"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Mexico: Bottomless Lakes State Park

We're near Roswell, New Mexico now, camping at Bottomless Lakes State Park.  Roswell is the place where a UFO purportedly crashed in 1947 and much was made later in the 20th century among UFO and conspiracy enthusiasts of a supposed military cover-up. The town still has a few tourist traps and museums about aliens and UFOs, but nothing looks like its doing any great business. I guess interest in the UFO thing has faded and so has the downtown area where these places are, or used to be in some cases.  Some local businesses still have carved or plastic little green men out in front of their stores, or space related words in their logos.  "Galaxy" and "alien" are popular names.  It's a funny place.

Roswell does have some large things going for it; among them are the New Mexico Military Institute, the Roswell International/Industrial Air Center and quite a few cattle feed lots south of town.

The State Park is 12 miles east and has a full service campground with everything but sewer hook ups. (It does have a dump station.)  We're in site 27 - the largest site we've ever had anywhere - and a stone's throw from the miraculous Lea Lake.

Typical of New Mexico, the surroundings are mostly dirt, prickly stuff and dry grass, but we do have some shade from nearby tamarisk trees, the weed of the Western freshwater shores.  Atypically, the ground around the lakes is not dusty; it is kind of clayish instead, so things (and Kona) don't get so dirty.

The "bottomless" lakes, which are really from 17 to 90 feet deep, were formed by underground water dissolving the salt and gypsum above it and creating sinkholes or ceynotes. Most of the holes are shallow or filled in with debris, minerals and vegetation. Some, however, are crystal clear and very deep. Of those, Lea Lake is by far the most lovely. 

The water is a cool 63-68 degrees, and I've read that somewhere between 2.5 to 9 million gallons of clear, slightly saline water flow through it every day. That's easy to believe, as there is a very full but small canal with beautiful water rushing out of the lake 24/7 and filling the nearby wetlands. Visibility is incredible and the lake has a subtle blue-green color from the resident algae. Fish, softshell turtles, ducks, coots and dragonflies are also in residence.

There is a large stone bath house and sheltered picnic building, with this photogenic tower...

and a family friendly sand beach.

In the summer the lake is very popular, but now we have it pretty much to ourselves. We are enjoying what seems to be an unseasonably warm Fall here, and so we (I mean Rick and Kona) have gone swimming daily.  We (I mean Rick and I) have kayaked a few times too.

Throughout this valley the same geological processes have created shallow wet land areas that are refuges for masses of ducks and sandhill cranes. We got our first sight (and sound) of the cranes while taking a stroll at sunset on our first night here. There is a very nice boardwalk through the wetlands, with three camouflaged viewing huts along the way.

I did some more exploring by bike and foot over the next few days and discovered a dirt road that led further out into wetlands.  On my first evening out there the flocks of cranes were landing right over my head, so close that I could hear their wings beating and the little chatting they were doing to one another as they landed. Sandhill cranes make a huge racket as they gather by the thousands in the evenings. But as they are landing in their groups of 10-50, one or two make a different kind of little call that just sounds like a small conversation about their landing plans. Then as they join the large group there are loud calls, and so many that it is a cacophony you can hear far and wide.

Rick and I set up there the next night before sunset in hopes of getting some good pictures of the landing cranes.  

We waited and waited, taking some great pictures of the clouds...

 the wetlands...

 and even a quick rain shower as the sun sank. But no cranes! 

Finally, just as I was despairing that they had changed their location or were gone for the season, here they came.  They didn't fly right over head - maybe the wind was coming from another direction - but we did get lots of pictures anyway.  No close ups this time though.

As we left the sky was turning this incredible apricot blue color. 

Back at the campground I got one last shot of the lake and the tower. 

Every night we go to sleep to the eerie calls of the sandhill cranes in the distance.  

We are here for one relaxing week and then we're off to see the Carlsbad Caverns, and on to Texas.

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