Butte Dam Centennial Celebration
October 7-22, 2016

Elephant Butte Dam during construction
Posted on August 15, 2016 in
Tags: , , , ,

Elephant Butte Dam turns 100 Years old in 2016…

…and seven big events are planned for October at or near the Historic Dam Site Recreation Area!

Friday & Saturday October 7-8: Book Festival at the Damsite Restaurant. Kicks off with a brisket dinner on Friday night ($35).
Friday October 14: Damsite Lights up the Night – the historic Fish Hatchery will be lit with luminarias and lights. $5
Saturday October 15: Dinner on the Dam, $425
Saturday October 15: Fireworks Show over the lake, free
Saturday & Sunday October 15-16: Wooden Nickel Makers Mart at Winding Roads Park, $5
Wednesday October 19: Walk on the Dam, free
Saturday October 22: Ringers on the Rio at Fish Hatchery Park / Paseo del Rio, $20 per team

More event details are on our October Events page!

Elephant Butte Dam Centennial: Photos of a Hundred-Year Old Dam


Elephant Butte Dam during construction

AUGUST 26-27, 2016 – Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta

See the balloon? Little dot, far left.
Elephant Butte Dam Centennial Year Balloon Regatta

APRIL 30, 2016 – Square Dancing on the Dam

Seventy-two Southwestern District Square Dancers took a twirl on the Dam.
panoramic shot of Elephant Butte Dam with square dancers
Elephant Butte Dam with Southwest Region Square Dancers
Southwest Region Square Dancers on Elephant Butte Dam
swing dance on Elephant Butte Dam
getting a dangle at a square dance on Elephant Butte Dam


Engel Dam, Woodrow Wilson Dam, Elephant Butte Dam…who changed the damned dam’s name?

Content adapted from text written by local historian Sherry Fletcher, whose book on the Dam was released in late 2015.

During the 1880s, Mexico complained that between Colorado and New Mexico, the Rio Grande was being consumed before it reached the international border at Juarez. Mexico justified a prior right to the water because of ancient usage, a rationale recognized by international law. Thus the conflict began.

The Rio Grande starts on the Continental Divide in Colorado. One of the longest rivers in North America, it flows from the San Juan Mountains in Colorado to, then along, the Mexican border.In the early 1900s plans were made to impound the river’s flow and create a reservoir that would hold water to be used for irrigation. In 1906 Congress set aside funds to build Engel Dam, but construction was postponed until 1910 when all of the necessary land had finally been acquired.

By 1916 when the Dam was completed, it truly was an engineering wonder, the largest facility of its kind in the world. The dam’s purpose had been achieved, creating an extensive system of irrigation and making thousands of acres of rich soils available for farming.

The choice of Elephant Butte for the dam site was based on the geologic setting of the area. It only place in southern New Mexico where the Rio Grande had cut a deep canyon into resistant bedrock. This bedrock, primarily Mesaverde grade sandstone, is part of the Cutter sage uplift. The deep canyon provides a natural constriction for the dam and the sandstone provides strong footing.

In 1963, New Mexico State Parks too over the management of Elephant Butte Lake, at which point major construction efforts to cater to tourists became a priority.

The Dam was closed to traffic after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil. In recent years the Dam has been opened for events such as the Dammit Man Triathlon and the State Parks’ First Day Hike on January 1, 2014.

a dam panoram taken on New Year's Day 2014

Fun Elephant Butte Dam tidbits:
– In March of 1911 a band, amusingly named “The Dam Band,” was organized at the camp by the workers in order to provide entertainment at various social functions.
– In 1911, the Presbyterian Board of Church Extension gave $700 to erect a portable church – portable because after the dam was built they felt very few people would remain there.
– Approximately 850 workers were employed by the government to construct the dam over the course of 5 years.
– The Rio Grande was diverted by a raised timber and concrete “flume” located on the west end of the dam. The flume was 50 feet wide, sixteen feet deep and 1200 feet long.
– 629,500 cubic yards worth of Cyclopean rubble concrete was used in construction of the dam.
– During construction, individuals who wanted to see the the dam in-process could ride the Santa Fe railroad to the construction site.
– The August 25 1914 issue of the Rio Grande Republican reported that twenty miles of roadway had been built for the project.  21 miles of telephone line, 7.5 miles of power and light line, and 13 miles of railroad had been put in place.
– In the same issue,  Republican reported “Extensive plans are underway for transforming Palomas Hot Springs and other favorable locations around the lake into first class summer resorts and with the magnificent setting of mountain ranges on either side, the big pond will form a playground for the southwest.” The article went on to say the water would provide irrigation for 155,000 acres of land: 110,000acres  in New Mexico and 45,000 acres in Texas.

Elephant Butte Dam during construction

Map showing the location of the Elephant Butte Dam:
Scroll to Top