The history of the discovery of this geological site is fascinating. Legend has it that the entrance to the Gouffre was spotted by a shepherdess looking for a lost lamb in a hollow in the rock. However, the caver Norbert Casteret was the first to enter the bowels of the Gouffre d'Esparros on June 25, 1938 after seven years of research. In 1983, the Ministry of the Environment listed the Gouffre d'Esparros among the 12 most beautiful caves in France to be protected as a priority for their exceptional heritage. In October 1987, it was classified as a Natural Site for its high concentration of aragonite crystals which are among the most beautiful concretions in the world.
It is therefore in a small group that we are about to explore the chasm, whose entrance is through a dark tunnel that leads to a room. The guide asks us "Do you know the difference between a cave and a chasm?" A cave is a horizontal cavity while a chasm is a vertical cavity. The entrance to a cave opens into a wall, that of a chasm opens into the ground. The visit begins, punctuated by light. As the group advances, the LED lights installed on the ground and on the walls are triggered by detecting our approach. We cross a wet path, amazed by the volumes around us. Here, the light guides our attention, the grandeur and delicacy of the sculptures grabs it. Captivated, our gaze is imbued with the serenity of the place, the beauty of the scintillating walls, the majestic shapes of the stalactites , stalagmites, draperies and other columns without being able to linger there. The light goes out and the group continues the tour in the upper part of the cavity.
We climb about fifty steps to discover the magical spectacle of this underground temple : hundreds of stalactites, eccentric sculptures with supernatural hues, bewitching play of shadow and light. The Esparros chasm reveals its treasure to us: delicate crystals of aragonite or " rock crystal ", spring from the walls like stone flowers, sometimes resembling white coral, sometimes like tiny translucent cauliflowers, formed by drops over the millennia… The spectacle is magical!
We go through several rooms, each one more surprising than the next. On the ceiling, the rock takes on spectacular concretions defying the laws of weightlessness. The gypsum crystals shine like a wall of diamonds. The last part of the visit is impressive : the cave widens and we overlook a body of water with turquoise hues which streams peacefully towards the depths. We contemplate this sumptuous lake room with enchantment. The river plays hide and seek in a labyrinth of cavities and rock laces in the most absurd shapes. Such a profusion is quite rare to observe.
The lights go out again, we must already head for the exit. Time flies so quickly when you attend such a magical show! The visits are linked to ensure a limited number of people at the same time in the enclosure of the chasm with a sensitive climatological balance. The presence of visitors and the release of carbon dioxide in too large a volume could jeopardize the aragonite formations and the entire unique ecosystem of this natural phenomenon shaped by nature over millions of years.
We return to the exit to the surface of the earth still imbued with the magic of this true masterpiece of nature!
Some tips for your visit
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Report and photos produced by Lesley Williamson for the Toulouse Pyrenees Guide