Have you ever been amazed that even on Earth, you can find some epically extraterrestrial landscapes? The shifting plates, combined with the relentless forces of wind, water and time have sculpted and designed some of the most incredible, unimaginable natural wonders. No matter what continent you find yourself on, there is sure to be a natural wonder to gaze upon in awe. Here are just a few of the most spectacular:
Fairy Chimneys – Turkey
When magma erupted from the earth thousands of years ago over present day Cappadocia, the lava cooled to form tuff rock. Over the ages weathered by relentless sandy winds and pelting rain, nature carved the iconic “fairy chimneys,” or hoodoos that you see today. Since then, these soft stone pillars have been used as residences, monastic complexes and churches, refuge during times of war, and presently, even as hotels. This land is full of both geologic splendor and historic mystic and is a must-see from above or below.
The Great Blue Hole – Belize
The largest sea hole in the world, Belize is a premier destination for scuba divers and snorkel enthusiasts. The circular vent has some of the clearest and bluest waters you can imagine, encircled by thriving coral reefs teeming with sea life. The water surrounding the sapphire chasm is about 40 feet deep, but within, it sinks down well past 400 feet. It is so deep in fact, that the bottom hasn’t seen sunlight since the end of the last ice age. But you can see both sunlight and the depths in a single day – as the hole is only about 62 miles from the mainland near Belize City. There are several scuba schools and tours along the coast that can take you out to the sinkhole with a guide.
Stone Forest – China
Not only does this region boast warm weather nearly year-round, but is offers visitors an iconic and powerful look at the landscape. The stone forests are some of the most interesting and unique aspects of this region’s geography, known by the Ming Dynasty as the “first wonder of the world.” Tourists can make a trip out to the Stone Forests in a single day, but be sure to visit all three: Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone Forest and Naigu Stone Forest. The limestone pillars you see throughout the 96,000 acres were deposited by the sea millions of years ago, uplifted by earthquakes and tectonic events before the wind and running water sculpted the "trees."
Rainbow Mountains – Peru
As Earth was maturing and evolving, great oceans deposited layer upon layer of sandstone across this region in South America. As millennia went by, the mineral content of that sandstone changed from one era to the next. When tectonic turmoil upheaved those layers, something absolutely magical was created: the rainbow mountains. Just outside the town of Vinicunca, this area can be hiked to and you are going to want to spend some time soaking in the strange and stunning scenery. The vibrant mountains look as though they were painted with a brush – brightly colored stripes running parallel across the ridges, hills and valleys creating a spectacular and wholly otherworldy landscape.
Hoodoos – Utah, USA
The “hoodoos” of Bryce Canyon are tall, thin spires of limestone, siltstone, and dolomite standing ominously and vigilantly over the desert of Moab. When the Colorado Plateau was raised, the Paria River began snaking through the area, chiseling out the Dr. Seuss-looking canyon. Nowhere on Earth are hoodoos as plentiful and widespread as they are through this region of Utah. During the Wild West, the area was used by bandits and vagrants to hide from the law. Today it is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking to get lost in a natural labyrinth of stony sculptures.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – Arizona, USA
Like Bryce Canyon, these cliffs are also part of the ancient Colorado Plateau, and extend from Page a considerable distance through both Arizona and Utah. Swirling sandstone formations that were created by silt deposits and petrified sand dunes, they have been vibrantly colored by iron oxide (rust) over the years. Throughout history these spectacular cliffs were an important stretch along the settler’s route as the pioneers migrated westward. The cliffs are full of strange geologic features like The Wave (pictured) and Coyote Buttes.
Cave of the Crystals – Mexico
We have only explored a small fraction of the caverns and caves that exist on Earth, so it's mind-boggling to think how many more could exist below ground. The Cave of the Crystals are a surreal subterranean cavity that include some of the largest natural crystals ever found on Earth in Naica, the largest ringing in at 39 feet wide and weighing approximately 55 tons. You have to be a pretty experienced caver or spelunker to reach these depths, as the unbearably high humidity and heat in the Earth's core are surefire deterrents. Don't fret though, there are numerous other caves in the region full of natural crystals in various sizes and color that are easier to access. The cave and its contents look like they’re from another world entirely – and in a sense they are: from the largely unexplored world below the surface.