Ra Paulette's Hand-Carved Caves – New Mexico - Atlas Obscura
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Ra Paulette's Hand-Carved Caves

One man has carved a number of natural New Mexico caves into psychedelic sandstone temples. 

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For over 25 years, New Mexico artist Ra Paulette has been creating natural crevasses in the New Mexico wilderness and painstakingly chiseling, digging, and carving intricate underground wonderlands.

In 14 different caves in the desert just north of Santa Fe, Paulette has created an underground fantasy world using nothing but the power of his own hands. Sometimes using preexisting crevasses and sometimes simply tunneling into the soft sandstone cliffs, the artist creates singular subterranean spaces to which he ascribes a sort of spiritual power.

No two of Paulette’s caves are alike, some featuring undersized doors or skylights that let the sun in, while others include benches carved right into the wall or deep niches for flickering candles. The walls of the caves are also decorated with carved designs ranging from flowers to abstract suns to purely emotive design flourishes; all look as though they formed naturally because they are etched into the cave walls themselves.

Paulette considers his creations more of a hobby or public service than a money-making venture and generally just leaves the caves to be discovered by others when he is finished. He hopes that those that come after him can discover some peace or epiphany in his chambers. Paulette finds his joy in creating things, not necessarily the things’ finished states.

Know Before You Go

Most of the caves now sit on private property, and because of past issues with trespassers, the owners have closed the caves to the public. (Atlas Obscura does offer a Santa Fe art trip that provides sanctioned access to one of the caves during a private visit with the cave's owner.)

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