Extreme Travel: 7 Stone & Salt Wonders of the Natural World

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These amazing, confounding, bizarre natural formations are sometimes difficult to access, but if you’re determined to see some of the world’s weirdest and most amazing places, they’re worth the effort. Some, like Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, are easy to visit even for the least adventurous tourists, while others require venturing deep into the desert. Here are 7 incredible stone and salt wonders of the natural world, from Utah to China.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

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This looks like it had to have been made by the hand of man, doesn’t it? But the interlocking basalt columns of The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland are an entirely naturally phenomenon, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Highly fluid molten basalt formed an extensive lava plateau sometime around 50 to 60 million years ago, and as it cooled, it contracted in a way similar to that of drying mud. That created cracks that left pillar-like structures. Local legend tells a different story, of course, imagining that it was part of a massive causeway across the North Channel so two giants could meet, hence the name. Located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, it’s a World Heritage Site and the most popular tourist attraction in the nation.

Sailing Stones, Death Valley, California

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These stones seem to be alive, mysteriously moving across the dry desert ground in Death Valley National Park’s Racetrack Playa. They leave tracks along the earth without the intervention of humans or animals, and the cause has never been confirmed. The stones move every two or three years and sometimes even turn over, leaving tracks that can measure hundreds of feet long. Strong sustained winds are thought to slowly push the stones across the thin layer of saturated clay on the surface, but no one has ever actually seen them move. Venture out into the unforgiving Death Valley to see for yourself if you’re brave (and hardy) enough to make the hike.

Stone Forest, China

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Stone pillars rise higher than the trees in China’s Stone Forest, a set of limestone formations located in Shilin. Many of the formations even resemble petrified trees, hence the name of the site. Caused by the dissolution of limestone, the stones are thought to be over 270 million years old and cover an area of about 96,000 acres. In addition to the above-ground stone forest, there’s a subterranean stone frost in Zhiyun Cave occupying about 720 acres.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

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The world’s largest salt flat at an astonishing 4,086 square miles can be found in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes mountain range. 11,995 feet above sea level, it’s an entirely flat crust of salt measuring up to ten feet in thickness on top of a pool of brine containing 50% to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves. The extraordinary flatness and uniform whiteness of this surreal space makes for some interesting optical illusion photographs. While it’s almost entirely devoid of wildlife and vegetation, it includes several islands hosting giant cacti, Andean foxes and rabbit-like viscachas. It’s also a breeding ground for three species of South American pink flamingos every November. The islands include fragile coral-like structures. The only other landmarks seen on the Salar de Uyuni are piles of salt.

Fairy Chimneys, Turkey

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Appropriately nicknamed ‘Fairy Chimneys,’ the stone formations of Cappadocia, Turkey are actually soft volcanic deposits created by the eruption of volcanoes 3 to 9 million years ago. The resulting pillar and minaret-like forms are often capped in such a way that makes them resemble mushrooms or fairy tale towers. The softness of the stone has encouraged inhabitants over the centuries to carve houses, churches and other structures into this highly unusual and almost alien landscape.

Valley of the Moon, Argentina

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Some of the world’s weirdest and most magnificent natural stone structures can be found within Argentina’s ‘Valley of the Moon,’ officially known as Ischigualasto Provincial Park. Covering about 153,000 acres, the park looks like the surface of a foreign planet, where the landscape has not changed since dinosaurs walked upon it millions of years ago. It’s not easy to get here, with access allowed only under the supervision of a park ranger – cars line up at the gate each day and a ranger takes them on a vehicle tour to view the magnificent moonscapes and Martian red rocks. Among the notable rock features that have been caved by the wind over millennia are a bed of perfectly round rocks, a ‘natural sphinx’ and a mushroom-like tower.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

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One of America’s most spectacularly beautiful places, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is home to a collection of massive natural amphitheaters made up of geological structures called ‘hoodoos.’ The structures were formed by erosion and dazzle in a vivid array of orange, yellow and red tones. Despite its beauty and size (covering nearly 36,000 acres) Bryce Canyon isn’t nearly as popular as other nearby national parks, mostly owing to its remote location. A scenic drive provides access to 13 viewpoints over the amphitheaters, however, and eight marked hiking trails offer a closer look.