November 16-21, 2021
We camped at Caballo Lake State Park in mid-November, enjoying a quiet stay in one of the smaller campgrounds at the park. The reservoir is on the Rio Grande River, about 160 miles south of Albuquerque. We were fortunate to be camping next to a very nice retired couple; he worked for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), which includes the state’s parks, and retired as the superintendent of one of the parks about 15 years ago. They both provided a lot of information about New Mexico state parks in particular and things to do in the state in general.
Caballo is the Spanish word for “horse,” and the Caballo Mountains for which the lake is named are said to resemble the head of a horse. I don’t see it, but they were really, really beautiful anyway, especially at sunset.
The Caballo Mountains are complex because of their geologic history: the oldest granite layers (at the bottom, naturally) date to more than 2 billion years ago during the Proterozoic Eon. That is the time period for which we have the earliest fossil records for life on Earth. The higher sandstone, limestone, and dolomite layers are from the Paleozoic Era, about 500 to 250 million years ago, when this region of New Mexico, and much of the present-day West, was covered by a vast inland tropical sea.
We took a day trip to Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the largest state park in New Mexico and located about 20 miles north of Caballo Lake, and Truth or Consequences, near Elephant Butte, on Saturday, Nov. 20. One of the buttes around the reservoir is said to look like an elephant; we didn’t see that, either. Elephant Butte Dam was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and opened in 1916 as the biggest dam of its type in the world. Both Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs are now severely depleted of water because of low water in the Rio Grande and its tributaries upstream, but that missing water is especially noticeable at Elephant Butte.
There were hundreds if not thousands of sandhill cranes flying over the lake while we were at Caballo, and it was a lot of fun to listen to their calls.