A team of experienced cave explorers in early May climbed more than 410 feet into a high dome in Lechuguilla Cave and discovered a maze of previously unknown passages, pits and large rooms, collectively called Oz, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.
One large room measured 600 feet long, 100 to 150 feet wide and 75 to 150 feet high — and the room was dubbed Munchkin Land, the Current-Argus said.
Since mapping began in 1986, explorers have surveyed more than 134.6 miles of cave passages in Lechuguilla Cave — an extensive cave system in Carlsbad Caverns National Park — and because of its delicate environment and scientific importance, only about 100 people, usually vetted explorers and scientists, are permitted to enter the cave every year, the paper reported.
Ten cavers from Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico, California and Arizona participated in the eight-day underground exploration that came up with the latest discoveries, the Current-Argus said.
Using laser distance meters, the team led by Derek Bristol of Colorado measure the distance from the floor to the final rope anchor of the dome, finding they had climbed 510 feet, making it the deepest pit — or natural, direct vertical expanse — known so far in the park, according to the paper.
“To understand the sheer size of this space, imagine that a 51-story tower could fit inside,” Stan Allison, Carlsbad Caverns National Park cave technician, told the Current-Argus.