1. The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
According to legend, the Irish giant Fionn was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner and built the causeway so the two could fight.
The causeway was formed 50 to 60 million years ago from cooling lava which caused contraction. The cooling lava caused cracks similar to the way mud dries. As pieces slowly fell away, what remained is the pillar-like structures that exist today. In total there are about 40,000 individual hexagonal columns that form stepping stones out of the sea up to the base of the coastal cliffs.
Today, the Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination. Access is free to the public, so next time you find yourself in Northern Ireland, be sure to go walk amongst the legendary columns.
2. Thor’s Well, Oregon, USA
With nickname’s like, “Gate to Hell” and “Drainpipe of the Pacific”, it might not come as a surprise that this region was discovered by none other than Captain James Cook.
Many academics speculate that Thor’s Well began as a sea cave that eventually had its rough collapse. The area around Thor’s Well is home to several other crazy water features with colorful names like the Devil’s Churn and the Spouting Horn. The whole area is protected by the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. The scenic coastline with endless tide pools is a great place to bring the kids, just make sure to be careful around high tide or if there’s any possibility of winter storms.
3. Socotra Island, Yemen
A team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the island’s plants and flowers. In 1990, the counted almost 700 species that exist nowhere else on earth. This makes Socotra the 5th most unique place in the world by endemic species and is considered the crown jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. Only New Zealand, Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands have more endemic species.
The island has a long and storied history. Archaeologists have uncovered stone tools here that date from at least 1.7 million years ago. Over the past 2,000 years, control of the island has changed hands several times, but now is part of the country of Yemen. The entire island is protected as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The landscape is made up of towering mountains, deep caves and canyons, and coastal plains, providing ample opportunities for uniqe species to take root.
4. Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island, the Philippines
Legend tells the story of two fighting giants (sound familiar?) who hurled rocks and boulders at each other for days. Finally, the pair grew so tired they forgot about their feud and became friends. In their new-found friendship, they forgot to clean up the mess they made and the Chocolate Hills were born.
In reality, the Chocolate Hills are actually made of grass-covered limestone. During the dry season when the grasses die, the hills turn shades of brown, hence the chocolate name. They also are home to several caves and springs created by erosion of the limestone from rainwater. All in all, there are somewhere between 1,200 and 1,800 Chocolate Hills in the Bohol Province of the Phillippines.
5. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
The formal name for these rock structures are Hoodoos. They are formed when harder rock is deposited on top of softer rock which erodes below it. The remaining columns can take millions of years to form and take on bizarre shapes.
In 2013, several Boy Scout troop leaders found themselves in hot water after they intentionally knocked over one of the structures. They claimed it looked ready to fall, but the rate of erosion for one of these structures is 2 feet every 100,000,000 years. While these structures are found all across the American Southwest, they take millions of years to form, so the ones we have are the ones we’ve got. If you’re planning on paying a visit to see hoodoos in the desert, make sure to be respectful of these fragile formations.
6. Fly Geyser, Nevada
Geysers form when hot magma from deep within the Earth bubbles up to the surface and superheats groundwater. When the boiling water has nowhere to go but up, it erupts from the ground as a geyser. The structure is covered by thermophilic algae which thrives off the hot water and gives the geyser it’s signature hues of red and green.
The Fly Ranch, where the Fly Geyser sits, is owned by none other than The Burning Man Project. In June, 2016, the non-profit purchased the land for $6.5 million.
7. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar De Uyuni is the world largest salt flat, spanning just over 4,000 square miles in Southwest Bolivia. It is nicknamed the Mirror of God for multiple reasons, primarily allowing people who experience it to voyage into their creative consciousness.
The flats, which can easily be seen from space, turn into an otherworldly scene after it rains. When the air is calm and the plain is flooded with rainwater the ground becomes a reflection of the sky and it feels as if you’re walking amongst the clouds.
8. Spotted Lake (Khliluk), British Columbia, Canada
Khliluk is an endoheric basin which forms the highly acidic alkaline spotted lake. The lake has been used by the first nations of British Columbia, like the Okanagan Syilx people, for traditional medicine for centuries.
During World War I, the minerals of this lake were used in manufacturing ammunition. Today, the lake is a popular tourist destination. The waters of the lake mostly evaporate during the dry summer months, leaving pools of water rich in minerals such as magnesium sulfate, calcium and sodium sulphates, which form the “walkways” around the circular pools of water.
9. Dead Vlei, Namibia
Dead Vlei appropriately translates to “dead marsh”. It is surrounded by the tallest sand dunes in the world, with some reaching over 400 meters (over 1300 ft). Dead Vlei is a clay pan which formed when a nearby river flooded, leaving pools of standing water which allowed camel thorn trees to grow.
In the years following, intense drought struck the area and the pools of water dried up. Sand dunes encroached on the pan and surrounded it with high walls, leaving it cut off completely from the river. Today, all we see are the dead skeletons of a once lush oasis in the middle of the Namib Desert.
10. The Silfra Rift, Iceland
This rift formed on the boundary of two tectonic plates (the North American and Eurasian Plates). As the plates move apart from each other, a fissure has opened in the Earth creating the landscape we see today. The rift crosses the entire island of Iceland, but some of the most beautiful scenery is located in a lake in the Pingvellir National Park.
The Silfra Ridge is filled with crystal clear water from underground as well as meltwater from a nearby glacier, one of the largest in Iceland. The lake is a popular destination for scuba divers, who can brag that they swam between two tectonic plates which are separating from each other at the rate of about 2cm per year.