Ever played the game of Twister on water? The green, yellow, and brown polka dots that form on British Columbia’s Spotted Lake each summer make it look like you could.It’s a far cry from the stereotypical landscapes of clear blue lakes, rolling green hills, and white-sand beaches that inspire most travellers—and that’s part of what makes strange natural wonders like Spotted Lake so thrilling.
A recently discovered cave that grows crystals the size of four-story buildings, a lake the colour of a strawberry milkshake, and a glacier that seems to bleed sound like they’re from another planet, but can be seen right here on earth, and they remind us that there’s plenty of mystery left to explore.
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For billions of years, our planet has been a work in progress. Wind, water, pressure, minerals, heat, and lesser-understood forces mould and shape our environment, carving out caves and canyons, flooding and drying lakes, shaping mountains, shifting shorelines, moving the ground beneath our feet, and creating all manner of strange formations.
Long before scientists were able to offer explanations for the world’s more curious natural achievements, locals have been coming up with their own ideas. Māori legend says the enormous boulders found on New Zealand’s Moeraki Beach are the washed-ashore gourds and sweet potatoes from the wreck of a mythological canoe, while Irish folklore attributes the creation of the Giant’s Causeway to a quarrel that spanned across the sea to Scotland.
Such bizarre formations are, in fact, the result of time and pressure working against soil and rock, an often slow and methodical process that yields showstopping results. Others are the result of a sudden dramatic shift in conditions. Together, they caution us, as author Will Durant wrote in the January 1946 edition of Ladies Home Journal, that “civilisation exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”
Seeing is believing, so take our tour of the strangest natural wonders—and keep an eye out for what the powerful planetary forces may do next.
This story was originally published by Travel + Leisure
Six thousand years of wave erosion created the undulating patterns that give these caves their marbleized effect, enhanced by the reflection of the blue and green water of Carrera Lake, near Chile's border with Argentina.
Although the area is threatened by a plan to build a dam nearby, for now, visitors can kayak throughout the caves on days when the waters are calm.
It looks as if someone poured a giant bottle of Pepto-Bismol into Lake Retba--that's how deeply pink these waters are.
The colour is actually caused by a particular kind of algae called Dunaliella salina that produces a pigment. The salt content is extremely high, reaching 40 per cent in some spots and allowing the algae to thrive (and swimmers to float effortlessly on the surface of the 10-foot-deep lake).
Blinding white piles of salt line the shores, and locals work several hours a day harvesting salt from the bright pink water.
Legend has it that the Asbyrgi Canyon in northern Iceland was created when the hoof of a Norse god's horse touched the earth, slicing through 300-foot-tall cliffs and flattening an area just over two miles long and more than a half mile wide.
The likelier scientific explanation is that two periods of glacial flooding carved the canyon between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. But standing atop the cliffs, with the green carpet of the horseshoe-shaped canyon spread before you, it's fun to imagine otherwise.
When a prehistoric lake dried up about 30,000 years ago, it left an endless expanse of white hexagonal tiles that stretch to the horizon.
Welcome to the world's largest salt flat, stretching for 4,000 square miles--25 times the size of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. The site provides more than 25,000 tons of salt per year to local miners, supports a thriving community of thousands of flamingos, and attracts tourists who can check into the Palacio de Sal, a 16-room hotel made entirely from salt blocks.
Bulbous white rocks in strange shapes and sizes rise from the desert about 28 miles north of the town of Farafra in western Egypt--a cluster of mushrooms here, a herd of half-melted snowmen over there. Their appearance isn't due to some avant-garde stone sculptor, but rather thanks to the wind. When the ancient sea that once covered the land dried up, the remaining sediment layer began to break down. The softer spots crumbled away, and over time, powerful sandstorms shaped the harder rocks into their current forms.
The spherical stones that line New Zealand's Moeraki Beach reach up to seven feet in diameter and have been compared to everything from the marbles of giants to colossal dinosaur eggs to half-submerged prehistoric turtles, ready to stand up and shake off the sand at any moment.
They're actually concretions, masses of compacted sediment formed below ground more than 50 million years ago. As the sand that surrounds them erodes, they seem to rise to the surface as if pushed up from the centre of the earth. The stones are also found on Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino, CA, as well as elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada and Russia.
Folks make the journey into central Colombia's Serranéa de la Macarena national park to see why Caño Cristales has inspired nicknames like the River of Five colours, the Liquid Rainbow, and even the Most Beautiful River in the World.
It's important to get the timing right: when the water reaches the perfect levels (usually between July and December), it becomes a kaleidoscope of pink, green, blue, and yellow as a plant called the Macarenia clavigera, which lives on the river floor, gets the sun it needs to bloom into an explosion of colours.
This enormous depression, circular in shape and stretching 25 miles wide, is like a bull's-eye mark in the middle of an otherwise flat and featureless area of Mauritania desert. Visible from space, it has been a landmark for astronauts since the earliest missions. The Eye isn't the result of any target practice by aliens; rather, it formed as winds eroded the different layers of sediment, quartzite, and other rocks at varying depths.
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