The Scorch of a Dying Elephant Butte

Tubin' the Butte, elephant butte New Mexico
Tubin’ the Butte

This past summer weekend was a fantastic one… better yet, the best one I’ve ever had at Elephant Butte.

Castle Rock cliff jumping elephant butte new Mexico
Castle Rock cliff jumping
Boatin' the Butte elephant butte New Mexico
Boatin’ the Butte

The wind was strong, the waves- wild, the company- all American, and the feels- just out-of-this-world good. But! Above all, what usually makes or breaks a good time at The Butte isn’t the whole cache of company and entertainment, rather, it’s the water level.

Cruising in a wake boarding boat elephant butte New Mexico
Cruising in a wake boarding boat
Tubin' the Butte elephant butte New Mexico
Tubin’ the Butte

This weekend was the highest the water level has been in 15 years. That’s according to locals, at least, but the organization, Water Data for Texas, will tell you that the lake was a whopping 26 percent full on Saturday, 10th of June, 2017, which compared to one year ago, was only 16.6 percent full. That’s a pretty big difference in digits, if you ask me. But, the telling factor here isn’t necessarily the numbers, it’s the huge difference in the overall experience and physical state of the lake.

Wakin' the Butte elephant butte New Mexico
Wakin’ the Butte

Elephant Butte is one of those precious New Mexico jewels that aids in the state’s summer greatness. With weather frying us all at 91 plus degrees Fahrenheit, The Butte is a fantastic place to be. Unfortunately, it’s drying up and here’s why:

Jumping off Castle Rock elephant butte New Mexico
Jumping off Castle Rock
Jumping off Castle Rock  elephant butte New Mexico
Jumping off Castle Rock
Jumping off Castle Rock  elephant butte New Mexico
Jumping off Castle Rock

New Mexico is the third wheel of a great American romance. New Mexico is that friend who runs to help the Cowboy (Colorado) save the damsel in distress (Texas) and does most of the work but still gets the short end of the stick because that friend is left loveless, tired and too worn-out to fight for his own true love. The reason being is because New Mexico is not as rich or beautiful or bountiful or ‘statused’ or whatever have you.

San Paolo of Elephant Butte New Mexico
San Paolo of Elephant Butte

Yeah, that entire analogy seems a little screwed up with a hint of Brokeback Mountain in it, but you get what I’m saying and if not, here’s some context:

Skidooing the Butte elephant butte New Mexico
Skidooing the Butte

Elephant Butte is a governed southern New Mexico body of water under the Rio Grande Compact, which was signed in 1938 between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The Compact apportions the Rio Grande (America’s fourth longest river flowing from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico) among all three states. From the very second the river rushes into the New Mexico territory from its Northern channel in Colorado, it no longer belongs to anyone. That’s the mess of water rights, or lack there of, that exists in New Mexico and which, furthermore, reflects the history of New Mexico forever and ever being a territory and embodiment of the Wild West.

A great family  elephant butte new Mexico
A great family 

But the Rio Grande, like many rivers, is fed by other rivers and that’s when the issue of ownership gets really messy. According to state law, water rights are put to use by those who were here first. Like, “agricultural users” or “farmers” – or whatever I can call it that doesn’t entirely elude to these people being Anglos who made conquest of the territory, but rather includes Indians and indigenous folks who reside here. Yeh, maybe I should have just said it that way in the first place. 

Another great family  elephant butte New Mexico
Another great family 
Bros & Trucks elephant butte New Mexico
Bros & Trucks

Anyway, New Mexico has been practicing agriculture since the settlement cultures of the Anasazi, Mogollon and Hohokam, and also by the Spanish settlers of 1598 clear to today.  Although agriculture only contributes to less than 2 percent of our state’s gross domestic product, present-day state law guarantees that those who practice agriculture will forever have use of New Mexico’s precious and depleting water.

Fishing the Butte... or trying to elephant butte New Mexico
Fishing the Butte… or trying to

What’s more is that according to the Aamodt Adjudication (which is the first complex and ongoing case regarding who is considered “first” in New Mexico and thus obtains priority rights of water) the fight doesn’t end here. In fact, the fight begins all over again, with the argument that Indians should have first rights over non-Indians because they were, indeed, here first. 

Pirate Hill elephant butte New Mexico
Pirate Hill
Cliff jumping from Pirate Hill elephant butte New Mexico
Cliff jumping from Pirate Hill

Of course, rather than anyone in New Mexico get anything, because that’s an ongoing case and the Wild West never died here, instead we get less to nothing in comparison to Colorado and Texas. Thus, we continue to face increasing drought and the fear that our precious Elephant Butte, the largest lake and reservoir, may not be the massive 57.03 square miles of invaluable coolness in a shriveling land of dirt devils and record breaking heat that we currently know and love it to be. That’s sad.

On another note! 

A sunset game of horseshoes  elephant butte new Mexico
A sunset game of horseshoes 

On this trip to Elephant Butte, I learned that it’s home to some of the world’s largest catfish… allegedly. Stories claim they are the size of VW slug bugs and are said to live right at the bottom of the dam and grow to their massive size because they’re trash eaters.

Sunset elephant butte New Mexico

I also couldn’t help but wonder what else one might find at the bottom of Elephant Butte, especially with its history of the Toy-Box Killer. You can read about that scary ass story in my exclusive interview with a crime scene processor on the case, here.

Playing around with long expose  elephant butte new mexico
Playing around with long expose 
More fun with long exposure  elephant butte New Mexico
More fun with long exposure 

In sum, it’s weekends like these that make you question the judgment of those more powerful and how they may very well impact the memories made at such a shining blue place set between rolling brown hills in a New Mexico that I think isn’t living to its greatest potential. And it’s also weekends like these that make you cheer to boats, beer bellies, shitty country music, campfires, nipple rings (yes, you read that right) and laughing your ass off at fart jokes and everything else unclassy because we are who we are #merica.

The whole lot of us elephant butte new Mexico
The whole lot of us
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