Dropping water levels from the drought in Mexico revealed something incredible

The Temple of Quechula is about the closest thing we have to a lost ruin of Atlantis.

Last month, a drought in Chiapas, Mexico, caused water levels in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir to drop over 80 feet — revealing a mid-16th century church long-buried beneath the surface. Photos of the spectacular structure went viral online, and residents and tourists alike recruited local fisherman to row them out to the ruin.

As the dam gates close and the reservoir fills to a normal level, locals expect the church to sink back to its watery grave soon.

Photographer Jack Nelson and his family recently visited the Temple of Quechula to catch one last glimpse at the living time capsule. Nelson shared his photos exclusively with Tech Insider. Here’s what happened on his maritime adventure.

There's a drought ravaging the Mexican state of Chiapas, and it's impossible to ignore.

Jack Nelson

When Jack Nelson and his family reached the village of Embarcadero Apic Pac, they were surprised to find the hill bone-dry. The water usually reaches the house atop.

Jack Nelson

They rented a boat and a pilot from the local fishing cooperative, and set out for the other side of the lake.

Jack Nelson

Nelson, a Rhode Island native who moved to Mexico in 1996, formerly ran a tour guide business in the area. He consulted his maps to estimate the church's location.

Courtesy of Jack Nelson

After a bit of searching, they found the church. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

Jack Nelson

As they approached, the beauty of the abandoned ruin took their breath away.

Jack Nelson

They tied the boat to the rubble and stepped onto the facade -- and into the past.

Jack Nelson

The Temple of Quechula was built by a group of monks who arrived in the region around the mid-16th century.

Jack Nelson

Led by Friar Bartolome de la Casas, the Spanish settlers were clearly inspired by the architecture they knew at home.

Jack Nelson
Angela Nelson Lopez and her father Jack Nelson.

On the other side of the facade, Nelson discovered two round, decrepit structures.

Jack Nelson

A small, partially submerged dome possibly covered a baptismal chapel, Nelson says. (He explored a number of old churches during his touring days.)

Jack Nelson

In front of it, a spiral staircase peeped above the water. Nelson guesses it led to the bell gable, or espadaƱa.

Jack Nelson

Nelson's daughter Angela dared climb inside.

Jack Nelson

The door to the possible baptismal chapel could be seen from inside the church.

Jack Nelson

After being submerged under 100 feet of water for nearly 50 years, the arch looked well preserved.

Jack Nelson

It's believed the builders had great expectations for the church, considering its proximity to King's Highway.

Jack Nelson

Source: Associated Press

But those ambitions fell flat.

Jack Nelson

Plague swept the area between 1773 and 1776, after explorers, settlers, and traders arrived in the New World spreading bacteria and viruses. The church was abandoned.

Jack Nelson

Source: IFL Science

Later, it was swallowed whole. The state erected a dam in 1966, which flooded the church and neighbouring ghost town.

Jack Nelson

The Temple of Quechula rose above water once before, in 2002, during an even more severe drought. Water levels were so low, you could walk across the church floor.

Jack Nelson

While the church's reappearance has been received as a 'silver lining' amidst the drought ...

Jack Nelson

It won't be here for long. Nelson suspects the dam gates have been closed, given the reservoir's rapid rise.

Jack Nelson

And here it stood during Nelson's visit.

Jack Nelson

Goodbye, silver lining.

Jack Nelson

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