Bottomless Lakes State Park
Lea Lake, the swimming lake at Bottomless Lakes State Park
Bottomless Lakes State Park carries the distinction of being New Mexico's first state park, established in 1933. The park is located along the Pecos River about 15 miles southeast of Roswell. There are seven lakes on the property, all small deep bodies of water located along the escarpment rising on the eastern side of the Pecos River Valley. The escarpment is an ancient limestone reef, similar to the geology around Carlsbad Caverns further to the south. The lakes began as caves eroded into the limestone. As the Pecos River eroded the bottom of the valley, the caves collapsed and left us with these deep, almost perfectly circular lakes.
The deepest lakes are really only about 90 feet deep, the largest being 26 acres in size. Some lakes are actually quite shallow, their depths being affected by the water table in the valley, which is affected by the season and the level of agricultural irrigation going on in the area. The lakes are not streamfed. Their water source is primarily rainfall but there is a longer-term replenishment coming from water that percolates through the limestone. The summer evaporation rate is higher than the rate of replenishment so the water levels drop in summer and the water gets brackish. In the winter, Devil's Inkwell and Cottonwood Lakes are stocked with rainbow trout. Most of the lakes are surrounded by cliffs and somewhat hard to access. Lea Lake is the only lake easy to access and is, consequently, the only lake developed for swimming and boating.
To get there: go east from Roswell on US Highway 380 for about 12 miles, then go south on New Mexico Highway 409 for three miles to the park entrance. Bottomless Lakes State Park has a Visitor Center with a nearby group picnic shelter. There are 37 developed campsites, 32 with electric hookups. There is an RV dump station, playground and central restrooms/showers in the camping area. In addition to the camping and picnicking, Bottomless Lakes State Park visitors enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, sailing, wildlife watching and scuba diving. The property contains 1,400 acres, 45 acres of which is lake surface. The entry gate is open 24 hours a day but the campground/day-use area is locked from 9 pm to 7 am during the summer months.
Upper left photo courtesy of Erica Asmus-Otero, New Mexico State Parks