Divers And Swimmers Explore The Sapphire Depths Of New Mexico's Blue Hole

Sep 23, 2015
Originally published on October 8, 2015 9:45 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In New Mexico, halfway between Amarillo and Albuquerque, five minutes from Interstate 40, in the town of Santa Rosa is a place called the Blue Hole. It's a natural sinkhole that's filled with cold, crystal-clear spring water, and it's popular with scuba divers, swimmers and our correspondent John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: This is the bluest water I've ever seen in my life. It's a deeper blue than the Caribbean. It's a rippling sapphire in the Llano Estacado of Eastern New Mexico. The Blue Hole is part of a vast network of artesian springs connected to the Pecos River that gives this town on historic Highway 66 its moniker - City of Natural Lakes.

WALTER HARRIS: My name is Walter Harris. I'm a lifeguard at the Blue Hole. The water's 61 degrees, and it's 81 feet deep. Yeah - some people have never even seen the natural spring before, and we get, it's an oasis in the desert all the time.

STELLA SALAZAR: My name is Stella Salazar, and I am the owner-operator of Santa Rosa Dive Center. I've had my business for 29 years. And people come from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and they all come here to get certified.

DENISE BOYD: My name is Denise Boyd, and we live in Clovis, N.M., right now. And this actually our second time in about a week that we came out to dive here at the Blue Hole. We've done a lot of ocean diving but not any landlocked diving like the Hole is here. Today, I'm wearing a half-mil wetsuit, and then I have a 3-mil wetsuit over it. I have boots. I had gloves. I had things to go over my ears. It's definitely chilly down there.

BURNETT: The springs flow at 3,000 gallons a minute year round, so the pool is constantly renewing itself. For 50 years, this exquisite water was used for a federal trout hatchery. Then, in 1973, the government gave the Blue Hole to the city of Santa Rosa, and people finally got to enjoy it. M.E. Sprengelmeyer is the publisher of the local paper, the Guadalupe County Communicator. He swims here every day all year round.

M.E. SPRENGELMEYER: I moved here in August of 2009 after the Rocky Mountain News closed up in Denver. I was the last Washington correspondent. And I said, that's it. I'm going to go find myself a newspaper. I heard this paper was for sale, and I actually drove down here to scout out the paper. I liked the paper. I liked the town. I liked the business model. But the thing that sealed the deal was actually the Blue Hole and the possibility that I could spend every afternoon here, floating in the Blue Hole.

BURNETT: Divers say there are some big goldfish on the bottom, along with a couple of mannequin heads and a memorial to two divers who tried to explore the extensive underwater cavern system and never came back up. Now there's a steal grate across the opening. Above the water, there's a sandstone outcropping 10 feet high perfect for cannonballs.

Ray Merrick is a contractor at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. He emerges from the water, his skulls tattoos dripping.

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RAY MERRICK: Actually, we rolled into town a couple days ago to do some camping, and we saw the signs and just came out to check it out. And yeah, this is a surprise. I mean, you know, we travel all over the Southwest, and some of these sites - you'll get to them, and you're going to be disappointed 'cause there'll be graffiti, or there's going to be trash. This is just clean. You know, it's nice. It's refreshing. You're going to enjoy it in there.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Santa Rosa, N.M.

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BURNETT: (Yelling). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.