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If a well-watered desert oasis is what you’re seeking, look no further than Santa Rosa

new map temp_feb_16For water lovers, there are few better places in the state to play than Santa Rosa.

Known as the City of Lakes, the town in eastern New Mexico is a high-desert oasis teeming with agua.

A swimmer cools off in Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole. (Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department)

A swimmer cools off in Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole. (Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department)

It begins, of course, with the famous – and somewhat infamous – Blue Hole.

An artesian cenote, or natural pit, it is believed to be one of seven sister lakes connected underground.

Grated at the bottom about 80 feet down, the startlingly clear water maintains visibility to its lowest levels.

The water maintains a constant 62-degree temperature throughout all seasons, and the entire pool is flushed in about six hours at a constant rate of 3,000 gallons per minute, said Karmen Sandoval, director of the neighboring Blue Hole Dive and Conference Center.

Because the elevation is 4,620 feet, the 80-foot depth gives it a feel of 100 feet, making it a favorite scuba-diving testing site across the region, she said.

“They come in from Colorado, Texas and, of course, New Mexico,” Sandoval said.

Surrounded by high rock walls, it’s a great spot to practice cliff diving, as well, although visitors can also stroll in via stone steps.

A diver arcs into Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole. (Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department)

A diver arcs into Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole. (Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department)

The Blue Hole does have something of a checkered, tragic past.

Although the area has been frequented for centuries, including rumored dips by Billy the Kid, two college divers died in 1976 while exploring its narrow depths. And earlier this year, a member of the ADM Exploration Foundation died in an effort to further map the mysterious underground caverns.

To keep the curious safe, the tight hole has been grated shut.

For people who want water play of a different kind, Santa Rosa officials last year installed a floatable play structure in the nearby Park Lake, Sandoval said.

“It’s New Mexico’s newest and coolest water park,” she said. “It has slides, ramps and a climbing wall. It’s a lot of fun.”

Its introduction was so successful that this year an additional 14 pieces were added to the structure.

Because the Blue Hole is the town’s centerpiece, many local events are held there.

On June 18, the Blue Hole Music Festival kicks off at 5:30 with Croyal, followed by Ravenous from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Blue Hole Amphitheatre.

And on June 25, the state’s only Olympic-distance triathlon will be finish up at the conference center, organizer Andie Talmadge said.

In its fifth year, the triathlon draws up to 400 athletes drawn by the lure of a rare open-water swim to kick off the competition, she said.

“It’s beautiful, spring-fed, clear water and a beautiful bike-route course,” Talmadge said.

For people who prefer a more sedate water experience, the Santa Rosa Lake State Park, just north of town, is full to capacity with more than 104 surfaces acres, ranger Bill Velasquez said.

“It’s good for boating, jet skiing, swimming, fishing,” he said. “You can do it all.”

Anglers will appreciate tangling with largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and the occasional trout, Velasquez said.

Hiking trails circle the lake, as does an equestrian trail. Both primitive and developed campsites are scattered around the lake, as well, he said.

Rangers conduct programs throughout the summer, including a youth fishing clinic on Saturday, June 11.

Santa Rosa Lake State Park offers a more sedate water experience. (Courtesy of New Mexico State Parks Division)

Santa Rosa Lake State Park offers a more sedate water experience. (Courtesy of New Mexico State Parks Division)

Less crowded than Blue Hole, nearby Perch Lake is just south of town and a good spot for shore fishing with a fly rod or old-fashioned floating, Sandoval said. A submerged airplane also makes it an interesting spot for scuba diving, she said, even though the depth does not equal that of its more illustrious neighbor.

If visitors become too waterlogged, the Route 66 Auto Museum is a step back into the glory days of Route 66 when muscle was king of the road.

Established in 2000, the museum includes Ford Thunderbirds, a 1930s-era Duesenberg and an all-original 1954 Corvette, said Stacy Cordova, who is part of the owner’s family.

Old signs from the Mother Road’s heyday, old bicycles, and black-and-white photos are also part of the museum, she said.

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