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Deep, Blue Mystery

Underwater archaeologist Adriane Askins tests a dry suit in the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa in 1996. (Journal File photo)
Underwater archaeologist Adriane Askins tests a dry suit in the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa in 1996. (Journal File photo)
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It is a mystery that has intrigued untold numbers of divers from all over as well as plenty of locals. Just where does the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa go? And just what might be down there?

It’s been 37 years since anyone has legally plumbed the depths of the famed swimming oasis that attracts divers from across New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and even, sometimes, from around the country.

But beginning Friday, a team from the Florida-based ADM Exploration Foundation has been given special permission from the Santa Rosa City Council to venture beyond a grate that sits at a depth of 82 feet, plugging a hole that delves deep into the ground.

The six-man diving exploration team is led by Curt Bowen, an experienced submerged cave explorer, cinematographer and photographer. The team plans to arrive in Santa Rosa today. In 1976, a New Mexico State Police search-and-recovery team, which went down to recover the bodies of two Oklahoma State University students who died while exploring the cave system, were the last legal divers beyond the grate.

That team diagrammed a cavern system 225 feet deep, at which point its exploration ended at a chamber of undetermined size and shape.

Using modern equipment, ADM has explored underwater caves to a depth of more than 450 feet and linear passages of more than seven miles.

The decision to explore Blue Hole actually came about as something of a mistake, Bowen said, when an ADM team member needed some equipment and contacted a dive shop in Santa Rosa.

“I knew the Santa Rosa Blue Hole was closed. Richard Delgado (city tourism director who also runs the Blue Hole Dive and Conference Center) … reached me a few days later and asked why we did not make a proposal to explore the Blue Hole.”

It was an opportunity that ADM was quick to explore.

“We hope to discover large subterranean passages and anything else that could be unique to the New Mexico cave system,” Bowen said.

How far the Blue Hole actually goes, however, is a matter of much speculation, said Dan Lenihan of Santa Fe, who dived it in 1974.

“The deepest depth I recorded was 130 feet,” he said. “We didn’t see it going farther.”

Lenihan, a Santa Fe resident who was head of the U.S. National Park Service Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, said the State Police may have been relying on depth-determining technology that was noted for overestimating depth, especially when diving at altitude.

Still, “I hope I’m wrong,” he said. “It would be great if it went deeper.”

As for what was down there, Lenihan said the water was somewhat murky because another group that had gone in somewhat earlier in the day had stirred up the silt that coats the cave walls.

It’s quite possible that Lenihan is correct, Bowen said, because equipment has improved so much in the ensuing years.

The intrigue for just what may be below the surface, however, is so strong that city officials are hoping it helps create an economic boom.

ADM will be making a video of its exploration that Mayor Albert Campos Jr. wants to show at the nearby Santa Rosa Convention Center.

“We could re-brand Santa Rosa with that video,” he said..

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