|A former fish hatchery, the Blue Hole is now the Southwest's most popular dive training site.|
In the middle of a cross-country drive, I stopped for gas in Santa Rosa, N.M. My life was shoved into a U-Haul trailer, but I had left my dive gear accessible--just in case. In the gas station I saw an advertisement for The Blue Hole, "the scuba capital of the Southwest." My interest was piqued, and after 1,000 miles of Midwestern grain fields, my mind and body needed some aquatic stimulation.
I got directions to the site and sputtered off through town. I can't remember seeing more than five people the whole way there, and I soon found out why: they were all diving! The Blue Hole's parking lot looked like Dodger Stadium's, and divers had monopolized every inch of grass and dirt with extra tanks, wetsuits and BCs.
License plates from as far away as California dotted the lot, and there must have been 100 divers there. I counted five open-water classes, an advanced course, and a horde of independent divers checking the place out. I walked over to a crowd and there it was: 60 feet in diameter, 81 feet deep, and bordered by a ring of large sandstone sheet rocks. The Blue Hole is an artesian well that was once used as a fish hatchery and has since been converted into the Southwest's most popular dive training site. I grabbed my gear and rented a few tanks from Stella Salazar at the Santa Rosa Dive Center, conveniently located next door to the spring.
My dive buddy and I quickly suited up and waded in via a dive-ready platform. We swam out to a quartet of dive buoys marking a submerged and suspended training platform at 15 feet, and dropped down to it. The well was even more surreal once we were below the water line: Its curved cylindrical sides belled out to a diameter of 130 feet and I felt like I was swimming inside a giant soda bottle. The well's gray rock walls are covered with a thin film of algae, and every once in a while a lone goldfish swam its way past us. The water was a deep azure and excessively clear, with up to 80 feet of visibility. In the far recesses of the well, a big metal grate covers an opening leading to the well's source, which recharges the Blue Hole with a steady flow of 3,000 gallons of water a minute.
The dive left me hungry, and on the advice of Stella, I motored off to Comet II, a little cafe located in a particularly unprepossessing part of town. Its utter lack of décor was on par with the endless fields I'd driven through for days. I ordered the enchiladas and soon a colorful plate of savory Mexican fare materialized.
The food was awesome, and before long, my plate was as stark as the restaurant's walls, and as empty as the grain fields I'd been through. Rejuvenated and refueled, I drove off to the coast with visions of artesian wells and enchiladas dancing in my head.
Dive In: Santa Rosa, New Mexico
Location: Santa Rosa is located 114 miles east of Albuquerque on Interstate 40. Take the first exit into town and follow the signs. You can't miss it.
Profile: To dive the Blue Hole, you need to purchase an $8 permit that is good for one week. Permits are available at City Hall or the Santa Rosa Dive Center. The spring is about 5,000 feet above sea level, and if you're driving out of town right after your dive, you can hit altitude in the 7,000- to 8,000-foot range. Adjust dive plans and tables accordingly. Planning materials are available at the Santa Rosa Dive Center, but divers are solely responsible for planning and executing a safe dive plan.
Water Conditions: You can dive the Blue Hole year-round (winter is actually the busiest season), thanks to the constant spring flow that keeps the water temperature at a stable 61 degrees. A quarter-inch wetsuit is considered the minimum thermal protection. Visibility is a consistent 100 feet.
Dive Operators: Santa Rosa Dive Center, (505) 472-3370 is located next to the Blue Hole, and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until the last diver is served. The shop rents gear, tanks and offers air fills, but does not provide instruction. Shop owner Stella Salazar will also open midweek by appointment for certified divers and groups.
For More Info: Contact the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce at (505) 472-3763.