In an otherwise arid stretch of eastern New Mexico is a seemingly bottomless, deep blue swimming hole that has built up quite a reputation. Local legend has it that outlaw Billy the Kid would take a dip in the Blue Hole before heading into Santa Rosa. Weary railroad workers and passengers followed at the turn of the century, and then came the flood of travellers along historic Route 66. The artesian spring, tucked into a rock outcropping just off the highway, pumps out some 3,000 gallons (11,000 liters) of water per minute. That’s enough to fill a standard swimming pool in short order so it’s no wonder that the steady flow results in crystal clear conditions that have attracted divers from around the world.
Then there’s the consistently cool temperature and the depth. The bell-shaped spring gets wider as it gets deeper. At the bottom, about 80 feet (24 meters) down, there’s a metal grate to keeps divers from going any farther into the maze of caves that sits below it. The cave system has been sealed off since 1976, when two divers in training died after getting separated from their classmates. New Mexico State Police divers quickly found one of the bodies but it took several weeks to find the other. In the process, police divers were able to make a crude map of some of the unexplored passage ways. At the time, one of the divers descended close to 200 feet (61 meters) and found himself at the edge of an underwater cliff. His powerful flashlight wasn’t enough to see the cave wall across from him or the bottom, sparking only more curiosity.
In 2013, divers with the ADM Exploration Foundation attempted an expedition but they had little success getting past the tons of rock the city had dumped onto the grate to keep people out. Today, tourism officials are highlighting Blue Hole as part of the New Mexico True campaign, which aims to paint the state as a place for outdoor fun and cultural exploration. One of the campaign’s videos features young, fit hipsters in trunks and bikinis diving and dancing in slow motion into the Blue Hole. It’s really a scene from any given summer day, with the bravest of the bunch taking a leap from the natural diving boards that surround the sinkhole.
There are lifeguards on duty and the locals are quick to offer encouragement if there’s any hesitation about jumping. Not up for a thrill? Use the concrete steps to reach the water. Or if you want to see what it looks like beneath the surface, diving classes are available. Divers from around the region flock to Blue Hole for fun and certification, as it’s one of the best diving spots in the Southwest. About 8,000 dive permits are sold each year.