The Mars race is on – NASA/CSA/ESA and the world joined in the planning pushing forward towards the realization of these plans to send astronauts collected from around the world biologists, geologists among the technical and physicist crew to explore and understand Mars, find fossil bacteria, perhaps live bacteria and calculate how best to teraform Mars.
Little did NASA’s biologists and geologists realize during their fever in preparation for what to look for on Mars that soon they’d find themselves exploring the depth of hell itself with the wonders of heaven to behold. But not on another planet somewhere in our solar system, instead, right here on earth in The Crystal Caves of Naica, Mexico.
Imagine if you will; gearing up in the midst of the summer’s heat in protective clothes and boots, hard hat and oxygen mask, but not to protect you from the cool and damp caves you’re about to enter, but to protect you from sharp sword like edges and the heat exceeding the initial temperature inside the caves of 60°C (140°F) and the humidity at 100%. At this temperature and humidity your body will sweat but not find relief because the humidity doesn’t allow your sweat to evaporate and cool your body instead your sweat traps the heat and you are poached in your own perspiration. Death would find you when slowly your system would begin to shut down, first it would affect your brain by hallucinating and getting confused, then your system would fail and you’d die. Even with an ice packed vest to cool your body’s core your time inside the mine would be limited and someone on the exterior experienced in caving and the consequences would be at stand by to monitor you while you explore the cave of wonders only for several minutes at a time.
The Cave of Crystals (Cueva de los Cristales) is a cave approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) below the surface in the limestone host rock of the mine. Your station where to recuperate your body to cool off at 40°C (104°F) with the humidity at 60% is just before the entrance of the crystal forest where gypsum of crystals grow at various length and some as high as telephone poles weighing around fifty five tons or more. The crystal forest is about the size of a football field and the height of a two-story building. The oxygen is low like that as if standing in a hot sauna so you need to put on your oxygen mask. Once you are inside and standing among the crystals you suddenly feel the need to whisper and sigh out an ohhh as you look around and the spotlight extended from your hard hat illuminates a glistening and sparkling array of mirrored wonder. It makes you feel as if standing inside an ice castle with crystal walkways, crystal tables and benches, crystal chandeliers of crystal rose bouquets illuminated from the ceiling by your head light. In any other cave rosetta gypsums would be around 10cm across but here in the crystal cave the bouquets are measured in meters. The crystals may look like icicles but are searing hot to touch, razor sharp but also soft like human fingernails. The crystals are everywhere growing in a disarray fashion making movements by your footsteps treacherous.
Mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the crystals, momentarily seeing yourself as if walking down a crystal staircase in superman’s crystal castle you must remind yourself why you have come here, to find the answers to the many questions, what are they made of, why do they grow so big and why is it so hot here? But now you must leave and return to where you can cool off for some hours before daring to return because your body is slowly and invisible dying, in this heat your sweat is trapped and your body cannot cool itself, cells will die and organs will fail if you remain even a little longer in this cave that has forever captured your mind.
Mexico : Free standing gypsum crystals up to 12 m size in the Naica lead - zinc mine
Coordinates : 27°50'N , 105°29'W : Naica Mine, Chihuahua, Mexico
Gypsum, possibly some sulfide minerals
Crystal Size :
mostly freestanding prismatic crystals up to 12 m
Geology & Origin :
Possibly hydrothermal replacement of limestone by sulphuric acids, more research is certainly warranted
Current status :
Active mine, access to upper crystal caves for tourists possible, access to lower crystal caves remain restricted (also known as Hell)
Spectacular freely developed (!) gypsum crystals up to 12 m, possibly the largest in the world.
You all have a good week ahead