About This Lesson
This lesson is based on National Register of Historic Places documentation for “Elephant Butte Irrigation District,” “Elephant Butte Dam,” “Elephant Butte Historic District,” and on Reclamation’s publications. This lesson was created cooperatively by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program and the Bureau of Reclamation under an Interagency Agreement and was completed in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.
The lesson was written by Marilyn Harper, historian, and edited by Teaching with Historic Places and Reclamation staff. It is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.
Where it fits into the curriculum
Topics:This lesson could be used in American history, social studies, geography, government, and civics courses in units on the Progressive Era, history of the West, political history, cultural geography, science, or the history of technology.
Time period: Early to mid-20th century
Relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12
Relevant Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Relevant National Geography Standards
Find your state's social studies and history standards for grades Pre-K-12
Objectives for students
1) To describe President Theodore Roosevelt’s proposed plan for irrigating the arid West.
2) To outline the early history of the Bureau of Reclamation.
3) To describe the creation and construction of the Rio Grande Project and list three short- and long-term problems the Project encountered.
4) To describe the components of the Rio Grande irrigation system.
5) To identify water-related resources in the students' local area.
Materials for students
The materials listed below can be used directly on the computer or printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a small version with associated questions and alone in a larger version.
1) two maps showing the arid West and the Rio Grande Project;
2) three readings: a selection from President Theodore Roosevelt’s first State of the Union Message; a history of Reclamation’s early years, and a chronology of the Rio Grande Project;
3) one illustration showing a section of the Mesilla Valley, and
4) five historic photos.
Visiting the site
Interstate 25 generally follows the Rio Grande. The canals and irrigated fields of the Rio Grande Project in New Mexico are visible from a number of state highways and local roads accessible from the interstate. The fields are private property and not open for visitation.
Elephant Butte Dam and reservoir are located within Elephant Butte Lake State Park. A visitor center offers information and interpretive exhibits. Tourist cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (where visitors can stay) and Reclamation’s former administration building (converted to a bed and breakfast) are in the Dam Site Recreation Area. Leasburg Dam State Park includes the dam, a section of the Leasburg Canal, and the National Register-listed Dam Tender’s Residence. The Percha Diversion Dam and sections of the main canals serving the Rincon Valley are located within Percha Dam State Park. A small visitor center is open seasonally. For more information, including maps and directions, see the New Mexico State Parks website.