There are so many amazing wonders that occur naturally in our world. Breathtaking rock formations, mind blowing bodies of water, elusive and ancient outcroppings of civilizations. We are a very lucky to sometimes be able to roam among them and get a small glimpse of the powerful force of nature. Once of these incredible things is the cave of crystals in Naica, Mexico. It is located in the Naica Mine, which is used principally to mine lead, zinc, and silver. In Spanish, it’s name is La Cueva de Los Cristales and it truly is a sight that must be seen to believe. Anyone who is lucky enough to travel to this destination is, at first, dumbfounded by the magnitude of this scientific wonder. Once inside, the first thing that you will see, because they are far too big to ignore, are enormous, otherworldly selenite (another term for selenite is gypsum) crystals.
How were they discovered? A group of miners was drilling in the mine, a thousand feet underground. For whatever reason, all of the drillings emptied out the water that was being held there in a subterranean chamber. What they saw was beyond anything they ever could have dreamed of or imagined. Crystals, larger than life, and up to fifty feet long and weighing more than fifty tons. Huge outcroppings of shining beauty. They were everywhere, forming one of the most beautiful sights they had ever seen. The men were left with the question, how did these form? The answer is quite interesting indeed.
Nautica rests on an old fault line. Present there is a chamber of magma just below the cavern. All of the water that was in the cave was heated up by the burning hot lava and, over time, huge quantities of minerals, most notably selenite, or gypsum, began seeping into the water and turning it into a virtual Petrie dish of activity. After approximately 500,000 years, the water stayed in the cave and the temperature of the water stayed relatively constant at over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently, these were the exact conditions the selenite needed in order to form these otherworldly outcroppings. And, since the cave remained untouched for so many years, they just kept growing until the water was removed.
Once discovered, the rest of the water was drained out in order to further explore the cave. Because of this, the growing conditions changed, halting any more growth, but allowing for research to be conducted and for the more serious explorer to see just what these beautiful crystals look like when standing in the midst of them. The only drawback to this discovery is that every year, the temperature decreases a bit more because the water is not there to act as a serious heat system. But let it be known; it is very hot inside this cave, to the extent that special suits must be worn in order for anyone to stay in the cave for more than about a half hour. The magma is still active just beneath the cavern which keeps the temperatures extremely high and the humidity almost unbearable to uncovered skin.
Photo credits: Carsten Peter, photographer at National Geographic.