The Cave of Crystals

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The Cave of Crystals discovered 1,000ft below a Mexican desert

By Victoria Moore
Created 10:15 PM on 27th October 2008

Until you notice the orange-suited men clambering around, it’s hard to grasp the extraordinary scale of this underground crystal forest.

Nearly 1,000ft below the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico, this cave was discovered by two brothers drilling in the Naica lead and silver mine. It is an eerie sight.

Up to 170 giant, luminous obelisks – the biggest is 37.4ft long and the equivalent height of six men – jut across the grotto like tangled pillars of light; and the damp rock of their walls is covered with yet more flawless clusters of blade-sharp crystal.

They are formed from groundwater saturated in calcium sulphate which, warmed by an intrusion of magma about a mile below, began filtering through the cave system millions of years ago.

When, about 600,000 years ago, the magma began to cool, the minerals started to precipitate out of the water, and over the centuries the tiny crystals they formed grew and grew until 1985, when miners unwittingly drained the cave as they lowered the water table with mine pumps.

Because the crystals resemble giant icicles, the picture suggests it must be very cold inside the Cave of Crystals – but appearances can be deceptive.

In fact, the temperature is a sweltering 112F, with a humidity of 90-100 per cent.

This is why cavers wear protective suits and carry backpacks of ice-cooled air.

Such conditions, and the fact that it takes 20 minutes to drive to its entrance through a twisting mine-shaft, haven’t deterred would-be looters – one of the crystals bears a deep scar where someone has tried, and failed, to cut through it.

But the cave has now been fitted with a heavy steel door, the better to preserve this beautiful wonder for generations to come.

<<editors note>>
A whole article has been spend on this “cave of crystals” in the National Geographic issue of November (2008).

Imagine more of these, bigger, smaller, hotter, cooler, … all over the planet deep deep down… Reminds me of Jules Vernes’ “Journey to the center of the earth”.
Pictures:: copyrighted by Carsten Peter – National Geographic