Naica Cave, Mexico’s Underground Crystal Palace
The caves in Naica contain the largest crystals seen in the world so far. Beneath veins of lead, silver and zinc, they’re Chihuahua’s best-kept secret.
There is a mine in the center of the state of Chihuahua where lead, zinc, copper, silver and goldare extracted. Its very mining capacity makes it somewhat extraordinary, but there’s more.
The farther down the descent, the higher the temperature, reaching as much as 113°F. And there, amazing palaces of crystals are found, scenes that could be compared to Superman’s Fortressof Solitude.
The first one is called the Cave of Swords and is about 394 feet deep.
Discovered in 1910, its ceiling, walls and floor are covered with selenite crystals (calcium sulfate dihydrate) that grew to be gigantic over thousands of years.
The surprise is that in April 2000, some miners found a new cave that also has huge white crystals. And not long after, yet another one appeared, with some 29 selenite megacrystals. The inhospitable temperature in the Cave of Crystals in Naica is 140 °F.
The megacrystals were created because they are in abubble-like cavity near magma and with no contact with the outside. Thehigh temperature causes crystallization of liquids and gases with sulfur salts.
The most recent surprise is that inside these crystals are germs that survived with minerals, iron and manganese and are as much as 50,000 years old.
The bad news is that these mines can barely be entered. They are over 2,600 feet deep, and the temperatures in them are so high that geologists have to wear special thermal suits with ice bags all over their body. And still, they can only work for 20-minute periods before having to cool off in a vault.
Main and cover photograph by Paul Williams through Flickr.