Amistad National Recreation Area

Monarch Butterflies at Amistad National Recreation Area

When Amistad Dam was completed in 1969, the gates were closed and Amistad Reservoir began to fill. Given that the reservoir was on the Rio Grande at the river's junction with the Pecos and Devils Rivers it didn't take long to reach the planned-for water level. In those days the reservoir was administered as the Amistad Recreation Area under a cooperative agreement with the International Boundary and Water Commission. Then the property was reauthorized as a 58,500-acre National Recreation Area and unit of the National Park Service in November 1990.

As a National Recreation Area, Amistad offers year-round boating, swimming, fishing and water-skiing. Rare among National Park Service properties, the NRA also allows bow and shotgun hunting in certain areas at particular times of the year. There is also an elaborate series of deep caves below the waters of the reservoir, caves so deep that diving in them requires exotic gas mixtures, pre-placement of extra gas cylinders and extensive decompression times at depth. Diving in the caves is hazardous and requires divers to have extensive training and experience before attempting to go there. The property also contains significant samples of 4,000-year-old rock art and lots of more recent cultural history.

Archaeological evidence points to the area being first occupied by humans about 12,000 years ago at a time when the Ice Age glaciers were reaching their maximum southward penetration and many large mammals from the northern climate were pushed south into what is now the Chihuahuan Desert. Today, every fall sees thousands of Monarch butterflies descend on the park to rest for a bit before continuing south in their bi-annual journey between southern Canada and central Mexico. Many migratory waterfowl species also use the park in winter before heading back north to their Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic nesting grounds in the spring.

The Amistad NRA Visitor Center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays year-round, 8 am to 4:30 pm. Amistad National Recreation Area offers five campgrounds, all primitive (no RV hookups anywhere), all available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you need developed camping with hookups, there are several state and commercial properties nearby to help you out. Winter is the busiest season as summers tend to be very hot.

Sunset at Amistad National Recreation Area
Sunset at Amistad National Recreation Area