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Low water

I've never seen Elephant Butte Lake this low. Never.

In years gone by, I used to love watching the Ospreys circle and hover over the lake, just offshore from my campsite. Now they swoop restlessly, only to perch on the buttes on the far side of the lake. What am I saying? There is no lake. The campground's boat ramp ends in a broad, dusty plain with a sparse covering of parched, yellow-brown grass.

Boat ramp

This afternoon we drove out to the middle in Jan's Jeep. The Rio Grande still flows out there, a mile in each direction from the former shores of the lake. It's a fast-moving, shallow stream about twenty feet wide. ¿Rio Grande? No. Rio Pequeño. This Little River threads its way down the middle of the vast plain, flanked by swaths of dried, broken ground.

Rio Grande

I looked at my iPhone's GPS app. Here's what it showed as our location—obviously an aerial photo from a few years ago.

Elephant Butte Lake location

That was a two-mile-wide lake when the photo was taken, just a couple of years ago. And now we were parked right in the middle, high and dry, watching sandhill cranes land in the few marshy spots that are all that remain.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. We were treated to a magnificent sunset, with cranes flying across a sky of flame.

Jan at sunset

Cranes at sunset

But if I were a painter, maybe I'd have painted something more tranquil, like this.

Sandhill crane painting

Those mud cracks were remarkable to look at: huge blocks covered with smaller fragments, separated by channels of water. You could walk on them if you were very careful.

Mud cracks

I stepped from block to block, going as far out as I dared. The further I went, the more wobbly the footing, and the closer the water came to the top of the mud blocks. I got far enough that I was able to photograph the cracked mud blending into the shallow streams that make up the Rio Grande here. The reflections were lovely at sunset.

Mud cracks at sunset
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