During my visit to Cantabria, I visited three caves, each of which was completely different and unique. In the first article, I presented the Altamira Cave with beautiful paintings of prehistoric men. Now, let’s look at the cave, where the creative power of nature has fully manifested itself.
El Soplao – A Fragile Wonder of Nature
If I had to choose the name of this cave, it would be called Wow, because that was my first word when I saw all that beautiful dripstone decoration. And that wow! I repeated several more times during the hour-long tour of the cave.
However, the cave is called El Soplao (= blow), which is a term in mining and is related to the flow of air that miners feel when they dig a tunnel into another space with less oxygen.
The unique cave is located in the Sierra de Arnero. Zinc has been mined here in the past. The miners accidentally came across the cave in 1908, but they still left it only as a communication route. The mine was depleted in 1979. Even today, a mine train will transport you to the cave, there are statues of miners in the area and in front of the entrance and also in the underground, you can see parked carts and various mining tools. The main attraction for visitors, however, are the beautiful galleries full of stalagmites, stalactites and stalagmites, but also helictites of various shapes and sizes.
When the mine closed, vandals came into the underground spaces, broke off the most beautiful pieces and then sold them on the markets as souvenirs. The son of one of the former miners was responsible for saving the cave. Together with other volunteers and experts, they thoroughly examined the cave and in 2005, the cave was opened to the public. You can choose between a classic (1 hour) or adventure tour when visitors enter the underground in work overalls and helmets with lit headlights and move around in less accessible places (2.5 hours). 6 km out of a total of 17 km are accessible. The third type is the so-called mining tour, where you will get acquainted in more detail with the strenuous work of miners.
The individual galleries of the cave have different names, for example, the Gallery of Ghosts – a space 350 meters long and in some places, up to 35 meters wide – was named after a group of stalagmites, reminiscent of mysterious, white supernatural beings. In the other gallery, the dripstone decoration is reflected in the calm surface of the lake so that you cannot see where the water ends. The magical atmosphere of the cave is enhanced by special colored lighting. Not only various small and large stalactites are hanging from the ceiling, but also draperies – heavy opaque and frilly curtains.
Some stalactites look like the drooping buds of giant plants, and some patiently waited for the moment when they meet the stalagmites growing from the floor to form an eternal drip column – a stalagnate. Of course, I have already seen similar formations in other caves.
What caused me this multiple wow! are unique dripstones that seem to resist the earth’s gravity. They are crooked in every way and their new eccentric growths grow horizontally in all directions. They are called helictites. The underground spaces of this cave were washed out by karst water in the Mesozoic period (240 million years ago), and subsequently, precipitated calcium carbonate created this amazing decoration. And the process is still going on…
There are various theories about the formation of helictites, the most frequently mentioned being capillary forces and wind, airflow. I don’t know, I think I didn’t feel any wind in the cave, but I’m not an expert. In my opinion, this cave is one of the proofs that the greatest artist is nature and so nature has the right to keep some secret about its work…
In El Soplao Cave, entire ceilings are covered with these unique formations. Some look like an underwater world full of corals, anemones, algae and other sea plants, others reminded me of pine needles sprinkled with fresh snow. As the miniature drops of water began to glitter in the artificial light, it was as if the druses of a magnificent fine crystal were revealed in front of us. Here, I had chills and when I started taking pictures of that beauty, my hands trembled slightly from the excitement and a kind of sacred fear, so that I would not take a piece of their own identity from these fantastic formations.
And finally – the star of the cave – a big helictite, which, like a petrified white cactus hung upside down, hovers over the heads of visitors…
Practical information in Spanish and English: here
How to get from the capital Santander to El Soplao: here
Note: all opinions expressed in this article are my own.