Better Look Twice

Your Eyes Aren’t Deceiving You…These Weird Natural Wonders Are Real

The world can be a really strange place, but no more so than when you stumble upon natural wonders that are so fantastic, you think they must be fake.

The Cave of Crystals

Mexico


Mother Nature hid the largest crystals in the world nearly 1,000 feet below Naica Mountain, in the northwest region of Chihuahua, Mexico. The hidden caves were drained in 1975 but miners only unearthed these milky-white selenite crystals—spires of gypsum as long as flagpoles—in 2000. Though they may look icy, the mega crystals are forged in extreme heat, up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and were developed in mineral-rich water over a period of 500,000 years. Researchers can only enter the cave for short periods of time, and there are plans to re-flood it to preserve the crystals.

Pamukkale

Turkey

 

Pamukkale, which translates to “Cotton Castle,” is a striking white landscape created by mineral deposits in thermal waters, which have hardened to form limestone terraces and pools. Once a thermal spa in the second century B.C., the pools of Pamukkale have quieted a bit since their designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The Wave

Utah and Arizona


This awe-inspiring rock wave in shades of ochre and crimson unfolds through the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the border of Utah and Arizona. First water, then wind eroded the Navajo sandstone, revealing layers of sand that blew through the area during the Jurassic period. Access to “the wave” is heavily restricted; the Bureau of Land Management hands out only ++20 permits++ [https://www.blm.gov/az/paria/obtainpermits.cfm?usearea=CB] to the Coyote Buttes region a day.

Fairy Chimneys

Turkey


On the central Anatolia plateau in the Göreme Valley, these towering structures born of lava stand 130 feet high. They’ve been whittled down by erosion, with a base of soft tufa rock and mushroom-like caps made of tougher stuff. Since the fourth century A.D., humans have excavated the pillars to form dwellings, which now include boutique fairy-chimney hotels.

Herve el Agua

Mexico


From afar, Oaxaca’s Hierve el Agua looks like foaming water cascading over the cliffs. But up close, you’ll see two waterfalls, Cascada Grande and Chica, frozen in place. In fact, the white stuff is hardened calcium carbonate that once flowed down from the thermal waters on top of the cliff.


Fingal’s Cave

Scotland


Reminiscent of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and just across the sea in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa boasts the same hexagonal basalt columns, but houses them in a cathedral-like sea cave with shimmering turquoise water. Not convinced Fingal’s Cave is superior? German composer Mendelssohn wrote an overture inspired by the acoustics he heard on his visit.

Socotra

Yemen


Marooned in the Indian Ocean, this isolated archipelago of four islands claims hundreds of unique species and is well known for its alien landscape. If you think the shape of this Dracaena cinnabari tree is weird, wait until you find out that its name translates to “dragon’s blood tree” thanks to its red sap, which is traditionally used as a dye.

Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area

China 


Once a remote and inaccessible part of China’s Hunan Province, this UNESCO World Heritage site is now a tourist attraction, drawing visitors with its 3,000–plus sandstone pillars spread out over 100 square miles. Some towers are more than half the height of the Empire State Building—natural skyscrapers rising high above rivers and ravines.

Wave Rock

Australia


Like a 46-foot-high cresting wave that’s never going to break, this odd rock formation in Hyden Wildlife Park is a popular photo stop on trips to western Australia. (Travelers tend to assume the surfer pose for pictures.) The wave was formed by the erosion of softer material at the bottom of the ancient granite dome, and the vertical stripes are the result of rain washing chemicals down its face.


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