Scientists Just Explored a Series of New Mexico Underwater Caves

The Santa Rosa Blue Hole has been in the public mind for yours. A natural swimming hole, this body of water is stunningly blue. It contains shockingly clear waters. In the heyday of road-tripping, families cruising down Rout 66 would stop at the popular swimming spot to rest—one of the only bodies of water in the unbroken desert. The deep hole was also a favorite spot for scuba divers—that is, until two young divers became trapped in the pool’s tight underwater caves. After their deaths in 1976, the entrance to the caves was covered with a metal grate, all but forgotten. 

The hole itself is a circular, bell-shaped poll just east of Santa Rosa. It forms an artesian well that was once used as a fish hatchery. While the surface is only 80 feet in diameter, it expands to a diameter of 130 feet at the bottom. The pool is open for public use with no lifeguards on duty. For scuba fanatics, the Blue Hole poses a unique challenge; New Mexico is at an elevation of 4,616 feet, so it is necessary for divers to use high-altitude diver tables to compute the dive profile and decompression stops while exploring the area. The water is nearly always a cold 62 degrees Fahrenheit and there is a constant inflow of 3,000 gallons per minute.  

In 2013, the protective grate was removed, allowing a group of adventurous divers with the ADM Exploration Foundation to pass through. Their intention? To map the system of unexplored caves. Their initial probing was stymied by decades of debris an extremely tight passages, but excavation continues to this day. It is still unclear just how far back the caves go, but the expedition is prioritizing safety. Sinuous and narrow underwater caves aren’t often the safest spaces for scuba diving, and the previous diver deaths serve as a warning to the current researchers.  

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