The Naica Mine of Chihuahua, Mexico, contains substantial deposits of silver, zinc and lead, but what makes it truly unique are the giant crystals that adorn one of its caverns. Cave of Crystals (Giant Crystal Cave, or Crystal Palace)- as the cavern is named – was discovered in 2000 by two miners who were excavating an exploratory tunnel inside the Naica mine. Even if other caves, with smaller crystals, have been found in the mine, beginning in 1910, no other discovery was so spectacular like this one.
Photo by Carsten Peter
Cave of Crystals lies almost 300 meters (900 feet) below the surface of the Earth and contains giant selenite crystals some reaching upward of 12 meters (40 feet) and weighing 55 tons. The incredible giant crystals formed over a span of about half a million years in a hot water solution, saturated with minerals. The temperature in the cave virtually unchanged (around 136 degrees Fahrenheit) for hundreds of thousands of years, allowing the crystals to reach astounding sizes.
Although the interior of the cave is simply breathtaking, not many people can enjoy it. Due to its proximity to a magma chamber, the air temperature is 50C and the humidity is over 90%, making it impossible for humans to survive for more than ten minutes without proper protection. The crystals were opened to scientific investigation only in 2006, before being re-closed in 2010.
For now the cave is secured by the company with a heavy steel door to protect against looters and environmental damage from the mine’s ventilation system. However, since the company’s main interest isn’t crystals, it is possible that when all the surrounding ores have been extracted, the water pumps will be switched off, and the caves will be re-flooded.