Subterranean Secrets

Though dark, dank and dangerous, caves are proving to be ideal labs for learning about evolution, pollution and even hidden oil

THE POOL SITS SO STILL AND CLEAR THAT it remains utterly invisible unless glimpsed from an angle. Suspended overhead, cream-colored puffs of rock billow within arm's reach, seeming to defy gravity. Welcome to Lake of the Clouds, an enchanted spot of earth that has never seen the sun or felt the morning dew. Carved out of solid rock nearly 1 million years ago, this bewitching chamber lies 300 m (1,000 ft.) below the floor of the New Mexican desert at the lowest point in Carlsbad Cavern.

Getting there requires the skills of a subterranean mountain climber, which is why Lake of...

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