Imagine a place where you can have up-close encounters with nurse sharks, emperor and gray angelfish, blue tangs and pufferfish in the dead cold of a Rocky Mountain winter without having to leave the continental United States -- you need look no further than Utah. The state is chock-full of interesting local diving.
Out in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats, a series of geothermally heated saltwater springs, or hot pots, has been enlarged, covered and stocked with genuine tropical saltwater fish, the same critters you’d see on a typical dive in Cayman. The owners dubbed the site Bonneville SeaBase, and a classic dive was born. There are actually three dives at SeaBase: White Rocks Bay, Habitat Bay and Abyss. The water temperature hovers between 72 and 79 degrees, and the visibility is around 10 feet. The deepest bay bottoms out at 60 feet.
For an even warmer unique dive, head to the Homestead Crater in Midway. Here, the water bubbles up from the earth heated to a perfect 96 degrees. The crater is a 60-foot-deep, 100-foot-wide shaft that’s filled with geothermally heated water. The crater has a beehive-shaped limestone dome ceiling with a hole in the top that allows sunlight and snowflakes in while providing protection against the elements even in the deepest winter night. Visibility at the crater hovers around 60 feet, and the water is completely replenished every few hours. Divers come from as far away as Colorado to get certified in these slightly effervescent waters.
The owners blasted an entrance cave into the side of the crater, so there’s a dive shop inside and a protected dive platform. You won’t find any fish, but apparently settlers used the hole at the top of the crater as a trash bin, and divers have found everything from wagon wheels to Winchesters. At the very bottom, the sand boils with the water flow. There’s a suspended wagon wheel and a platform at 20 feet for training; a buoyancy course is also offered. A great bonus is the nearby resort, which offers snowmobiling, horseback riding and a whole plethora of outdoorsy Utah activities. Plus, the resort has some of the best food in the entire state.
You’ve got plenty of other dive choices, too, but they’re all going to be on the colder side (60-68 degrees). Fish Lake, the locals’ favorite, boasts some of the best visibility (30 feet) and fish action for divers. And it’s full of tasty crayfish, which cook up nicely on the campfire grill.
Flaming Gorge is probably Utah’s most diverse dive area. This reservoir was created when the Green River was dammed up on the Utah/Wyoming border. You’ll find lake trout, crayfish, bass, good treasure-hunting possibilities and even some nice swim-throughs, all in 30 to 60 feet of visibility.
There are 27 other bodies of water in Utah to explore; for a full roundup of diving in the Beehive State, and for locations of your local dive shops, visit padi.com.
As the official publication of the PADI Diving Society, Sport Diver is the magazine divers turn to each month to find out what’s going on in their world. Sport Diver is the ultimate source for up to date information on dive culture, equipment, travel, training and PADI Diving Society activities.