Looking for a great place to camp in Southeast New Mexico with a variety of recreational opportunities? How about Bottomless Lakes State Park? The park is only 14 miles outside Roswell and is the perfect home base for visiting the city or nearby Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. With Bottomless Lakes State Park as your home base, you can make plenty of interesting day trips, too, like Ruidoso, Fort Sumner, or Carlsbad Caverns National Park. For us, Bottomless Lakes was the terminus of our road trip from Las Cruces.
Bottomless Lakes: Are They Really Bottomless?
Well, no, the lakes aren’t bottomless. It’s said that some cowboys tied together their lariats to try to reach the bottom and didn’t, so decided they must go on forever. It’s more likely that the current from the springs that feed the lake pushed the ropes away from the bottom, making the cowboys think they were bottomless.
The deepest of the lakes, which are spring-fed sinkholes, is a fairly impressive 90 feet, while the shallowest is only about 17 feet deep. The algae in the water creates a greenish-blue hue that helps with the illusion of greater depths. There is a chain of eight sinkholes at the park, from the somewhat stinky Lazy Lagoon on the north end of the park (which can be from 70 to 90 feet deep) to the largest and deepest, Lea Lake, where RV camping facilities can be found.
Formation of the Sinkholes
If you’re into geology, the formation of the sinkholes will be interesting. I’ll just summarize here. Technically, the lakes here are cenotes, small perennial lakes within deep, steep-walled sinkholes that extend below the water table. First, underground caves were formed, and then when the roofs collapsed, they became sinkholes that filled with water from springs, forming the lakes.
Another thing you’ll notice at Bottomless Lakes is that the ground looks as though there is a dusting of snow. That white crust is gypsum. At Lazy Lagoon, the smell is caused by alkaline mud, covered by thin crusts of gypsum. Fortunately, the lagoon is far from the camping areas!
Facilities at Bottomless Lakes
Bottomless Lakes was established as a state monument back in 1933, although people had enjoyed the area for recreation since the early part of the century. It officially became a state park in 1959. The park covers about 1,600 acres and includes a nine-mile driving loop. Take the loop up to the bluff above Lea Lake for a spectacular view of the lakes and surrounding areas.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the stone structures you’ll find at the park today, such as a sweeping picnic pavilion and tower at Lea Lake. Unfortunately, the tower has cracks and is fenced off for safety. A park volunteer told us that it is slated for repair sometime in the future.
Recreation at Bottomless Lakes State Park
We visited at the end of January when the campground was mostly full, but Lea Lake was quiet. It was easy to imagine the waterplay that happens in summer. The lake has a dedicated swimming area, a boat dock to launch non-motorized crafts like kayaks, and a large, semi-circular covered stone picnic pavilion that rings one side of the lake. Folks even come to Bottomless Lakes to SCUBA dive.
In addition, there are beach volleyball courts, a playground, and even more picnic tables near the lake. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can rent a paddle board, pedal boat, and life jackets. Between those dates only, lifeguards are on duty. Ice is available for purchase during the summer season. The park also has two large group shelters available to rent.
Near Lea Lake is the Wetlands Trail, which is a nice half-mile boardwalk that guides you through a marshy area and has interpretive signs about the plants and animals you may see there. It includes a few wildlife-viewing blinds.
Animals that make their homes at Bottomless Lakes include rainwater killifish and threatened Pecos pupfish, as well as eastern barking frogs and cricket frogs, both of which are endangered species. Rabbits, reptiles, skunks, deer, and birds also live in the park. We spotted curve-billed thrashers, scaled quail, European starlings, house sparrows, and western meadowlarks when we visited, along with some coots and buffleheads at Lea Lake.
The Bluff Trail is not quite a mile in each direction and takes you from Lea Lake toward the visitor center and the tent camping area as well as the loop road that goes by Mirror Lake (up to 40 feet deep), Devils’ Inkwell Lake (32 feet deep), Figure Eight Lake (up to 37 feet deep on the north side), Pasture Lake (18 feet deep), and Lost Lake. The park also has a 3.13-mile mountain bike and hiking trail, the Skidmarks Trail, on the north end of the park past Lazy Lagoon.
From November through March, fishing for stocked rainbow trout is allowed at Devil’s Inkwell and Pasture Lakes.
If you’re camping, be sure to take a look at the night sky. We camped there just as the full moon was waning, but the stars at night were still quite spectacular.
The visitor center has some interesting displays, including an interactive one where you can see how deep each lake really is. Be sure to stop by!
Camping at Bottomless Lakes State Park
At Lea Lake, the park offers 25 RV sites with electric (some with 30 amp and some with 50) and water hook-ups, plus seven sites that also include sewer. There is a dump station at the campground as well. There are three sites with no hook-ups. The two campground bathhouses have showers although only one bathhouse is open in winter.
Each of the developed campsites has a covered picnic table (we noted one campsite without a cover) and a barbecue grill. There are no fire rings and only propane fires were allowed when we visited.
The Lower Lakes area includes 10 developed first-come, first-serve dry campsites with covered tables and grills and nearby pit toilets.
It’s All in a Name
If you’re curious, Lea Lake is named for Captain Joseph C. Lea, a rancher who was one of the early settlers of Roswell. He was a veteran of the Civil War who rode with folks like Frank and Jesse James and was later friends with Billy the Kid.
Cost to Visit
State parks in New Mexico are quite a bargain! It is $5 per vehicle for a day pass and if you visit state parks many times during the year, you might want to invest in an annual pass for only $40.
Campground fees are $10 per night for a developed campsite and $18 for sites with electric and sewage hookups. You can buy an annual pass to reduce that cost, with the best deal being for New Mexico resident seniors aged 62+ or disabled residents with the pass costing $100 per year. A non-resident camping pass is $225 per year and for residents, the rate is $180 per year. The pass covers the first $10 of campground fees, so with a pass, you’d pay nothing for a developed campsite or only $8 per night for sites with electric and sewage hookups. For sites requiring online reservations, there is an additional $4 per night convenience fee with a maximum fee of $12 per reservation.
Bottomless Lakes State Park is located in Chaves Country at 545A Bottomless Lakes Road. Take Highway 70 to U.S. 380 and follow the signs.
Story and photography by Cheryl Fallstead
Cheryl Fallstead loves exploring the outdoors and nature while visiting new places. She often travels with her husband, Brian, and little dog, Penny.
Posted by LasCruces.com