How to see giant crystals and get out of a unique cave in Mexico alive
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Geologists have long called this cave the Sistine Chapel of Crystals, trying to emphasize its truly unique beauty. Here, giant crystals are interwoven in bizarre patterns that take your breath away. If you illuminate the interior of the cave with a flashlight, the rays from it will scatter in different directions, intricately reflecting at different angles from the surface of the giant selenite crystals. But the beauty of the cave can be deadly to humans.
This mine was discovered in the late 18th century near the town of Chihuahua in Mexico, when explorers discovered a silver vein at the base of the hill. Until the early 20th century, miners were interested only in precious metals: gold and silver. Development of heavy industry resulted in increased demand for zinc and lead, which were mined in the mine.
The uniqueness of the mine consisted in the voids, filled with selenite crystals (a type of gypsum) that were incredible in their beauty and size. The first such hollow, named the Cave of Swords, was discovered back in 1910. The entire free space of the 87-meter deep cave at a depth of 120 meters, was riddled with bizarre gypsum swords two meters long. Mineralogical collections were enriched with new specimens recovered from the discovered void.
The Naica mine is still being mined today for metals. It was they who discovered this miracle at a depth of nearly 300 meters in April 2000.
Two brothers who were tunneling opened the void while drilling and were immediately frozen by the unprecedented beauty. Juan and Pedro Sanchez had seen many plaster crystals during their work, but these were different in size and shape from anything they had seen before. There were three cavities in all and each was given a different name: the Queen’s Eye, the Cave of Sails, and the Glass Cave.
The brothers immediately informed the engineer in charge of the company of the miracle they had found. To Roberto Gonzalez’s credit, he reacted very quickly, ordering the tunnel to be rerouted to prevent the gypsum crystals from being destroyed. It was clear that this find could be of interest to scientists and researchers, so it should not be allowed to be destroyed or looted. Especially since the miners immediately tried to bring the fragments of the crystals destroyed during the drilling of the tunnel to the surface. But Industrias Penoles, which owns the mine, promptly restricted access to the cave by installing a metal door at the entrance.
One of the mine workers nevertheless realized the tragic possibility of entering the cave. Apparently, he was interested in getting something from the sale of samples and fragments of giant crystals. Without a special suit, carrying only fresh air bags, the miner squeezed himself through the narrow gap between the door and the wall. It is not known how long he spent inside before he lost consciousness. His body was found to be nearly fried. The air packs couldn’t save his life.
The high temperature inside the cave, along with the near 100 percent humidity, poses a tremendous danger. Without a suit to cool your body and breathe in, you can survive in a cave for no more than 15 minutes. In addition to this suit would also require a special breathing system capable of purifying the air entering the human lungs from the extremely high hydrogen sulfide content.
Naturally, ordinary tourists have no access to the cave. Researchers carefully study the cave and each crystal in it, documenting their findings. Everything they see inside the unique cave is written down in journals.
An unspeakable miracle
Weight of the giant crystals is at least 55 tons with a length of about 15 meters and a diameter of about 1.2 meters. The process of their formation has occurred over many thousands of years. Today, researchers confidently say that the crystals are about half a million years old.
Many centuries ago, these amazing creations of nature were formed as a result of the contact of cold surface and thermal waters inside the caves. Oxygenated cold water did not mix immediately with hot (about 52 degrees Celsius) thermal water saturated with sulfides, but provoked the oxidation of sulfides and the growth of selenite, the moonstone.
Surprisingly, crystal growth is limited solely by the size of the cave. If the void were larger in area, the crystals, too, could reach even larger sizes.
If the caves were filled with water again, the process of crystal growth would definitely continue. But contact with air is destructive for the gypsum miracle. A special door at the cave’s entrance keeps fresh air out of the ventilated tunnel that leads to the heart of the amazing cave.
To preserve this beauty, an entire project was created in 2006 and is still being worked on by scientists.
Besides Cueva de los Cristales, there are many other incredibly beautiful caves in the world that are simply breathtaking.
The Cave of the Giant Crystals – Entrance only for the chosen few
The cave of giant crystals, covered with huge crystal sleepers, is located in the Mexican state of Chihuahua near the town of Naica. Unfortunately, these are not ruby or emerald crystals. They are nothing more than moonstone or selenite, a special type of gypsum crystalline.
Man has been drilling, boring, and digging our planet in search of minerals since ancient times. And it often happens that in addition to ore finds and amazing natural masterpieces.
For example, most recently, in 2000, in the Mexican city of Naica (Chihuahua) was discovered a cave filled with giant crystals (no, not Swarovski). Dimensions are staggering – length up to 11 meters, diameter up to 4 meters, and weight, according to scientists, reaches 55 tons.
But first things first.
The main mine was opened as early as 1794 to mine silver, zinc and lead. In 1910, while mining, the miners found an interesting cave with crystals about a meter long. They called it the Cave of Swords, because the crystalline formations resembled these edged weapons. But the Cave of Giant Crystals was not reached at that time. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917, the mines were closed. Work continued in 2000. Thanks to two brothers with classic Mexican names (and surnames, too) Juan and Pedro Sanchez.
The miners, making their way to the ore deposits, were quite surprised to find caves with unreal crystal piles inside. They were at first at a loss for words when they saw the reflections of the lantern beam in numerous crystals.
The Cave of Giant Crystals on the map
- Geographic coordinates 27.850664, -105.496644
- Distance from Mexico City about 1150 km
- Distance to the nearest airport Internacional Bajas de Huatulco in Chihuahua about 100 km
The conditions for the formation of such a miracle are due to the rift through which magma and high temperatures fell. For more than half a million years, this environment facilitated the growth of crystals.
Extreme conditions (permanent humidity up to 100% and temperature up to 65 degrees Celsius) do not allow a person to stay inside without special equipment for more than 10 minutes. Therefore, only scientists from the group known as the Naik Project have access to the cave.
It is true that there have been cases when crystal lovers broke the locks and made their way inside the cave. One such citizen was literally impaled through with a shard of crystal he tried to fight off from the cave’s vault.
Different environmental conditions produce different sized crystals. Thus, in the Cave of Swords, the size of selenite formations is more modest than in the Cave of Giant Crystals. This is most likely due to a sharp drop in temperature and stopping of crystal growth in the Sword Cave. While in the Giant Crystal Cave, they continue to grow.
For now, people can observe these beauties thanks to pumps pumping water out of the cave. When mining becomes unprofitable, the mine will be flooded with water, so scientists are in a hurry to capture and study this natural phenomenon as much as possible. The process of studying is also worsened by the fact that the crystals crumble quickly in the open air.
Scientists claim that there are more caves in these places than have been found so far. For example, in 2009, another cave (called the Ice Palace) with small crystalline formations was found. By the way, this cave is not flooded with water.
But the search for other passages is extremely difficult and dangerous, so the researchers limited themselves to studying the caves already found and full of riddles.