Devil’s Hole

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I’m a geologist working at Death Valley National Park in Nevada. Over the last few months, we’ve been studying the geological formation dubbed “Devil’s Hole.” Here’s what it looks like, for those interested.

Anyway, I’ve always found this place somewhat disconcerting. We have a vague idea of how it came to be and what makes it do what it does, but there’s something else. Something…off.

The other day, we sent a little submarine drone into the water to see if it could map out the labyrinthine cave system we know is there, but has been completely inaccessible for decades. Also, we wanted to find out how deep it goes. The fact an earthquake in China could cause the water to rise so substantially at this spot in Nevada makes us think it goes way deeper than preliminary estimates.

The sub started to map the first 50 feet. It was tough to get a great signal; the mineral content of the water was really inhospitable to the systems we use and how they communicate with one another – not to mention the superheated water near the geothermal vents once you get down there could be enough to disable the drone entirely.

At around 75 feet, the signal got really touchy. We’d have a few minutes of decent communication, but then it would cut out completely and leave us wondering if the sub had crashed or had been damaged beyond recovery.

During the windows when we could move the drone, we explored from cave to cave and went deeper and deeper. The water was well above boiling; as the pressure increased, so did the temperature. The sub was rated for up to 400 degrees for a short period of time, and pockets of water were getting close to that maximum.

We got to a relatively cool spot (around 225 Fahrenheit) and were told to standby. Greg, the guy who was operating the optical equipment on the drone, kept insisting that he was seeing flashes of light way below our position. I kept insisting that the equipment was malfunctioning and causing the flashes, but Greg wouldn’t shut up about another sensor registering bursts of heat at the same time the flashes showed up.

We argued for a little while and the drone stayed in place. The water level in the hole started to rise. This wasn’t unexpected; a surprisingly little amount of seismic activity anywhere in the world was enough to move the water over here. We kept bickering and didn’t notice more flashes on the screen until much later, when we analyzed the video.

What finally knocked us out of our respective tantrums, though, was the way the water started to change color. It went from its normal shade to a dull red. Greg glanced at the screen and noticed the depth of the water in the cave chamber, originally at 36 feet, had changed to 353,000 feet. We knew had to be an error.

More flashes showed up on the screen as the water frothed and burbled on the surface, then the feed went dead. And stayed dead.

Greg and I analyzed the video overnight. Everything we’d seen was there and just as confusing – but then Greg saw a tiny spike in the audio track right when the depth of the cave appeared to drop straight down.

He ran it through a few filters to amplify the signal and clean it up, then he played it back. We listened to it about 20 times in a row, despite hearing it perfectly the first time.

“Let me sleep. Let me dream. Soon I will rise.”

Corresponding with the massive increase in depth and the last word of the message, there was one more flash in the final video frame before the drone was lost. After Greg cleaned it up, we saw what it was. A single, glowing, red eye that looked like the size of a house.

The size of a house from 353,000 feet above.

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