- Published on Friday, 01 February 2013 09:58
- Written by Mike Hughes
When I first mention diving and New Mexico in the same sentence people usually give me a glossy eyed look like I wasn’t from this planet. Sure, people are more than willing to believe that extraterrestrials crash-landed near Roswell, but they are skeptical about the actual local dive sites. Perhaps it’s because most of the dive sites are from 3,000 to 7,200 feet above sea level. Perhaps it’s because most of New Mexico’s dive sites are in reservoirs/lakes or water filled in sinkholes. Perhaps its just the fact that the local destinations are so filled with historical passages and questionable irreconcilable mysteries that diving here has had a hard time making a splash in the national headlines.
To start off, the most well-known dive site in the state has to be Blue Hole in Santa Rosa. Blue Hole is oval shaped on the surface: 80ft by 60ft. It widens with depth like a bell or Erlenmeyer flask to about 130ft in diameter down at 100ft of depth where a steel grate keeps divers from descending into the cave system that feeds 3,000 gallons of fresh water per minute literally to the hole area. This flow rate exchanges the water in Blue Hole approximately every six hours and gives divers over 80ft of visibility. One thing to note is that the water temperature is a constant 61-64degrees year round, so if you get cold easily, a 3ml wet suit with hood should be considered bare plus minimum to keep you from turning blue when you dive Blue Hole too.
The first non-local visitors to Blue Hole were the conquistadors who came with Francisco de Coronado in 1541. They must have looked like aliens from another planet to the local natives: as some tourists still do to this day. It is said that Billy the Kid stopped by here and possibly the great Apache Chief Geronimo too. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a famous outlaw or memorable chief to stop by here, you can drop by just about anytime or century, but diving here at Blue Hole is only open on the weekends, and you need a permit that you can purchase for a reasonable price at city hall, or at the Santa Rosa Dive Center. Diving here without the necessary $8 weekly minimum permit can lead to a hefty fine that was last heard over $300 dollars, which is steep even by cattle rustler standards.
You can either take the stairs down to the water level, of take a 12ft leap of faith into the water, either way, you may find yourself approached by invasive species of almost menacing gold fish. Meanwhile, crawdads, or crayfish, lurk on the substrate. You have to plan your dive here as a high altitude dive and keep in mind that the roads are not flat from Albuquerque, so a quick trip from there and back isn’t going to happen. After a dive here you need to off gas before you cross the 7,000ft pass. A trip to the Billy the Kid Museum, the Fort Sumner National Monument, and/or a stay at the Quality Inn near the airport, can help pass time and gas . . . uh, nitrogen that is.
If you want to get a little more dive time in around Santa Rosa, the city of natural lakes, then visit Perch Lake, another $8 permit location. Here you can dive a twin-engine plane down at 50plus feet. The plane was last used above water for sky diving classes. That’s right, above water when it was in perfect condition, people couldn’t wait to dive out of it. Now that it’s below water, people can’t wait to dive inside it. I can’t blame them though, how often do you get to board a plane without being searched by TSA officials? Here, you won’t hear, “Remove your dive knives and fins please…”
Lastly, there are two other lakes divers are sometimes, by permission only, able to dive near Santa Rosa. Both Swan Lake and Rock Lake are on private land, the Butler Quarter Ranch to be exact. Debbie Ladyhawk is the owner. Swan Lake is 60ft deep with lots of usual suspect fish. Rock Lake is the real reasons divers flock here. The Lake is 285ft deep and technical divers from Albuquerque to Denver schedule trips here long before and well in advance. My local friends tell me that Debbie is hard to get a hold of, so they dive on her property by joining up with in state and out of state dive shop training teams who already have permission and scheduled dives at Rock Lake. Fortunately, this is a deep dive site, but you only have to go to 30ft to see freshwater sponges, fish, and turtles.
Northeast of Santa Rosa is Conchas Lake State Park its 4,200ft in elevation and maxs out around 158ft deep. Petroglyphs mark the canyon walls, sand and rocks fill the substrate, and you’ll find some good spear fishing spots near the Conchas Dam on the Canadian River.
12 miles east of Roswell is Bottomless Lakes State Park. There are 8 lakes here, but Lea Lake is the only diveable lake. For a small park entrance fee you can dive down 80 to 90ft and have 50 to 75ft of visibility. You might see a canoe or boards from boats, but the main attraction here are soft shell turtles, or rare species such as the Pecos Puff fish, Rainwater Killifish, and Mexican tetras besides others not so endangered, but still on the unusual side. In the summer it’s 84 on the surface and 61degrees on the bottom.
South of Albuquerque is Elephant Butte State Park. This is a 40,000 surface acre lake filled with bass, catfish and walleye, among others. The lake dips down to 165ft of depth. The remnants of the old volcano make up an island in the lake. During dry spells the island gets bigger and the water level goes down as local water consumption goes up. Use a dive flag, as boating and fishing are big sports here. The geothermal activity still goes on around here, so try out the hot springs in the town called Truth or Consequences.
On the north end of the state we find Heron Lake. At 7,200ft high, it’s a 5,900 acre “no wake lake”, 4miles long and 3miles wide. Here you can dive with salmon and trout, but keep an eye out for sailboats. The marina has showers and camping facilities.
Lastly, we have the Navajo Reservoir and Navajo State Park, or at least 2/3rds of it. Colorado shares the other 1/3rd the lake. At 6,100ft high, and 35miles long with 150miles of public shoreline, there is an entry point for just about everyone not already leaving from the Navajo Lake marina. Kokanee salmon, northern pike, and brown & rainbow trout are the usual suspects here.
To find more about New Mexico, check with the local dive shops. After all, if the government can cover up the alien landings at Roswell from outer space, there’s no telling what they’re keeping from those of us exploring inner space. Great Dives.