A Tour of the Deepest Cave in the United States

Lechuguilla Cave is part of the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Park in New Mexico and is regarded as one of the most beautiful caves, with some of the most unique geography, in the entire world.

You can't visit.

Because of the delicacy of many of the formations, the cave is only open to scientists and the explorers who are still figuring out what all is down there. Nobody else is allowed in. Or, rather, nobody else but David Attenborough.

This video from the Planet Earth TV series takes you down into Lechuguilla for some amazing sights and fascinating commentary on the chemistry and biology that make this cave so strange and lovely. Even more impressive, nobody knew it was there until 1986.

Psst, Nova has a whole page on Lechiguilla, if you want to read more.

Thumbnail image courtesy Flickr user n3pb, via CC


  1. Does it have some of the most unique geography in the world or some of the most unique geology in the world?

  2. they have a gate designed to keep the cave from drying out.

    in 2003, when I was a volunteer at carlsbad caverns national park, I was told that you had to be:

    a) an experienced caver
    b) and be able to measure and do caving exploration/research/mapping to go on an expedition.

  3. To break in, you’d need to find it. Not that tough, except for the unpaved roads. Then you’d need to haul whatever tools you were going to use to the entrance; in the Guads, it’s either too hot or too cold to be doing that kind of stuff. You don’t just drive up to this cave and pull out your come-along and wad of Kinepack that you bought at the 7-11 in Carlsbad.

    Of course, just to get down to the gate, you’d need to make the rappel. And once you got inside the gate- past the airlocks and everything, they’re not exactly huge engineering tasks, but still- then you’d need to make it past Boulder Falls, which is a couple of hundred feet to rappel.

    Really- none of that is a huge task. I mean, it’s beyond what most people would want to do, but it’s still do-able. The big problem is getting back out. By the time you get to pretties, you’ve gone through several harsh drops, technical challenges for even decent cavers. They’re pretty safe, except from the nimrods who insist on getting the best pictures so they trample the good stuff. Chandelier Ballroom has been messed up because people want the perfect picture so bad.

  4. No less remarkable, the Naica mine in Mexico has discovered chambers containing crystals 50 feet long weighing several tons. In pictures, the chamber looks like the inside of a geode with a tiny human walking around on the crystals. It’s fascinating to me we can live in this day and age and still stumble upon wonders like this.



    There’s a documentary about the Naica cave, highlighting the hellish conditions scientists have to endure down there to do their work. Interesting stuff if you’re into rocks.

  5. The clip in question is from the BBC Planet Earth series, produced by Fothergill (same guy who did the Blue Planet series.) The Discovery channel replaces Attenborough’s excellent narration with sigourney weaver’s icky one, so find the BBC version. Amazon UK happily sells bbc dvds to the states.

    Nova had an episode a few years ago, Mysterious Life of Caves, that included Lechuguilla. The video isn’t available online, but there are stills and interesting background info:

    One of Nevada Barr’s excellent mysteries, Blind Descent, takes place largely inside of Lechuguilla.

  6. Thinking about the extremophile bacteria mentioned in the clip has inspired a post about them over at Subterranean Design – what could we do if colonies of lithoautotrophic bacteria could create new caverns on a non-geologic timescale?

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