Jewel of the Underground

  • By Peter Tyson
  • Posted 10.01.02
  • NOVA

On Memorial Day, 1986, at the bottom of a small cave in New Mexico's Guadalupe Mountains, a group of cavers broke through a rubble pile into a long, downward-sloping passage. It proved to be the entrance shaft to one of the largest, deepest, and most fantastically decorated caves in the Americas. In this slide show, take a peek inside Lechuguilla, as the cave is known. This may be the only peek you'll get: To preserve its pristine nature, the National Park Service keeps the cave closed to the public.

Launch Interactive

Explore Lechuguilla Cave, one of the most magnificently decorated caverns in the Americas.

This feature originally appeared on the site for the NOVA program The Mysterious Life of Caves.


The photographs in this feature appear in the book Lechuguilla: Jewel of the Underground, and they were taken by photographers Sura Ballmann, Kevin Downey, and Urs Widmer, with the help of various assistants.



(opening image, cave pearls, Lake Chandalar, Hoodoo Hall, Lake Louise, Chandelier Graveyard)
Photographed by Sura Ballmann and Urs Widmer
(pit in Glacier Bay, Chandelier Ballroom, Underground Atlanta, Oasis pool, Nirvana, aragonite frostwork, coralloids)
Photographed by Sura Ballmann, Kevin Downey, and Urs Widmer

Related Links

  • Journey Into Lechuguilla Cave

    Journalist Michael Ray Taylor describes his overnight excursion hundreds of feet down into this otherworldly cavern.

  • How Caves Form

    Watch as rainwater, waves, lava, and bacteria create four different types of caves.

  • The Lives of Extremophiles

    Microbiologist and caver Diana Northup delights in "snottites" and other microbes that live where nothing else can.

  • Secrets in the Salt

    Salt deposits that formed 250 million years ago hold tantalizing hints of early life.


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