September 26, 2006—Four amateur explorers have discovered a
giant, crystal-filled cave in California's Sequoia National Park that
scientists are hailing as a major find.
Only a small portion of the cavern has been explored so far. But researchers say they have already found several large chambers with a variety of formations, including thin curtains of minerals several feet tall, slender "soda straws" up to six feet (two meters) long, and sheets of glimmering crystals on the cave's floors and walls.
Explorers have also found animal remains, including the skeleton of what resembles an ancient bear. That find inspired researchers to name the cave Ursa Minor—Latin for "small bear" and the name of the Little Dipper constellation.
The cavern was found on August 19 by members of the Kentucky-based nonprofit Cave Research Foundation, which has been surveying the park in search of new cave complexes.
Scientists don't yet know how large the Ursa Minor system is, but they say they have already seen enough to believe it could yield many new insights into the ancient past of the U.S. West.
"There are things in the cave that could really open windows into our knowledge of geologic history and the formation of caves throughout the West," park cave manager Joel Despain told the Associated Press.
"We're just beginning to understand the scientific ramifications of this."
—Blake de Pastino
More Photos in the News
Today's 15 Most Read Stories
Free Email Newsletter: Focus on Photography