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Homestead Crater

- by Nicolle Pratt
(Dive date: 11/02)

Thanksgiving evening I left Denver Colorado to travel to Park City Utah in order to dive the nearby Homestead Crater in the morning. The crater has been featured as one of America's 12 unique domestic dives in Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine. Another interesting tidbit about that article is that Clear Lake Oregon is also listed as one of the 12 sites. Do you think I should try for the other 10?

The hot spring filled crater was reportedly first discovered in 1886 by a man who noticed steam rising up from this exposed smooth rock formation. A hole was created in the top of the rock exposing the water-filled crater below. At the time it was said that the water reached almost to the surface, although a great portion of the crater was above ground . Over the years the water level has receded to ground level about 50'+ from the top of the dome. The crater then became the centerpiece of a resort that has since become the Homestead Resort.

Back in the day people would have entered the waters from the top of the dome, but a don't worry, we avoided that giant of a stride. A tunnel was created to access the water from ground level. Inside this tunnel you will find a tiny little scuba shop featuring an on-site compressor. It is less a shop and more a desk with gear hung on both walls of the tunnel. The actual dive shop that runs the crater scuba operation is located off-site.

The crater is located in the city of Homestead about 30 minutes South of Park City. Park City was the better choice for lodging as it is much bigger than Homestead and as a bonus it was one of the event locations for the 2002 Winter Olympics and what a beautiful location it was. Although a storm front was reportedly on its way, the weather held through the two days we were in Utah. Pretty good luck for us visiting a ski town in late November.  

In addition to diving the crater, it was also my mother's certifying dives as an Open Water Diver. I do not recommend that instructors certify family members due to the emotional involvement, but there were extenuating circumstances that led to my decision to certify Pat. Pat had a near drowning experience as a young child and trusting someone in open water was a major concern for her.

I researched dive shops located in Denver for her to attend classroom and pool sessions with prior to scheduling her open water certification. I used some reliable scuba message boards and additionally chatted with a dive instructor friend of mine in Maryland who had another dive instructor friend located in Colorado. The dive shop suggestions were unanimous: A-1 Scuba.

A-1 Scuba, a PADI Five Star IDC facility, is the largest scuba shop in Colorado with a huge professional staff including two respected Course Directors. I personally contacted the shop and subsequently visited A-1 Scuba during a trip I made to Denver earlier in September. They had knowledgeable staff and a great shop setup, so I felt comfortable in my shop reference, so comfortable that I then referred my then Divemaster, Pat Wilkes, to them. Pat had relocated to Denver the same weekend in I was visiting in September. Yes two Pats. You don't have to tell me it's confusing.

Pat was the first Divemaster I worked with when I initially started instructing. Working with him was a such a great experience that every instructor should be so lucky to work with such a calliber of Divemaster in the beginning of her career. Pat's wit, his positive influence into my own personal teaching style, and all that he contributed to classes has been greatly missed, but I wish him and his family the very best of luck in Denver.

For your information and interest, following is my trip report and condensed dive review:

Day 1 (11/29/02)

We arrived at the crater and my first observation was they need better signs! We drove on the sidewalk in the midst of our confusion in finding the entry to the crater. It is notable that at the end of the day a vehicle barricade was on the sidewalk we had accidentally driven on earlier. Hmmmm.....bad signs but they conveniently have a VEHICLE BARRICADE! So we apparently weren't the first, nor the last I'm sure. Note to the crater people: sell the barricade and put the money into a Crater Entry sign.

After finding the crater entry, we were, much to our humor, redirected to the registration building (which we had driven by earlier on the sidewalk). We took care of our reservations there and headed back to the crater...via the sidewalk...on foot. Back in the crater, Todd was on duty. He was absolutely wonderful and very welcoming. He was a great resource in giving me a detailed briefing of the crater and suggestions in where to conduct dive skills. I had also previously contacted A-1 Scuba for their suggestions as well. Now to do one quick orientation dive and I would feel prepared to start open water day one.

The crater tunnel led to this cathedral-like dome over the water with a large hole at the top. There is a T-shaped floating dock extending out onto the water from the mouth of the tunnel. We assembled our gear on the dock. I took note of the number of floating buoys. Two were tied to a suspended platform affixed to the side of the crater at a depth of 20' and suitable for conducting skills. Four more buoys suspended a PVC pipe square in the center of the crater in mid-water at a depth of 20' as well. There were another set of buoys that suspended a PVC pipe bar at 20' and another bar directly below it at a greater depth. There was also a large wagon wheel suspended from one of the corners of the dock below 20'. The PVC square and bars were additionally anchored to the bottom of the crater giving them greater stability for divers to also perform skills on as the platform was not very large (approximately a 10' by 5' rectangle that would comfort maybe 2-4 student divers at a time).

I entered the water in my gear and a bathing suit. Wetsuits are not only not necessary but not allowed in the hot water. I conducted a quick orientation dive before finalizing how I would conduct dives 1 and 2. Pat waited without gear in the "hot tub." On either side of the dock were triangle "hot tubs," an slightly extension to the dock, The rails were above water, but the benches and the bottom were submerged. It was literally like sitting on a hot tub bench and a wonderful place to do a surface interval in November. After surfacing, I slipped out of my gear and started in with the dive site and skill briefing.

Dives 1 and 2 were very successful staying well above our normal day one depth limit of 40' as we were diving at an altitude of 5,200'. One notable thing: the crater does not have any shallow bottom areas. So skills must be conducted in mid-water using the platform or holding onto one of the PVC pipes, which would not be exactly convenient when conducting mask skills. It also makes dealing with buoyancy a little challenging for the new diver without a bottom to orient themselves with. I recommended that divers use the various suspended items and the natural rock rings on the sides of the crater as guides to where they are located in the water. I also recommend the use of lines when ascending because the ascent rate is about 1/3 the normal rate (20 feet per minute) at this altitude.

I made an additional third dive at the end of the day to explore the deeper portions of the crater and to orient myself with the depth limits of the next day's dives. The bottom, approximately 65' at depth, was covered in a fine white silt. I did not closely explore it to avoid kicking it up and also because the crater has asked that divers stay well off the bottom for just that reason. The crater is shaped like an hour glass with the greatest width at the surface at a little over 50', then it narrows in the middle to a reported 35' and expands back out again close to the bottom. I was so interested in the bottom crevices that at one point when I rolled to look upward it felt as though I was under an overhang.

It's also a good thing Northwest divers always carry dive lights even when day diving. I had mine with me and needed it because the only natural light into the crater is through the small hole at the top and it lessens greatly toward the end of the day when the sun is no longer overhead. There is a small underwater lighting system the resort has put in, but it was very dim. The crater appeared in shadows of grays and hazy blues, but beautiful in its own unique way.

Day 2 (11/30/02)

We arrived early on the second day because a big class was scheduled this day. The crater was accommodating enough to let us slip in before this big class. We donned our gear again and entered the water for dives 3 and 4 seeing and experiencing pretty much the same things as on Day 1, just a little deeper.  One note to divers, the wagon wheel is too deep for open water student divers to experience on dives 1 and 2.  So, we were able to get a much closer look at the wheel on dives 3 and 4.

The dives were again successful, but we chose to skip a third fun dive instead opting for a longer surface interval before heading back to Denver. 

Homestead Crater Dive Site Review

People have commented that diving in the crater is like diving in a hot tub. I didn't find it that hot, but it was wonderfully warm, warm like a bath tub (and y'all laughed at my diver getting into the bath tub graphic on the Basic Courses page...well now you know).

As mentioned above, the crater is located at an altitude of over 5,200' and so dives should be planned rounding up on the altitude tables to 6,000'. For computer divers, unless your dive computer automatically accounts for the change in altitude, you will need to manually change your altitude settings.

The crater was formed thousands of years ago by the depositing of minerals, forming a hollw rock formation that subsequently filled with local natural hot spring water. The water inside was discovered over a century ago and has been enjoyed by bathers and now scuba divers ever since. According to the resort, the water in the crater is completely replaced about every 2 days by natural water circulation. The balmy water temperature varies between 91-96 degrees Fahrenheit. Above water while inside the crater, it is a warm steamy environment as long as no one leaves the tunnel door open too long! To quote one of my favorite movies, Army of Darkness: "Close the door....were you raised in a barn?"

The crater rock itself raises 50'+ above ground level and it is reported that the water level used to reach almost to the top, but has receded down to ground (which is a good thing or the tunnel would be underwater...). The water reaches a maximum depth of about 65', but they don't want divers to venture much below 45' to avoid stirring up the silty bottom. From that depth you can easily see the bottom anyway because on most days the visibility is reoprtedly quite good. I wouldn't say it is crystal clear due to all the minerals in the water, but it is a better than an average day in the Northwest. The crater is hourglass shaped with its widest points, the top and bottom, at a little over 50' and the narrowest, the middle, at about a reported 35'.

Sea Life: A plastic sea turtle and a plastic alligator.  You may wonder why I mention these.  Well, they will give people completely new to the underwater environment a little jolt.  Real, not real?  Both creatures in nature are typically found hanging out with little to no movement.  Then add that to the fact that other divers constantly move them to different positions.  Hey, I thought that turtle was plastic AND it used to be over there!!!  Actually Todd, the guy running the scuba desk in the tunnel told me that there had been unsuccessful attempts to introduce tropical fish to the crater.  So, no life except other divers, snorkelers, and hot tubbers.

Important Dive Site Notes: Reservations are required to teach classes and highly suggested for recreational dive use because the crater is not that large and can only accomodate so many divers in the water at one time. Use the mineral formed ridges of the crater walls and the suspended objects (PVC pipe, wagon wheel and platform) to orient yourself in midwater and maintain depth.

Water movement: None except for the occasional bubbling of hot springs at the base of the crater.

Caution/hazards: The crater is at a very high altitude (5,200+'), and therefore must be calculated as a 6,000' dive. Although the bottom of the crater is only about 65', it must then be calculated at a depth of over 80'. Additionally, if you are planning on driving anywhere after diving, you will need to consider your route and plan an appropriate surface interval time as there are several mountain passes in this area. Changes in altitude by traveling over a mountain pass can cause similar effects to a diver's body as flying after diving.  Oh and one more potential hazard is the occasional out-of-practice diver bumping into you...
 
Directions: This site is located in the city of Homestead, Utah about an hour South of Salt Lake City and a half hour South of Park City. For accurate directions, I suggest using a map for specific directions based on where you'd be traveling from.

Rates and other information: The crater is run by the Homestead Resort. More information and diver rates may be found on their Web site by clicking the following links: Crater info and Crater Rates.
 
Nicolle's personal note: This site is not one I would personally travel to for the sole purpose of recreationally diving. There is almost nothing to see in the crater other than admiring the formation of the crater itself. It is, however, a good training site for instructors who have student divers within the vicinity if warm water is desired and it is more economical to travel to Homestead than to a tropical locale. It is also certainly a place to experience if you are conveniently in the nearby area or there are other activities such as skiing that would interest you in planning a trip to the Homestead/Park City area.

Nicolle Pratt
(503) 287-5328
Portland, Oregon
nicolle@pnwscuba.com