People often ask us how we find these gems, these beautiful places. Well! We keep an adventure list, organized by state, and we’re always updating it as we learn of great spots. We get tips from fellow travelers, travel magazines, or sometimes we just see a green space on the map and read up on it. Pro tip: we also check out Campendium and sort by the highest-rated free campsites in an area. Anyway, when we were leaving Albuquerque we realized we could incorporate a stay at the beautiful Elephant Butte Lake State Park and so our plan was set. If you look up photos of this place, you’ll see a popular destination with cars dotting the shoreline and boats filling the lake. Well, those must be from the height of summer because that’s about the opposite of what we found coming here in mid-October!
THE QUICK DETAILS
- Elephant Butte Lake State Park is in SW New Mexico, just two hours south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25
- The park has 4 campgrounds with hookups that are reservable online, and they also offer first come, first serve primitive beach camping
- There are many areas of soft and deep sand, so be careful driving on the beach and try to stick to the main thoroughfares
- Water spigots are available throughout the paved areas of the park and there is a dump station available at the Desert Cove campground
- Be sure to fit in a visit to one of the many hot springs spas in nearby Truth or Consequences, NM
OUR WEEK AT THE LAKE
So, the thing that really got us interested in this state park was not just the dramatic views and meandering coastline but, you guessed it, the fact that they allow camping right on the beach. When we stayed here the rate was just $8/night with a 14 day stay limit. After 14 days, you need to vacate for at least one week before returning. With over 200 miles of shoreline, there are nearly endless opportunities for where you can primitive camp, however, be aware that there are many areas of deep sand and getting stuck is a real possibility. It’s always a good idea to scout the area ahead of time to make sure the sand is hard packed. We had no problems on the main roads, it’s the off-shoots that you need to especially be careful on. We saw several people staying on the shore over by the marina but we headed the opposite way. We had no problems on the main roads, it’s the off-shoots that you need to especially be careful on. To get to our spot you would head right shortly after the paved road turns into gravel.
The weather wasn’t really ideal during our stay – we arrived in the sunshine but then had three solid days of wind, rain, and clouds. So much so that we weren’t generating enough solar power and relied on our generator a number of times to keep our laptops powered and the batteries happy. Highs were in the low 50s for most of our stay and evenings were chilly enough that we ran our propane heater every night. We spent much of our time after work cozied up, watching movies and drinking wine – we found a really enjoyable Hatch Chile Wine (red and green varieties) which had just a bit of heat and was a fun way to enjoy some of the local flavor. I made several hearty meals to keep our bellies warm – Pumpkin Curry soup, Black Bean Chili, and Mushroom Gravy on Veggie Hash. We had hoped we might get a chance to paddle on the lake but it wasn’t in the cards for this trip. When the sun finally came out, the lake looked truly magnificent.
This lake attracts a huge number of birds and we loved seeing and listening to them all. There were American white pelicans on their annual migration and we saw blue and white herons, ravens, swallows, terns, and grebes. The blue herons seemed to be the dominant bird and they would even scare off the white heron from the favorite fishing spots. In fact we had quite the close encounter with a heron at our campsite. We have no idea what he was up to but he hung out for a good long while!
All in all, our days here were super relaxing. Brad of course worked his normal 8-5p work week and I did my usual video days on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I ran a bunch of errands in Truth or Consequences: I did four loads of laundry at Soap-n-Suds laundromat, I swung by Martha’s gift shop to get some of the famed and delicious New Mexico Piñon coffee, I stopped for some groceries at Walmart. On those sunny days I enjoyed wandering around with camera but I was so disappointed to see so much garbage on the beach. I grabbed some gloves and a bag and cleaned up what I could around our site, but there was so much more. I was especially upset about all the fishing line left behind to get tangled around all the birds. I will never understand how someone can spend time out in nature and then spoil it by leaving their garbage strewn about, having such a huge impact not only on the wildlife but also on all the future visitors to that place. We’re all in this together!
Anyway! We did really enjoy this area and really look forward to coming back a little earlier in the season to enjoy some warmer weather and definitely to get out and paddle on the lake. Side note – after we left, we passed through the town of Hatch which was completely decked out with chiles everywhere you looked. They’re the Hatch Chile Capitol of the World! There were huge bundles of chile peppers hanging from about every storefront roof and the buildings were painted so bright and colorful. It looked like it had so much character and I bet you can find some delicious food there. I definitely want to stop next time we’re in the area!
Be sure to check out our video all about our stay at Elephant Butte Lake State Park: