Less than a month ago, I had never heard of the desert oasis known as Blue Lake. This could be because the lake sits on an island of Bureau of Land Management property that’s surrounded by the Utah Test and Training Range, or it could be because the lake is about 15 miles south of Wendover — a city I had only ever associated with gambling and cheap liquor.
That’s why when I found out that I’d have the opportunity to scuba dive for the first time at Blue Lake as part of West Wendover’s Familiarzation (FAM) tour — a tour for members of the media to discover local attractions — I immediately went to the world’s most reliable information source: the Internet. I read that the lake, while a great place for beginning divers, was basically a bug-infested marsh. After nearly talking myself out of taking the plunge, I decided to give Blue Lake another chance and ask around to see if I could get some other opinions about the lake. I found that many of my co-workers, as well as people with ties to Wendover had been to Blue Lake. Although they told me the lake was indeed bug-infested, many felt the lake was one of the most beautiful and unique places in the west desert.
At that point, I decided to quit being a pansy and find out for myself what diving in Blue Lake was really like.
To get to Blue Lake, photographer Maegan Burr and I climbed into a van with various other members of the media and began our approximately one hour drive from Wendover. We took US-93 south toward Ely, Nev., until we reached a barely noticeable sign indicating Blue Lake was down a dirt road to the east. We bounced along the dirt road for around six miles before reaching the parking lot and planked path that would lead the way to Blue Lake. Sitting at the forefront of this planked path were John Boynton and Bob Stell, co-owners of The Dive Shop in Bountiful. The two have been teaching people how to scuba dive since they opened up shop in 1987, and have been diving at Blue Lake since the 1970s. Boynton and Stell told us Blue Lake is a good place for beginning divers because it’s warm year-round and has reasonably clear water due to a constant flow of spring water entering the lake.
The first thing we were asked to do was immediately put on bug spray and sunscreen. The area is notorious for horse flies and mosquitos, and even with several applications of bug spray throughout the afternoon, Maegan and I both left with several horse fly bites all over our bodies. I suffered from at least 25 — half of which were on my face.
After applying bug spray, we were given a crash course on how to properly dress ourselves for diving, from the wetsuits that are 10 times harder to put on than pantyhose and the masks that have to fit on your face just right to prevent any leaking. Boynton and Stell geared us up with weight belts, scuba vests and oxygen tanks, face masks and flippers, and then sent us on our way to the lake. In order to get to the lake, we had to trek through a partial swamp on the narrow, planked path. It was a great time for me to practice my plank-walking skills in case I’m ever captured by pirates.
When we reached the lake, we immediately removed our gear and hopped into the lake to cool off. The scuba gear itself weighed 35 pounds. I rarely lift weights that are more than 10 pounds, so carrying more than 40 pounds of gear was a tough feat. I noticed that the lake is surrounded by tall reeds and boasts mass amounts of algae. This surprised me considering the lake sits in the middle of a desert, but it makes the lake a true desert oasis. After cooling off in the water, we climbed back out of the lake to once again put on our scuba gear.
Once we were properly equipped and everyone was in the water, Boynton and Stell gave us our second crash course of the day. We were told how to use our buoyancy compensator, two buttons we could press to help us sink underwater or float back to the surface, and our regulator, which is the device used to breathe underwater. Near the dock where the water was only five feet deep, we practiced going down on our knees and breathing underwater with our regulators. I was nervous because I’m not a good swimmer, but once I got underwater, it was amazing to be able to open my eyes, look around and, most of all, breathe.
After our quick, five-minute practice, we were taken out toward the center of the lake where we were given a rope to hold on to that would help guide us to a platform 20 feet below the surface. There are three 20-foot-deep platforms in the lake that are used to pass off diving skills. The platforms are connected by rope for divers to hold on to as they maneuver underwater from one platform to the next, said Boynton.
I was able to descend 15 feet before I decided I was ready to head back up. As we were descending, we were told to hold our noses and blow to keep our ears from gaining too much pressure. One of my ears wouldn’t cooperate. I signaled the “thumbs up” sign, which meant I was heading back to the surface, and called my diving experience to an end.
The lake has a maximum depth of around 60 feet. Boynton said a collection of metal sculptures, including a hammerhead shark, turtle, rhinoceros and praying mantis, have been placed on the bottom of the lake by University of Utah divers. There are a few intentionally sunken boats at the bottom as well, he said. The areas where the spring water feeds up from the bottom of the lake are known as hot pots, and a diver can see water bubbling up if they’re lucky to be diving when the water is clear.
Blue Lake is just inside the Utah border and although the water is slightly salty (I accidentally tasted some), it is still considered a freshwater lake. The lake is full of bass, bluegill and illegally-transplanted tilapia. Although I didn’t see any fish while I was underwater, I did see several small bass flitting around the dock area. Blue Lake is a 10-acre lake. The warm spring water, surrounded by a 216-acre marsh, keeps the lake open to diving year-round. The visibility was still good at 15 feet, and I hear it’s not bad as far down as 25 feet. However, silt is easily stirred up by divers on the bottom.
Stell said because the lake is a geothermal lake, the surface water temperature is about 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Near the bottom, the temperature increases to 83 degrees Fahrenheit because the spring water comes up from the bottom of the lake. In the winter, the surface temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Stell. There are no fees to visit the site, but that could be because there are no services available at the site, including bathrooms and running water.
Boynton and Stell said the best time to dive at Blue Lake is in the fall on a week day. The algae is done blooming, the bugs are mostly gone, and visibility is better because there are typically no students around to stir up the silt.
Although I don’t think I’ll try scuba diving again without taking a real class, the experience was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime one for me. And even though Blue Lake really is a bug-infested marsh, it’s uniqueness makes it worth a trip — even if you’re not going underwater. Just don’t forget the bug spray.