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Mexico: The “Sistine Chapel of Crystals”

The town known as Naica in the northern state of Chihuaha, Mexico, has been dedicated to mining since 1794; but the mine got its international reputation only a couple years ago when the so-called Cave of Crystals was discovered. Inside the cave, giant crystals known as “Moon Stones” give it an “out of this world” feel.

Gypsum v. Selenite. Image by Flickr user B. Tse used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

As blogger Carlos Roque Sánchez explains in Blog de Superheroes [es]:

Ocurrió que realizando nuevos túneles de exploración en búsqueda de más mineral, y estando a una profundidad de casi cuatrocientos metros (400 m), por casualidad, se descubrió una cueva repleta de enormes cristales de selenita (yeso), de unos diez metros (10 m) de longitud y alrededor de uno (1 m) de ancho.

Un espectáculo difícil de imaginar.

Ningún hombre había visto hasta entonces algo igual. Una auténtica maravilla de la naturaleza que se mostró a los sorprendidos ojos de los mineros de manera serendípica, de forma accidental.

It occurred while making new tunnels for exploration in search of more minerals, and being at a depth of nearly four hundred meters (400 m), by chance, they discovered a huge cave full of crystals of selenite (gypsum), about ten meters (10 m) long and about one (1 m) wide.

A spectacle that is difficult to imagine.

No man had ever seen anything like this before. A true wonder of nature that was shown to the surprised eyes of the miners, in a fortunate accident.

Carlos continues his post, explaining the difficulties humans face [es] entering the cave:

Por supuesto no está abierta al público. Sus trescientos noventa metros (390 m) de profundidad, más de cincuenta grados Celsius (50 ºC) de temperatura y un aire saturado de humedad casi del cien por cien (100%), la hacen inhabitable para el ser humano.

En esas condiciones sólo se podría sobrevivir unos ocho minutos (8 min), antes de deshidratarse, de “cocerse al vapor”. Un lugar diabólico localizado por lo que llaman las coordenadas del infierno.

Of course it is not open to the public. Its depth of three hundred and ninety meters (390 m), more than fifty degrees Celsius (50 º C) temperature and moisture-saturated air of almost one hundred percent (100%), make it uninhabitable for humans

In this conditions you could only live inside for eight minutes, before you suffer dehydration, before you “steam yourself.” An evil place located in what is called the coordinates of hell.

The blog The Flysch Deposit adds:

A heavy steel door and Mexico law keep out miners and other scavengers, by crystallographers are concerned about the elements. Without water to sustain them, the crystals may bend and crack beneath their own weight. Now that they are open to air, carbon dioxide and other gases will dull their glory.

Carlos in Blog de Superheroes ends his post with a reference to Superman and kryptonite [es], and reveals the cave's popular nickname:

Y es que los enormes cristales semejan haces de luz que inundan la cavidad. Una cavidad que nos ofrece unos paisajes que parecieran salidos de otros mundos.

De ahí mi referencia a la kriptoniana fortaleza supermánica.

Una buena prueba de su singular belleza nos la da el sobrenombre que le han puesto: la Capilla Sixtina de la Cristalografía.

And the crystals resemble huge beams of light that fill in the cavity. A cavity that offers a landscape straight out from a different world.

That is where I got my reference to Superman's Kryptonian strength.

A good test of its unique beauty comes in the nickname it has been given: the Sistine Chapel of Crystallography.

Selenite Gypsum crystal from Naica, Mexico. At the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Image by Julian Fong, Flickr user levork used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license

To see images of this wonder of nature or to learn more about Naica, visit the Official Website of the Naica Project and National Geographic's photogallery and video.

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