Scenic Views

Elephant Butte Dam & Dam Site Historic District

Expansive view of Elephant Butte Dam in southern New Mexico.
elephant butte dam overlook sierra county new mexico

The Elephant Butte Dam scenic overlook is a popular stopping spot for visitors to the area. The overlook and nearby Dam Site Recreation Area are both easily accessed from Highway 51 (east of T or C toward Engle), and they are well worth the trip, whether you are just passing through or on an extended stay. The dam itself can be seen but not accessed, with one notable exception.

HistoryMapFacts about the DamThe Lake

Dam Site Historic District & Recreation Area

The Dam Site Recreation Area, just east of the overlook, is open to visitors, lodgers and explorers. Short-term rentals are available at the historic lodge and recently updated cabins.


A convenience / gift shop / information center is located on the edge of the parking area.

A major feature of the Dam Site: rock walls, a pergola, steps and pathways separating grassy areas and cactus gardens, all created by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

A CCC Worker Statue stands in the center of the main lot. The statue was dedicated in 2008, on the 75th anniversary of the program. The inscription reads:

During the Great Depression the CCC provided jobs, education and training in conservation for thousands of unemployed young men. This “New Deal” program put men to work and preserved America‘s natural resources. At Elephant Butte Lake, CCC enrollees built cabins, restaurant, boat house, roads, rock walls, pergola, fish hatchery, landscaping and improved the Rio Grande watershed. Sierra County is the benefactor of their hard work.

Winding Roads Park

This sweet park is on the upper level of the Dam Site, offering several picnic benches, grass, shade trees, and an amazing view of the lake.

winding roads park above the elephant butte damsite

Tours, Workshops and Retreats

Photography workshops and retreats, each lasting 2-5 days, are scheduled starting in the fall of 2023. Day tours are also available, with photography instruction optional.

Events at the Dam & Dam Site

Events are always subject to change. Check with organizers, websites and social media posts for updates.

History of the Dam

The largest body of water in New Mexico was created by the construction of Elephant Butte Dam, authorized by the United States Congress on February 25, 1905.

The US Bureau of Reclamation built the dam to provide flood control and irrigation down-river. Construction began in 1911 and was completed five years later, in 1916. Water storage began a year before construction ended, in 1915.

Upon completion, Elephant Butte Dam was reported to be the largest irrigation enterprise in the United States.

The 24,300-kilowatt hydroelectric power plant at the base of Elephant Butte Dam began operating in 1940. The dam’s spillway was first tested in 1941, and was used again in 1942. The spillway would not be utilized again until 1985.

Even at its lowest levels, Elephant Butte Lake is large enough to offer an array of recreational opportunities like boating, and fishing. Miles of shoreline are open to exploring.

Map / Location

Elephant Butte Dam Facts

  • Construction began: 1911
  • Construction completed: 1916
  • Type of dam: Concrete Gravity
  • Amount of concrete used: 618,785 cubic yards
  • Height: 301 feet
  • Length: 1674 feet
  • Peak water storage capacity: 2,210,298 acre-feet of water
  • Maximum irrigation capability: 178,000 acres of land
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