One of the most compelling aspects of planet Earth is its variety. From icy masses to humid jungles, arid deserts, and jagged mountain peaks, there's a staggering array of natural wonders to enjoy. Along with the overwhelming beauty, however, also comes the occasional anomaly like an unusual rock formation or an unexpected landscape. When we stumble across something strange and hard to classify, it’s easy to be left curious and very much in awe. That is certainly the case for the natural wonders we've highlighted below.
Cano Cristales, Colombia
For most of the year, this remote body of water looks just like any other. Between September and November, however, when the water levels and sunlight are just right, a delicate, unique species of plant called Macarenia clavigera blossoms and transforms this 62-mile river into a liquid rainbow. Much of the water looks as though it’s been stained red, but patches of yellow, orange, blue and green burst from the swirling depths as well.
Rainbow Mountains, China
Earth’s landscapes are often altered by forces that are both powerful and destructive. In the case of the Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, those destructive forces brought about something exquisite. An ancient collision of tectonic plates sent miles of colorful sandstone and minerals buckling upward. Subsequent weathering and erosion exposed several other layers of colored rock that contribute to the colorful palette visitors see today.
Spotted Lake, British Columbia
This desert lake’s mineral rich water evaporates every summer, leaving behind a path of salt crystals and hundreds of briny polka dot pools in varying shades of green, yellow and brown. While it may be tempting to jump right in, the lake is located on private property and has been considered a sacred religious spot by Canada’s Okanagan First Nations people for years. Unless you’ve received special permission, enjoy the view from a distance.
Cave of Crystals, Mexico
Thirty feet long and a meter thick in some spots, these gypsum crystals matured in an extremely hot and humid environment for thousands of years before being accidentally discovered in 2000. The crystals are in an active lead and silver mine above a magma intrusion so visitors aren’t typically allowed in. The few who do manage to gain access come back sweaty and tired from an arduous underground trek, but with the knowledge that they've witnessed something quite incredible.
Fly Geyser, Nevada
While this feature wasn’t formed entirely by nature, it’s simply too weird to be left off our list. The many-hued, bulbous formation was created when thermal waters from a well, dug by a geothermic energy company, burst through a manufactured seal up to the earth’s surface. Minerals deposited on the top cause continual growth while thermophilic algae, which thrives in the hot, moist environment, gives the whole structure an almost other-worldly color.
Lake Hillier, Australia
How this saline lake gets its color is a bit of a mystery, but that doesn’t keep tourists from taking helicopter rides over Middle Island to gawk at its bubble-gum pink hue. Unlike other strangely-colored water, Hillier remains steadfastly pink all-year round, giving visitors a consistently photogenic view of the lake which is surrounded by dense eucalyptus forest and the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
We know Taylor Glacier doesn’t actually spew blood, but the iron oxide that stains the salty water certainly puts on a convincing imitation. The existence of the falls and the briny water is a solid indication that despite Antarctica’s extreme temperatures and dry climate, there could be an entire world of microbial life underground.
Salar de Uyuni, Boliva
During Bolivia’s wet season, the world’s largest salt flat is transformed into a gigantic reflection pool whose shallow waters mimic the sky so perfectly is appears as though the landscape stretches on to infinity. If there’s ever been a time to lose sleep over a stargazing session, this is it.
Marble Caves, Chile
The casual tourist will probably never see Chile's marble caves as they require a 1,000 mile flight, a 200 mile drive down a dirt road and a boat ride across South America's second largest freshwater lake. But those travelers drawn to adventure won't be disappointed by the extra effort necessary to get there. Expect to leave captivated by the caves' elegant curves and blue innards.
Lencois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
The northern coast of Brazil displays one of the world’s most extreme contrasts in climate. Hundreds of watery pools nestled between miles of perfectly sculpted white sand dunes make for a rather unexpected sight. Spend the afternoon with a picnic on the sand followed by a dip in the crystal clear blue waters. It's an upgraded version of beach day.