A sort of south-of-the-border Fortress of Solitude, Mexico's Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) contains some of the world's largest known natural crystals—translucent beams of gypsum as long as 36 feet (11 meters).
How did the crystals reach such superheroic proportions?
In the new issue of the journal Geology, García-Ruiz reports that for millennia the crystals thrived in the cave's extremely rare and stable natural environment. Temperatures hovered consistently around a steamy 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), and the cave was filled with mineral-rich water that drove the crystals' growth.
Modern-day mining operations exposed the natural wonder by pumping water out of the 30-by-90-foot (10-by-30-meter) cave, which was found in 2000 near the town of Delicias. Now García-Ruiz is advising the mining company to preserve the caves.
"There is no other place on the planet," García-Ruiz said, "where the mineral world reveals itself in such beauty."
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Giant Crystal Cave Comes to Light
See photos of some of the world's largest crystals in a giant Mexico cave under Naica mountain—discovered by miners.
It's "the Sistine Chapel of crystals," says Juan Manuel García- Ruiz.
The geologist announced this week that he and a team of researchers have unlocked the mystery of just how the minerals in Mexico's Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) achieved their monumental forms.
Buried a thousand feet (300 meters) below Naica mountain in the Chihuahuan Desert, the cave was discovered by two miners excavating a new tunnel for the Industrias Peñoles company in 2000.
The cave contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found: translucent gypsum beams measuring up to 36 feet (11 meters) long and weighing up to 55 tons.
"It's a natural marvel," said García-Ruiz, of the University of Granada in Spain.
To learn how the crystals grew to