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Photo by Alexander Van Driessche
The Cave of Crystals, known as Cueva de los Cristales by locals, is the site of the largest natural crystals known to man. It is located roughly 1,000 feet beneath Naica Mountain in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert in Chihuahua, Mexico. The Cave of Crystals is the second of such caves found beneath the mountain. The Cave of Swords was discovered at a depth of about 400 feet and contains similar, but smaller, crystals.
The Naica Mine, in which the Cave of Crystals is located, has been the site of silver mining since 1794. Since that time, gold, zinc, lead and now these crystals have been discovered there. The Cave of Crystals was discovered in April of 2000 by two brothers who worked for the Naica Mine. What they saw inside the cave were gypsum crystals, some of which were roughly 40 feet long, up to four feet in diameter and weighing up to 55 tons. The heat inside of the cave was stifling and workers could not spend a significant amount of time there. Nonetheless, an iron door was fitted to act as an entrance to the cave and deter thieves. It didn’t work. Not long after, a miner found a small crevice and snuck into the cave to try and steal some crystals. He suffocated and baked within the cave. His body was found later.
Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz of the University of Grenada conducted a study of the crystals and the cave in an attempt to explain why these gypsum crystals are so gigantic compared to others found on Earth. He found small pockets of liquid within the crystals. By studying the liquid, he came to the conclusion that the gypsum crystals were able to grow so large due to two factors: the cave’s steady temperature of roughly 136 degrees Fahrenheit and the mineral rich water that once filled the Cave of Crystals. Juan refers to the cave as “the Sistine Chapel of crystals.”
The stifling heat and humidity in the cave, which is caused by heat emanating from a magma chamber below the mountain, make it impossible for visitors to stay in the cave for very long. Nonetheless, guided tours are available when the cave is open. Visitors have reported hallucinations and brain malfunctions. Some tourists have even collapsed inside the cave and had to be removed. If you are brave enough to enter the beautiful Cave of Crystals, you will see a site that visitors have likened to Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude.”
Lovgren, Stefan, April 6, 2007, National Geographic News, Giant Crystal Cave’s Mystery Solved, retrieved 2/25/10, nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/04/070406-giant-crystals.html
Crystal Cave of Giants in Mexico, retrieved 2/25/10, crystalinks.com/mexicocrystals.html