A cave network with large passages and rooms — many more than 50-feet wide and some containing ancient animal skeletons — has been discovered within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in central California, the National Park System announced.
It's still unknown how far the network goes, but the find is "so significant," the agency said in a statement Monday, that park staff believe that if the cave were not already within the National Park System it would certainly qualify.
"We are all very excited about the discovery of this beautiful new cave," Park Cave Specialist Joel Despain said in the statement. "It will add to our knowledge of the parks, park wildlife, and park features. Knowing that the cave exists will help us manage the area around the cave with its protection in mind."
Researchers affiliated with the Cave Research Foundation found the cave last August, the park service said.
The formations discovered include "long and graceful cave curtains, fragile soda straws up to 6 feet in length, and large areas of multicolored flowstones," the park service said. "Crystals in the flowstone produce brilliant sparkles across the cave’s floors and walls."
The network includes a cave lake estimated at 100-feet wide, and vertical drops that can be traversed only with ropes.
The park service added that "ancient animal skeletons were found in the cave including one that resembles a bear."
Park staff also believe that based on observations the cave could contain new species of cave-adapted invertebrates.
The cave will remain closed to the public "pending evaluation and scientific study," the park service stated. "Park cave management staff are conducting a series of trips with subject matter experts to create an accurate and detailed map of the cave, inventory its features, conduct a biological inventory, photo document cave features and formations and gate the cave entrance to protect it."