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Lechuguilla Cave

In New Mexico in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the Lechuguilla Cave. At a length of just over 126 miles it is the fifth longest cave in the world (the longest is the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, who’s length is 367 miles). Although it is the deepest in the USA at a depth of 1604 feet it is dwarfed by the Voronya Cave in Abkhazia in Georgia which is 7190 feet in depth.

The cave is named for Agave lechuguilla (a plant found only in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert) which is found near the cave’s entrance. An interesting fact about the Agave lechuguilla is that the water from the plant is sold in Mexico as a sports drink since it is rich in salt and minerals yet the plant itself is poisonous.

Lechuguilla Cave was a small mining cave in the early part of this century which was 90 feet deep and about 400 feet in length. In the 1950s wind was heard coming up from the cave floor which led some to believe that there were more passages under the floor. Digging began with the permission of the National Park Service but unfortunately it was almost 30 years later in 1984. Mapping of the cave’s passages begun in earnest in 1986 and what once was 90 feet deep at a length of 400 feet became a whopping 1604 feet of depth at a length of over 126 miles.

The reason I chose to write about this cave is the extreme beauty found within and some of the most interesting geology is inside. One thing of particular interest is the proposed existence of chemolithoautotroph bacteria (bacteria that derives it’s energy from minerals). Instead of waxing on about the cave’s beauty, see it for yourself in the video.

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