Cavern of Crystal Giants
October 22, 2008 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Crystal Palace. "Cavers in Mexico confront extreme conditions and find extraordinary beauty." (Previously.)
posted by homunculus (34 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Holy bat caves.
posted by swift at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2008

You know what this beggars?

posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on October 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

That is simply amazing.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2008

Whoa. It took me a few seconds to adjust my sense of scale while looking at the first picture. Beautiful, and cool to also know about the suits they have to wear.
posted by not_on_display at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2008

Fucking wow.
posted by PhatLobley at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2008

Every year or so, I have a dream that takes place in caves like these, regardless of me never having actually visited one in real life myself.
posted by crystal.castles at 12:39 PM on October 22, 2008

Holy shit.

Plans of conditioning the caves are now being undertaken when the caves will become open to the public.

What? No! Don't "condition" them, whatever that means. Don't open them to the public.
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

Wow. It looks like The Thing, in opposite conditions.
posted by cashman at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2008

Countdown to destruction of the cave.....3......2......1......
posted by aramaic at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2008

Forget the bat cave. It's the freaking Fortress of Solitude. wow.
posted by nax at 12:52 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking of the destruction of caves, I was reading about the founding of St. Paul, the capitol of Minnesota. There was this guy, Pierre Parrant, who people called Pig's Eye, who set himself up a little shack by a cave near the Mississippi. He started selling hootch from that cave, and pretty soon turned it into a bar with the terrific name "Pig's Eye Pandemonium." Apparently the cave was quite large, and through the 20th century was used for parties and as a tourist attraction and, briefly, as a speakeasy. Then, in the early 60s, while working on a nearbye road, some workmen accidentally dynamited it. A plaque was left to commemorate the spot where the cave had been, but not the plaque seems to have disappeared.

What the fuck, St. Paul? Seriously.

A little off-topic, I know, but that sort of thing drives me absolutely nuts.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Isn't this where Superman lives?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2008

Gah! I knew The Core was a documentary!
posted by Pecinpah at 12:57 PM on October 22, 2008

National Geographic pictures more than make up for the repeat FPP :-).

One long, slender beam bears a deep scar from where someone tried to cut through it. I imagine a miner dripping and alone in the smothering silence, his weak headlamp bouncing with each saw stroke. Collectors might pay tens of thousands of dollars for a crystal from this cave. Whoever he was, he quit before he could sever the crystal, and mine owners later installed a heavy steel door to deter looters. So far it has worked, but who knows if it will last. Miners, after all, have access to drills and explosives. And while mining and construction projects can be halted to save archaeological relics, minerals in Mexico have no such protection.

In one of the previously links, the person was identified as one of the first miners to drain the cave. He came back at night and tried to saw off a crystal, but died from heatstroke (probably took only 20 minutes) before he could finish. They found him the next day, partly baked.
posted by Araucaria at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2008

It looks like the scene with the crystals in the excellent documentary The Core. Therefore I can only conclude that conditioning the caves will cause the Earth to stop rotating.

on preview: damn you Pecinpah for having the same cheap taste.
posted by mandal at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2008

Forget the bat cave. It's the freaking Fortress of Solitude. wow.

Indeed. (Note post title.)
posted by dersins at 1:01 PM on October 22, 2008

The Nat Geographic Channel ran a one-hour show on this a week or so back. See if you can catch a rerun.

I remember when the first pictures from that place showed up on the Web, and people on the caving forums were all, "No way - has to be fake!" That's how different this cave is from what even the most experienced cavers were used to.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:01 PM on October 22, 2008

Correction: the guy was pinned to the ground by the crystal he was chopping off, and was parboiled to death. Won a Darwin Award.
posted by Araucaria at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2008

Absolutely fantastic, thanks for posting -- it's like the Dark Crystal writ large...

And yes, don't open it to the public. Let it grow and be mysterious forever.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:17 PM on October 22, 2008

people can only withstand the heat for minutes at a time before severe loss of mental functions become present.

become presents. presence. mmmm sniice n warmmm. huh hmm? 'z big crystals goes up. dowwwn? oooh im in a tiny caaves im soo big im tinieee is it chrissmass ooohhhh.....
posted by longsleeves at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2008

When I was a young man of 23 or so and had knees and a back that could withstand the rigours of serious spelunking I went with a Mexican man in his SUV bouncing across the great Chihuahuan desert to a remote canyon in god forsaken Coahuila. After about an hour's scramble up a narrow gorge we entered the mouth of a small cave. Deeper and deeper we crawled over the broken shards of centuries of wildcat crystal mining. Finally we reached the point where miners had stopped at least for then and pushed through a small opening into a room similar to the one pictured. Giant purple, green, and white crystals sprung up in every direction some bigger around than any cottonwood tree for a thousand miles in any direction. It was incredible.

Afterwards we bounced to a remote village where my friend and guide's grandmother had a big pot of carne asada waiting. Then we bounced back and forded the river to Big Bend and drove on home to a much needed shower.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's another spectacular cave.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2008

OOOOOOOoooooooooh..... shiny......

(and yes, please don't let this be open to the public. that would be awful.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I almost went there with my geology class.
My teacher had mastered in "carstic caving systems" and this was her love. Except we went scuba diving in underwater caves instead... (boring.)
posted by Balisong at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2008

Wow, those selenite beams are amazing! The scales in that first photo are a bit dizzying too. Spectacular.
posted by vacapinta at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2008

Crystal Palace (video)
posted by Zambrano at 4:16 PM on October 22, 2008

I am not unhappy that "spelunk," "spelunker," and "spelunking" refuse to die, despite all the efforts of The Caver Establishment. They'd have everyone believe that spelunkers are amateurs, while cavers are - well, they're almost all amateurs, too. But "cavers rescue spelunkers!"

When I first went caving A Long Time Ago, nobody spat on spelunking. It was a fun word, which is why everybody who's not interested in being part of the Caving Elite likes it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 PM on October 22, 2008

I am very grateful for the people who bring back these pictures, because I love crystals, but God, I hate caves. I'm so claustrophobic I get nervous in a stalled train.

I just now remembered some crap I was fed in a cave, the last time I visited one, at age nine. The guide pointed to a pretty stream that looked about three feet deep and said, it looks like you could put your hand on the bottom, doesn't it? Well, the cave water is so pure and clear that it only looks shallow -- it's actually sixty feet deep. And I actually bought that, and did not recall it until just now.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:49 PM on October 22, 2008

Pantengliopoli writes "And yes, don't open it to the public. Let it grow and be mysterious forever."

Uh, no. The process which created the crystals has been destroyed:
In other caves under the mountain, the temperature fluctuated or the environment was somehow disturbed, resulting in different and smaller crystals. But inside the Cave of Crystals, conditions remained unchanged for millennia. Above ground, volcanoes exploded and ice sheets pulverized the continents. Human generations came and went. Below, enwombed in silence and near complete stasis, the crystals steadily grew. Only around 1985, when miners using massive pumps lowered the water table and unknowingly drained the cave, did the process of accretion stop.
posted by mullingitover at 5:05 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well in theory they could reflood the cave in order to protect it for the future right? Or would that be standing in the way of progress?
posted by vuron at 5:53 PM on October 22, 2008

So ... is there a skull?
posted by The Whelk at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2008

I guess my nerdiness compels me to reference the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. Too bad there are no dwarves to cultivate and tend it.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:24 PM on October 22, 2008

Ah-maazing! wowee zowee. That first image is like something out of an old science fiction movie, or Honey I Shrunk the Kids kind of thing. It's impossibly wonderful.

Had to go a googling and find out more.

A video of the Naica cave exploration by the LaVenta team.

Additional images of Naica, "The Cave of The Crystals"

The little I know about crystal formation is that they are usually formed inside a bubble of lava, a geode, the humidity trapped inside of the igneous rock forms crystals over thousands of years, colored by any minerals in the hardened lava bubble. oooh pretty amethyst large geode, the purple caused by iron in the water trapped in the bubble. A giant gypsum geode "Pulpi Geode, Mina Rica near Pilar de Jaravia in Southeastern Spain". In Almeria. In New Mexico.

Gypsum, what the giant crystals are made of, is typically white, silky, fibrous, used in making drywall and other stuff. It's awesome to see the transparent form, selenite, in those massive quantities.

It's this selenite gypsum that is used in New Age use. Who knows what they think of this cave?!

Gypsum flowers.

More giant crystals. and ooh, pretty fossils (love fossils) with a giant crystal midpage.

So would these caves have been some sort of mega bubble with humidity trapped inside?

Had to find out. ah ha.

The macrocrystals formed underwater, in a place where the hot (52°C) and sulphur saturated deep thermal waters got in touch with external cold waters rich in oxygen, that naturally infiltrated from the surface.
Along the surface separating these waters, that could not melt directly due to the different (higher) density of the deep mineralised ones, oxygen "diffused" into the lower layer with consequent oxidation of sulphur and sulphate ions, that caused an extremely light over-saturation of gypsum and therefore its slow deposit.
These conditions evidently lasted for a very long period of time (thousands of years) and the crystals had the possibility to develop to such incredible sizes. Finally, in recent times, the cave emptied naturally following the drawdown due to the mining activity.

Adding to images: ice crystals make striped icebergs.

wow. That was a fun learning ramble. Thanks for the excitement homunculus.
posted by nickyskye at 7:33 PM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mullingitover writes "Uh, no. The process which created the crystals has been destroyed:"

Okay then... FTFM

Pantengliopoli writes "And yes, don't open it to the public. Let it grow and be mysterious forever."
posted by Pantengliopoli at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2008

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