Geology of Quartz-Lined Hypogene Caves of Southeastern Arizona

  • Nicole K. DavisEmail author
  • Brian A. McMillan
Part of the Cave and Karst Systems of the World book series (CAKASYWO)


Chiricahua Crystal Cave may be the only known limestone cave in the world that intersects room-sized quartz geodes (up to 16 m across). The cave is a relatively deep, laterally confined network maze, with zones of breakdown and vertical shafts. Large euhedral quartz crystals are found at all levels of the cave, lining vugs that range in size from centimeters to tens of meters. These geodes are crosscut by a network of phreatic tubes and abruptly terminating fissures that show little evidence of top-down flow or connection with surface hydrology. All surfaces of the cave below a certain elevation are covered with a thick coating of calcite mammillaries. The cave reflects a series of distinct geochemical environments. We propose that deep-seated hydrothermal silicic acid initiated the formation of the vugs and deposited a quartz rind as it cooled. Hypogenic (and likely hydrothermal) carbonic acid dissolved the subsequent passages and then vacated the cave. Subaerial conditions prevailed for a time before fluid once again entered the cave. A cooler, calcite-rich pool filled the lower reaches of the cave, depositing mammillaries in a stable environment with slow, steady atmospheric and hydrological mixing. Additional features, such as cupolas, solution pockets, phreatic tubes, corroded and altered surfaces, and vertical pits at the bottom of the cave (possible feeders), are also compatible with bottom-up thermal processes.


Quartz crystals Mammillaries Geodes Volcanics Network maze 



Survey work was done by Western Mappers under the leadership of Cartographer Robert Zimmerman. Our deep appreciation goes to him for coordinating this project and inviting us to study the geology, and to the US Forest Service for permission to conduct this work. Many cavers and friends helped collect data and discuss ideas and shared our enthusiasm for this project. Art and Peggy Palmer, Carol Hill, Sarah Truebe, Benjamin Tobin, Robert Zimmerman, Rodney Tennyson, Jessica Garcia, Phill Oltmann, Shana Wolff, Jennifer Foote, Liz Heness, and Robert Reuss freely shared their knowledge and helped point us in the right direction. Timothy Lawton provided his expertise and maps of the surface geology. Tom Kaye opened his laboratory to us and guided the spectral analysis (Davis et al. 2016). Adam Zipkin provided essential photographs and patiently accompanied us on many geology trips. Thanks also to Tombstone’s Good Enough Mine, for granting us special access, and Carey Granger who led our expeditions there.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TucsonUSA

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