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  • Writer's picturekaydee777

New skin for the old ceremony

Updated: Feb 29

The signs are hard to read, cracked and weathered, aged by the harsh desert conditions. Though I like to bring my visitors (should I ever have any) here, few people easily find their way to the historic Damsite at the southern end of Elephant Butte Lake.

This lack of traffic makes the camping and picnic sites a good place for me to do outdoor yoga on these brief late winter/early spring, sunshiny days.

Sometimes I have company amongst the cactus, unperturbed by, or maybe slightly curious about, my breathwork and movements.

Damsite Recreational Area is the place where, from 1911-1916, a town grew to accommodate up to 3500 workers building the first of the USA's huge dams. This one, on the Rio Grande, is today known as Elephant Butte Lake. At the time of its construction this reservoir was the biggest and most ambitious river throttling water reservoir project ever undertaken and, in 1916 at its filling, was the largest man-made lake in the world.

The purpose was mainly power and irrigation to enable agriculture and human colonization aka material development of this desert region. It involves complex international and interstate water treaties between Mexico, Texas and New Mexico, some of which have been tied up in legal challenges for decades. Water in the southwest is a very tangled, often deeply acrimonious topic. Access. Use. The right (or not) to hoard. Beyond this point there be dragons.

The site of the construction village was repurposed as a recreational area during the time of another federal initiative. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) a depression era economic and public works infrastructure stimulus program, was employed in the 1930s and early 1940s, in a number of projects in the area, including the construction of a row of little stone and adobe holiday casitas which can be rented today as short term accommodation, with the whole area's current commercial enterprises managed by a private company, though it is technically a federal National Historic Site. Wouldn't it be nice if it was a National Park? Oh wait that would cost public monies.

If the stonework looks familiar, the Damsite casitas date to the same era as the 6th Avenue Shala. Date of construction for the pile of rocks and roof which gives me shelter and studio space is given in records as 1940, though the Damsite casitas have obviously been better maintained.

What wouldn't I give for a repointing genie to swoop in and repair the Shala's old stone walls to this kind of soundness.

Damsite Day, held on the Saturday of the Presidents' Day holiday weekend in mid February, is a recent attempt to expand awareness and use of the historic site - in other words a marketing initiative. There's a polar bear plunge, music, food, dancing, historic tours and presentations, art and craft, with vendors being housed in various places in the collection of historic buildings. (Thankyou CCC).

2024 was my first time of participating in the event (in its second year). The handprinted cloth was assigned to casita number 7.

While it was good to do an indoor market for a change, display was somewhat interesting in what is basically a small motel room.

Albeit a very historic, thick walled motel room.

It was even more interesting when people came in.

The little casita got crowded fast. Fortunately the people who made it into casita number 7, (instead of just walking by) mostly spaced themselves out naturally.

We managed: the cloth, old suitcase collection contents and I. Judicious use of the furnishings contributed.

Without wind to worry about, I could spread and fan out cloths.

It was a perfect late winter, sunny day.

The lake was a reflective, deepest green turquoise mirror. Brrrr polar bear plungers!

Someone had left signs of their presence at the casita step when I arrived to set up.

For a significant part of the day a sentinel stood guard above us.

I have always liked the feeling and the company I've found out at this place.

Damsite Day is another, albeit temporary one day only, repurposing of the area.

It was a good day for dreaming.

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