CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) - Caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park that are millions of years old are still being explored today.
Cavers just made a huge discovery there, and it's continuing to spark the curiosity of people around the world.
There are 117 known caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. When explorers ventured into Lechuguilla Cave this summer, they found new passages and climbed for days to discover one of the largest rooms in the cave.
"That was totally new, no one had ever seen that before," explained Stan Allison, cave technician for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. "So it's really exciting to be able to go somewhere where no one has ever been before, ever."
And it's what volunteers from all over the world aim to do there. On an expedition in May, skilled cavers made a five-day climb to the top of a 535-foot dome, now known as the deepest pit at the park.
Volunteers spent a week in the cave gathering information and exploring.
"They came out with about a mile of new survey, which brings Lechuguilla Cave to a little over 135 miles of surveyed cave," said Allison. That makes it the sixth-longest cave in the world, he added.
Allison said Lechuguilla Cave has been known since the early 1900s when cavers dug through the entrance area. Back then, the cave was considered to be about 500 ft. long.
"One hundred thirty-five miles later, and about 26 years later, we're still finding new cave," said Allison.
Cavers named the new area Oz and dubbed the pit the Kansas Twister. Names like Munchkin Land and the Wizard mark discoveries on a brand new map-in-the-making.
But it's the new question marks on the map that are drawing even more excitement.
"It's pretty exciting to have the initial exploration being done in a park like this," said Allison.
There are more than 44,000 acres of explorable territory at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Allison said he expects there will still be uncharted territory hundreds of years from now.
Allison said the new passages are like a complex three-dimensional puzzle. Aside from finding new entrances, he said things like airflow are an indication there could be a lot more to discover.
"I think what's the most exciting for me is just what we don't know," explained Allison. "What we do know about is just amazing, but the fact that you know there's so much more cave that we don't know about -- that's really the part that appeals to me is the unknown."
Unlike Carlsbad Cavern, Allison said caves like Lechuguilla will not likely be developed for the public. Instead, expert cavers and volunteers will work to keep the pristine condition and use the caves for research and science.
Allison added he and park officials appreciate the volunteers that spend thousands of hours at Carlsbad Caverns every year.
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