Bottomless Lakes State Park
New Mexico

Bottomless Lakes State Park is located near Roswell in east-central New Mexico. The lakes occupy sinkholes formed in gypstone, salt, red beds and dolostone of the Artesia Group and San Andreas Formation (upper Permian). Salt and gypstone have dissolved in the subsurface, leading to collapse of the sinkholes. The sinkholes are typically circular with steep walls, 50-100 m (160-325 feet) in diameter and 30-60 m (100-200 feet) deep (Martinez et al. 1998).

We first visited Bottomless Lakes State Park in March 1998 in connection with a student Geology Club spring-break field trip from Emporia State University. This trip to New Mexico was early in our KAP career and was our first use of a radio-controlled camera rig—see film rigs. The camera took 35-mm color-slide film, from which the following examples are scanned.

Kite aerial photographs (1998)
Overview (left) and closer shot (right) looking toward the southeast of Lea Lake recreational area and campground with Dimmitt Lake in the background. Both lakes occupy sinkholes.
Detail of collapse zone on the eastern side of Lea Lake. The cliff is about 70-80 feet tall.

We had a chance to visit Bottomless Lakes State Park again 25 years later in connection with the Ring of Fire annular solar eclipse in October 2023. We stayed longer and had more time to explore the lakes, sinkholes, and geology, but we did not conduct additional kite aerial photography. For imagery of the solar eclipse, see Moments by Mark Photography annular sequence.

Water chemistry of the several lakes varies from brackish to saline with 6 to 23 parts per 1000 dissolved solids (Martinez et al. 1998). By comparison, sea water is about 35 parts per 1000 dissolved solids. This salinity is derived from underground solution of salt that led to collapse of sinkholes. This process continues today, as brackish water flows out of Lea Lake via a drainage ditch. Given its relatively deep and clear water, Lea Lake is a popular spot for scuba diving.

Ground photographs (2023)
Two scuba divers prepare to check their equipment and to enter Lea Lake. Instructor on right and student diver on left.
Overview (left) and close-up detail (right) of collapse zone on the eastern side of Lea Lake. Note the small folds and faults in the layers of red beds and gypstone exposed in the cliff, which is about 70 feet tall.
Brackish water flows out of Lea Lake in a drainage ditch at the south end.


Text and images © J.S. and S.E.W. Aber

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Last update: October 2023.