Mysterious Blue Hole draws visitors to N.M.

A boy leaps into the water at Blue Hole State Park in Santa Rosa, N.M.

SANTA ROSA, N.M. — 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 travelers along historic Route 66.

The artesian spring, tucked into a rock outcropping just off the highway, pumps out some 3,000 gallons 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 down, there’s a metal grate to keeps divers from going any farther into the maze of caves below.

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.

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 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.