Investigating New Mexico’s Bottomless Lakes

June 26, 2019

I don’t know if the world is ready for this, but in 2015 I got to the bottom of New Mexico’s Bottomless Lakes. I mean I got to the bottom of the fanciful claims thereof. Here is what I found.1

Bottomless Lakes is a state park (New Mexico’s first, established in 1933) that encompasses a string of nine small lakes. These are the subject of many fanciful legends. Supposedly, it was cowboys who unsuccessfully attempted to probe the depths of the lakes with their lariats tied together and weighted with a rock. Fanciful tales related how objects would go missing from the lakes, then later wash up in Carlsbad Caverns or the Gulf of Mexico.

There is even a wild tale about a great monster turtle inhabiting the depths. It is claimed a boater saw it surface in the 1980s–enormous brown shell and all –and thought Nessie was coming to eat him. Other tales reportedly describe a dragon, a ghostly white horse, and an Octopus Man (Offutt 2016).

I suspect these monsters are simply the result of people’s imaginations trying to explain the Bottomless Lakes’ deadliest reputation: the swallowing up of swimmers and divers, horses, and sheep. Some speculations attribute the alleged vanishings to fiercely strong underwater currents (“No UFO’s” 2014).

Actually, all of these legends are trumped by the facts. A parks official (2015) told me the lakes were just sinkholes, with water only 90 feet in depth at the deepest one (Lea Lake), and the shallowest (Pasture Lake) only 18 feet deep.

The nine lakes were formed after an ancient limestone reef became eroded and pitted with caves; when the caves collapsed, the resulting sinkholes filled with water to form the nearly circular lakes (called cenotes).  Moreover, these Bottomless Lakes are neither fed by subterranean streams, as popularly thought, nor rainfall (the evaporation rate there being greater than the rainfall rate).  Instead, the lakes are replenished by underground water that percolates through the rocks (“Bottomless” 2019).

In short, the name Bottomless Lakes is a misnomer. Tales aside, the lakes are nevertheless a place of rugged beauty and popular activity. Although as a paranatural naturalist I had again found no monsters or the like, I was still satisfied that I had gotten to the bottom of things.



  1. This was for the acclaimed VICE documentary, Real X-Files, which aired on December 4, 2015.


Bottomless Lakes State Park. 2019. Online at; accessed June 19, 2019.

No UFO’s found in Roswell’s Bottomless Lakes State Park. 2014. Online at; accessed June 19, 2019.

Offutt, Jason. 2016. Online at; accessed June 19, 2019.

Parks official. 2015. Personal communication to Joe Nickell, journal entry of July 3.