Now that the unofficial opening weekend of summer has come and gone with Memorial Day, when about 100,000 people descended on Elephant Butte Lake State Park, it’s a great time to visit the state’s largest body of water.
With a water level higher than it has been in years, the lake is a glittering, beckoning oasis loaded with all types of recreational opportunities for everybody in the family, said Beth Wojahn, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
With a water surface area of almost 12,600 acres, the water level sits at about 4,340 feet, creating a storage amount of just under 500,000 acre-feet, which is only a quarter of capacity but the most since 2011, she said.
But with such a large body of water, there is plenty of space, even on holiday weekends, Wojahn said.
“You see a lot of people throughout the summer, but there’s plenty of room,” she said. “There’s 19 miles of lake, and a lot of it is beach. It doesn’t get nearly as crowded on non-holiday weekends, but Elephant Butte (emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/elephantbuttelakestatepark.html) is the state park that is the most visited.”
And activities span the gamut of water adventures, Wojahn said.
“There’s fishing tournaments, sailboat tournament, balloon regattas,” she said. “There’s always something going on, even sand castle contests.”
Speaking of sand, it’s one of the most striking things about the Butte, said Neal Brown, the concessionaire at Marina del Sur (marinadelsur.info/index.html).
“We have the nice sandy beaches, which is a lot like White Sands,” he said. “But White Sands doesn’t have any water; it’s just hot.”
When it comes to hot, the boat rentals at the marina are scorching with pontoon speedboats capable of reaching 30 mph and able to pull skiers or boogie boarders.
“We used to do glass boats, but we found pontoon boats much easier to drive,” Brown said. “You don’t have people falling out of boats. You can go fast, but they’re very stable.”
Double-deck pontoon boats don’t go as fast but can fit whole families. They feature a water slide on top, while the upper deck is great for doing cannonballs into the lake, he said.
With high side rails to keep youngsters from falling in the water, they are perfect for fishing, as well as exploring hidden coves and hiking outings into the far reaches of the lake, Brown said.
One of his favorites is Kettle Top, near the lake’s north end.
“We take a boat, beach it at Kettle Top,” Brown said. “Then we hike to the top. It’s a fun hike.”
Scooting across the water on a one- or two-person kayak is another fun way to explore the lake, said Edna Trager of Zia Kayak Outfitters (ziakayakoutfitters.com).
“We rent them for a 24-hour period, and sometimes people take them and cross the lakes and go hiking,” she said. “Others have rod holders so you can go fishing. And some people are just out there having fun. Once you get going, you can go wherever you want. They’re nice and stable, sit-on-top kayaks. People can take their gear with them and have a good time.”
Stand-up paddle boards are also becoming quite the rage, Trager said.
“They’re very, very popular,” she said. “They look like old surfboards, but they come with a long paddle. People like them because you can either play around on them, sit on them, go on your knees, just goof off, or you can really get on them exercising. Standing up on them and balancing, that’s what gives you a good workout. They’re 11 feet long. and that length makes them very stable.”
Sports Adventure (boatrentalselephantbutte.com) rents jet skis, pedal boats, wake boards, water skis and knee boards for more mechanized excursions across the lake.
Of course, such a spot of water makes a great haven for fish and a great lure for those who like to catch them.
The lake has been harboring largemouth and smallmouth black bass, white bass, striper, crappie, perch, walleye, catfish, sunfish, bluegill and carp. State records in a number of varieties have been pulled from the lake, as well.