Will wonders never cease? Probably not, Mother Earth has had 5 billion years to sculpt herself into spectacular splendor and it’s certain she’s not done yet. For now though, let’s take a little trip across the 7 continents to find our planet’s coolest natural wonders.
Landscape Arch, Utah, North America
The highlight of Devil’s Garden, a protected area of Arches Natural Park boasting an abundance – over 2,000! – spectacular natural sandstone arches, Landscape Arch soars 290 feet (88 meters) through Utah’s dry desert air. A fun fact about this arch: some say the signs for Landscape Arch and nearby Delicate Arch were accidentally switched. It may be so – the former is visibly more “delicate” than the latter.
(image via: ADDI)
Carved incrementally over untold thousands of years by windblown sand and rare desert rainstorms, Landscape Arch is an ever-evolving testament to the inexorable pace of geologic change – which has its darker side. Visitors to Arches Natural Park should tread easy when observing Landscape Arch as recent rock falls from its underside raise questions as to how much longer this amazing natural wonder will exist to be appreciated.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, South America
The Salar de Uyuni is a dried salt lake lying 10,000 feet high in Bolivia’s Andes Mountains that is 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA. An estimated 10 billion tons of salt attest to the size of ancient Lake Minchin, now mostly evaporated into the dry mountain air. Salt isn’t the Salar de Uyuni’s main claim to fame, however. When the rains do come, the salt flat becomes the world’s largest natural mirror!
(image via: XRV)
The shallowness of the standing water combined with the stillness of the thin mountain air can disconcert visitors suddenly forced to wonder which way is up. Despite its remoteness, Salar de Uyuni plays host to a significant number of tourists who can stay at a Salt Hotel. This is one place you don’t want to forget to bring your camera – or remove the lens cap when you start snapping away!
Eye of the Sahara, Mauritania, Africa
Also known as the Richat Structure, this eerie, eye-like outcrop in the western reaches of the Sahara was virtually unknown until the Space Age when orbiting astronauts spied what appeared to be a huge eye staring back at them! At first thought to be a meteor crater, the 30-mile (50 km) wide feature may actually be nothing more exciting than an eroded rock outcrop.
Whatever it is, the Richat Structure has caught the imagination of artists, environmentalists and naturalists who see the gigantic “eye” as a symbol of our living planet and its ongoing ability to shock, surprise and amaze its very recent tenants, humanity.
The Gateway To Hell, Námaskarð, Iceland
(image via: Hottnez)
It may be called The Gateway To Hell, but Námaskarð is simply heavenly to those who seek the unearthly while still staying on Earth.
(image via: Hottnez)
Iceland is one of the world’s most volcanically active countries, which seems ironic considering its chilly name. One of the most powerful and wide-ranging volcanic events in modern history, the 1783 eruption of the Laki volcanic system, caused the deaths by famine of up to 25 percent of Iceland’s population and the loss of most of the island’s livestock. Things are calmer nowadays… enjoy Iceland’s wonders but keep your options (and travel arrangements) open!
Reed Flute Cave, Guilin, China
The magnificent underground cave system traditionally called Reed Flute Cave and known today as the Palace of Natural Art lies beneath the city of Guilin, China, and is over 750 feet (240 meters) long. The first recorded visits to the cave took place over 1,000 years ago during China’s Tang Dynasty. Artificial lighting is used to enhance the stunning rock formations in the cave, which has been officially open for visitors since 1962.
(image via: UNI Study Abroad)
One of the largest parts of the cave system is the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, which can hold up to 1,000 people and was used as an air raid shelter during World War II. The grotto features a solitary stalagmite that resembles a human being – it’s said that a visiting poet attempted to write about the beauty that greeted his eyes but took so long to find the right words he turned to stone.
The Devil’s Marbles, Northern Territory, Australia
Known as Karlu Karlu to Australia’s aboriginal people and one of their most sacred sites, The Devil’s Marbles are huge blocks of 1.7 billion year old granite rounded by countless centuries of weathering. Wind, water, temperature and sunlight conspire to erode and, on occasion, split the massive ovoids which sit, individually or in groups, in a desolate Outback valley.
(image via: University of Michigan)
As can be seen above, some of the Devil’s Marbles are of a staggering size… which gives one a hint as to the proportions of ‘ol Satan himself!
Ice Towers of Mount Erebus, Antarctica
Hundreds of ice towers stud the flanks of 12,500ft. high Mount Erebus like day-old stubble on the face of a giant. The constantly active volcano is perhaps the only place in Antarctica where fire and ice meet, mingle and create something unique encompassing both their natures. The towers can be as much as 60 feet (20 meters) high and look almost alive as they huff and puff streamers of steam into the south polar sky. Some of the volcanic steam freezes onto the inner part of the towers, expanding and extending them.
(image via: Life In The Fast Lane)
If Antarctica’s ice towers look otherworldly, it’s no accident – similar structures may exist on Mars and the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. Of course, those interplanetary ice towers don’t have penguins (or something like them) idly surveying the scene… of course they don’t.