Lechuguilla cave was discovered in 1986, when cavers dug
open a hole in a long known depression near Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico,
which was long ago mined for salpeter. Little did they know, that they
opened one of the most beautiful caves in the world.
Since then not less than 150 km of winding cave passages has been
explored, bringing Lechuguilla into the league of the longest caves in
the world. Previously unseen - except maybe in the Kap-Kutan
cave system - cave formations of marvellous beauty and majestic dimensions
Lechuguilla is - together with Kap-Kutan and a few much smaller caves
- a member of the rare class of caves leached by sulphuric acid solutions. Limestone, the major
host rock for cave formation, is normally slowly dissolved by slightly
carbonated water and hence cave formation is mostly a slow process. In
Lechuguilla the water was much more acidid due to hydrogen sulfide, which
originates from nearby oil bearing sediments. Water and hydrogen sulfide
form sulphuric acid and so Lechuguilla was sort of leached out of solid
rock by diluted acid. This process is much faster than ordinary cave formation
and results in the deposition of large quantities of gypsum in the cave.
In Lechuguilla we find large candelabra like formations composed
out of myriads of crystals of gypsum and aragonite, which may reach a dimension
of several meters. Though they are composed of generally small crystals,
the shear size of the individual crystal aggregates is impressive enough.