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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Las Grutas de Nombre de Dios

This weekend I decided to take a break from school and visit my girlfriend, Gaby, and my family down in Chihuahua, Mexico. On Friday evening, Gaby took me to visit the Grutas de Nombre de Dios (Name of God Caverns), located within a small mountain range east of the city. At first I had my doubts that such natural phenomenon would be located so close to town, but as we approached the entrance to the caverns I discovered why. The caverns are actually a crack within the wall of the mountain that created the chambers through which we were to walk through. The route consists of several rooms and passage ways that total 4364 feet in length, walked by the tour group in about an hour. One descends to a depth of 227 feet under the entrance level, to the point in which one looses any sense of direction, time, or reality. The patterns that one finds within the walls of the caverns are a magnificent artistic show put on by nature over more than 5 million years, forming objects such as food, animals, famous people, and common objects.

This is a scientific blog so I will point out some details to how the caverns were formed. The area where we live today, which includes the area of Chihuahua, was once part of the sea floor. There, organisms such as shellfish and coral died and deposited much of the limestone, or calcium carbonate, that is present in great amounts within the soil of the area. This along with other elements in the soil, such as zinc, iron, and sulfur adorn the walls of the caverns through formations created with the movement of water. Stalactites, which grow on the roof of the cave, and stalagmites, which form at the base, are evidence of the importance of moisture to the natural beauty of the cave. Both occur due to the dripping of water in limestone, which delivers much of the minerals that form it. Their great presence within the caverns gives you a hint to the enormous limestone deposits in the area.
However, much of the stalactites in the caverns appear to have been cut off. The tour guy told us at the beginning of our exploration that before the cave was opened to the public; many individuals would come to the caves and steal the rocks as souvenirs. It is crucial for the rock formations to remain untouched due to the fact that oils in human hands disrupt the passage of the mineralized water. If the water flow is interrupted, then the growth of the rocks deteriorates or the rock will loose its natural coloration. The rocks in the Nombre de Dios Caverns have been forming for over 5 million years; still, the contaminants in the air from the nearby city and the dry air caused by droughts have slowed down the delicate process.

The state of Chihuahua has recently taken over the maintenance of the caves in order to protect this underground tourist attraction. I seriously believe that the best way to defend nature from human mismanagement is to educate individuals regarding its importance and in this case rarity. This is exactly what the state has done. They made the caverns more accessible to the public by installing pathways along the natural floor of the caverns, and provide the individual with an education on how to enjoy them without harming their existence. This really made me think about what is being done at Lubbock Lake Landmark (LLL). The prairie within the area is being recovered while the staff provides the Lubbock community with the education needed to prevent future destructive management. However is there a cost to what LLL is doing? At the Nombre de Dios caverns, the incoming of tourists through the caves has dried up some of the moisture, adding to the decrease in growth rate of stalactites and stalagmites.

The caverns are opened Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 am to 4 pm. For more information you can contact the office at 01(604) 432 0518 or visit and for more general information. The city of Chihuahua contains many museums, historical sites, and recreational attractions that are surely enough fill in a weekend.

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