Was there really a time when the Earth was ruled by giants and dragons, working their sorcery on the land, fighting for supremacy and leaving such a mess behind? Could aliens have visited these realms and exploited them for some cunning purposes? Sure, scientists did manage to find plausible explanations for the world’s unearthly landscapes. And yet, they have failed to come up with an acceptable cause for their perfect symmetry, intricate color palettes, and striking resemblance to man-made, or perhaps alien-made structures. Bathed in legends and mystery, who can say for sure how much is owed to fiction, and how much to actual facts? After all, there are only specks of evidence to how the world looked like millions of years ago.
There are unique places on the planet that simply do not fit in. We no longer have to dream of traveling to the Moon or Mars. Unearthly and awe-inspiring, these psychedelic landscapes seem straight from outer space, some surrealist painting or a Sci-Fi movie. Notwithstanding, they have given birth to stunning scenic locations, some vividly colored, others as dead as they can be, and yet exceedingly beautiful. They are the supreme proof that Mother Nature’s imagination exceeds our own.
10. Pu’u O’o Volcano in Hawaii
It became famous when it was dubbed the longest continuous volcanic eruption on the planet and the most active volcano of the past five centuries. Since 1983, it erupted uninterruptedly, pouring one cubic mile of lava, covering 49 square miles of land, and destroying 214 buildings. At times, lava was thrown up to 1,500 feet into the air, putting on quite a show. Three years after its first eruption, the lava flow reached the waters of the ocean, some 10 miles from the crater, forming numerous lava tubes and impressing clouds of steam rising high above the ground. The most destructive eruption was recorded in 1990, when two settlements were covered in lava, destroying over 100 homes. Hawaiian legends talk about the goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes, Pele, who used her magic wand to open the volcano’s mouth. The name O’o actually refers to this instrument with supernatural powers. Despite the constant threat it poses, the volcano continues to fascinate researchers and attracts numerous tourists and thrill seekers looking to have a glimpse at what looks like a boiling primordial soup getting ready to knead new realms. After all, such a rare and magnificent sight is not something to be encountered every day. The youngest volcano on the Big Island, Pu’u O’o shows no sign of stopping or slowing down in the near future.
9. The Chocolate Hills in the Philippines
They are colored just like everyone’s favorite dessert. Unfortunately, the Chocolate Hills are not edible. They are not giant mole hills either. They do however have a fudge-like appearance that can easily make most of us crave for truffles. Like perfect cones, the Chocolate Hills as they have been suggestively nicknamed, are among the strangest and rarest geological phenomenons on Earth. Covering a surface of over 30 square miles on Bohol, the tenth largest island in the Philippines, there are precisely 1,268 such hills, with heights varying between 100 to 400 feet. Formed some 2.5 billion years ago, there are several theories concerning their birth. One would be that they are the result of tectonic activity moving and elevating the limestone deposits on the seabed that once bathed our world. And still, no one can explain their perfect symmetry. Covered in vegetation, during the dry season and extended periods of drought the hills gain a chocolate-brown shade. According to legend, the cones were formed long ago, when two giants fought on these lands, throwing stones and piles of sand at each other for days in a row, leaving quite a mess behind.
8. Tianzi Mountain in China
Unbelievably tall and thin, it’s curious how they haven’t collapsed yet, as they seem to keep their balance just like ballerinas on their pointe shoes. If they look familiar, it’s because they were the inspiration behind the floating mountains on the planet of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar. And they do indeed send us away thinking of places where nature still lives at peace with man and all living things. Tianzi Mountain in Zhangjijie in the Hunan Province of China was formed underwater some 380 million years ago. Water patiently carved into the soft sandstone, leaving only the solid rock in the middle still standing like pointy towers, thus giving birth to around 3,000 of these majestic structures, giant and imposing pillars, some rising 4,000 feet above sea level, peaking out through the mist and fog like mysterious sentinels. Tianzi means “Son of Heaven.” An unearthly name for for an unearthly place. Also known as “The Monarch of the Peak Forest,” Tianzi stretches over 16,550 acres of land. Thousands of artistically shaped peaks, each standing taller than the other, these old weathered quartz sandstone spires with their tops covered in pine trees delight the eye with a dramatic landscape of massive blocks, obelisks, and towers just waiting for our avatars to explore them.
7. Naigu Stone Forest in China
Covering a surface of 310,000 square miles, China’s stone forest spans over the provinces of Guangxi, Yunnan, and Guizhou. The Naigu Stone Forest in Shilin, in the Yunnan province is the most spectacular part, as it boasts various shapes and intricate colors. Also known as the Black Stone Forest, or simply Shilin due to its proximity to the namesake city, these striking limestone formations raise straight from the ground like calcified trees, creating the unique illusion of a stone forest or a petrified stormy sea. According to legend, the inhospitable place is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful girl who fell in love with a man she was not allowed to marry. Suffering tremendously, she turned to stone together with the entire forest around her. Formed by the dissolution of limestone some 270 million years ago, the karst landscape puts on a mysterious atmosphere, as dark shadows fall over these unearthly spikes, towers, blocks, and columns, the highest of which rise 130 feet, resembling animals, portals, and mushrooms, with lakes, caves, and underground streams. Naigu actually means “ancient and black,” a suggestive name for one of the world’s most mysterious places.
6. Wadi Rum in Jordan
It’s pretty obvious why they called it the Valley of the Moon. Made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum is a rosy desert in southern Jordan, sprinkled with high and pointy cliffs, and with long valley floors dotted with unique sandstone formations: towering cliffs, natural arches, ramps, caverns, and impressive landslides. A UNESCO mixed natural and cultural site, the narrow gorges of Wadi Rum stand as witnesses to more than 12,000 years of human occupation, with over 25,000 rock carvings and 154 archeological sites offering an insight into the evolution of pastoral and agricultural activity in the area. Homeland of the Beduins, with their large goat-hair tents that are already a signature feature in the area, Wadi Rum is also a coveted rock climbing destination, as thrill seekers travel here to challenge these lonely peaks on the most difficult routes. An awe-inspiring vivid mixture of red sand and black basalt, Wadi Rum is the home of the famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom. While most believe that T.E. Lawrence’s novel was named after the striking sandstone formation, it is actually the other way around. It is only these past 10 years that the denomination began to be accepted, and when counting the pillars carefully, we find there are only six of them.
5. Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania
To the south of Tasmania, a narrow sand isthmus connects the Tasman Peninsula to the mainland. Eaglehawk Neck is famous for two reasons. The first would be that it is the eloquent example of an extremely rare geological phenomenon, the Tessellated Pavement. Due to erosion and rock fragmentation caused by the movement of tectonic plates, the ground looks as if made of hundreds of geometrically perfect tiles, very similar to artificial paving.
The other reason would be that Eaglehawk Neck tells the macabre story of the world’s first dog-guarded prison. The dogs were deliberately starved so that they would become violent. The narrow stretch of land was the only gate to freedom for the British inmates of Port Arthur. Prisoners would have to walk a distance of 1,300 feet on the 100 feet wide isthmus. Beside the guards, they had to get past nine ferocious dogs chained at equal distances one from another, so that they could not reach each other, but could easily grab anyone passing through. Prisoners would have found themselves exposed. Plus, numerous legends of waters swarming with sharks prevented inmates from venturing into the ocean. Throughout the prison’s history, only three men managed to escape, back in 1842. One of them was the infamous Martin Cash.
4. Lake Hillier in Australia
It is not a giant bubblegum, nor a strawberry milkshake. It is just a lake on Australia’s Middle Island. It does however looks as if a strange substance somehow spilled and turned it pink. Almost 2,000 feet long, Lake Hillier is separated from the ocean by a narrow strip of land, and is surrounded by a rim of white sand and dense woodlands that contrast amazingly with the strangely colored water we’re pretty sure aliens would love to bathe in.
There are other pink lakes in the world, and their origins have been explained. But in this particular case, it remains uncertain where the color of the lake derives from. It has been proven that the color is not a trick of light, as the pink remains quite vibrant even when taking water out of the lake. Most plausible theories refer to a dye created by microorganisms like bacteria and algae living in the lake and its salt crusts. What is sure is that the water poses no danger to humans. How exactly the pink water came to be remains a mystery.
3. The White Desert in Sahara
Millions of years ago, when the dunes of Sahara were bathed in the waters of the ocean, massive chalk deposits piled up on the seabed, kneading strange limestone formations. When the waters receded, the winds shaped the randomly scattered chalk into unusual forms, making the desert today seem guarded by gigantic white mushrooms. Sahara el Beyda, as the locals call it, or simply the White Desert in the vicinity of Farafra Oasis in the Lybian Desert, is home to a unique geological phenomenon. Strange white and cream colored soft chalk figures continue to change under the wind’s chisels.
Farafra oasis is one of the smallest and most remote settlements in Egypt, counting no more than 4,000 inhabitants and 120 miles to the nearest settlement. Nevertheless, numerous tourists visit the place each year, passing it by while on the so-called Western Circuit. One of the many legends revolving around these places is related to the mysterious disappearance of Cambyses’ army, the Persian king who conquered Egypt in the 6th century BC. Could these lone sentinels be the petrified soldiers of his army?
2. Deadvlei in Namibia
Don’t let yourself be fooled. It is not a surrealist painting, and you can rest assured that there are no trees growing on Mars. It is nothing more than the fascinating work of nature. Charcoal-black, sun-scorched trees stand loftily on the background of the world’s highest sand dunes. Once upon a time, a river passed through Deadvlei. In time, the river dried, leaving an arid and lifeless place behind. The tree skeletons are all that remains from the once rich forest, a reminder that the world around us can change in a split second. Dead Vlei means dead marsh or lake. They couldn’t have come up with a better name for the place. The huge graveyard of over 900 years old trees, still standing tall like sentinels in the barren desert, and yet very much dead, although devoid of life, is immeasurably beautiful. Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia is home to some of the highest sand dunes in the world, some reaching 1,312 feet in height. Trees in the desert are highly unusual. But this surrealistic landscape is truly something else. With their twisted and contorted branches, these hundreds of dead Acacia trees were completely mummified, as the conditions did not allow the wood to decompose, and instead became petrified.
1. Eye of Sahara
The Moon’s craters seem to have moved a little closer. In the middle of the Sahara Desert to be more exact. The Richat Structure in Mauritania, commonly known as the Eye of Sahara or the Eye of Africa, continues to fascinate researchers and scientists from all corners of the world. Dubbed one of the world’s greatest mysteries, the gigantic, highly symmetrical eroded bowl was first spotted by astronauts by accident, while taking photos of the desert, and implicitly of the crater, from outer space.
At first, everyone believed that the unusual geological formation was the site of a meteorite impact, mainly due to its enormous size – over 30 miles in diameter. Others speculated it might be the product of volcanic activity. Researchers finally came to the unequivocal conclusion that the Richat Structure is the result of a natural phenomenon, more precisely a mountainous dome-shaped elevation that had been exposed to wind erosion, carved in time by Mother Nature herself. However, they could not explain what makes the rings equidistant to the center. The Earth’s bull’s eye remains a mystery, with numerous myths and hypotheses revolving around it, one of the most intriguing being that the deeply eroded structure has a striking resemblance to Plato’s representation of Atlantis.