Man's hand-carved caves in New Mexico are underground castles

Screen capture CBS Sunday Morning/YouTube

Ra Paulette has spent decades digging out exquisite spaces with nothing more than hand tools.

In 2014 the world was introduced to the work of Ra Paulette when the film "Cavedigger" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary – but even so, his work has managed to stay somewhat under the radar.

Working for the past 25 years on his caves, Paulette tackles the sandstone hills of New Mexico and hollows them out with nothing more than handtools and a lot of passion. Part hippie-builder, part large-scale folk artist ... whatever you want to call him, the man is inspired in ways that we don't get to see all that often. Calling the spaces "wilderness shrines," Paulette digs the caves for lucky clients at a rate of $12 an hour; two of his creations (that he doesn't own) are now for sale for $795,000. He's not doing it for the money.

They are massive in scale and intricate in detail, some have power and water. Paulette sees them as environmental projects, built to help people "open up their feelings." And indeed, who wouldn't have some feelings when walking through a small hole in a mountain only to encounter a soaring, light-filled space that brings to mind a great Gothic cathedral? They bring to mind the carved cave homes and chapels of Cappadocia in Turkey, with a lot of added flourish.

CBS Sunday Morning took a tour of the caves with Paulette – you can see their unique beauty and listen to Paulette articulately talk about his work in the video below. But first, a slew of photos showing the subterranean splendors created by a man and his pick ax, and an enviable wealth of inspiration!

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