Science, Now + Beyond

10 mind-blowing natural sites you absolutely have to see before you die

From touristic destinations to hidden treasures, these places will blow your mind.

We usually hear about the “usual” wonders of the Earth, but what about these lesser known treasures? I find it hard to believe that I didn’t know about any of these, especially since some of them are so close to places I’ve been to.

This list includes colorful bodies of water, interesting geothermal spots, and other unexpected phenomenons of our planet explained by science. Without further a do, here are some of the coolest places on Earth.

1. A relatively new Icelandic island

Off the southern coast of Iceland lies Surtsey, an island that was created roughly 50 years ago with the eruption of a volcano 130 meters below sea level. The eruption lasted around four years (from November 14, 1963 to June 5, 1967) and resulted in an island with a size of 1.3 km2 (0.50 sq mi) as of 2012. Due to water erosion, Surtsey is steadily decreasing in size, but ever since its creation, scientists have studied it in order to find out how life forms in an originally barren island. Kind of cool, right?

2. The spotted lake of Osoyoos, Canada

Located in Canada’s only desert environment (Nk’Mip Desert), the spotted lake has always amazed people for its colored spots, but how do these form? Well, this lake is a saline endorheic lake, which means there is no outflow or inflow of other bodies of water. Also, it has a high concentration of minerals including calcium, magnesium sulfate, and sodium sulfates, among others. When it’s summertime, the water evaporates and different colored spots form depending on which mineral is the most prevalent.

3. Turkey’s “cotton castle”

Pamukkale, which means “cotton castle” in Turkish, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country’s southwestern region. The white material that looks like cotton (or the clouds), is actually called travertine, a result of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate due to the region’s hot springs.

4. The “river of five colors” in Colombia

Caño Cistales – sometimes referred to as the “liquid rainbow” – is a river located in the center of Colombia. From July to December, the river shows its colors, which are caused by different factors like the rare red plant growing in the riverbed (Macarenia clavigera), black rocks, yellow sand, and green algae. The river’s multiple waterfalls, pools, and caverns (plus lack of fish or other creatures) makes it perfect for swimming.

5. Blood Falls in Antarctica

Last time I checked, whatever looks like blood is blood. But in this case, it means that there’s something hiding underneath Antarctica. After years of careful study, scientists reached the conclusion that the “blood” coming out of a glacier originated from a lake underneath it that contained microbes. As this iron-rich water came into contact with air, it rusted and turned red. Some say that this hidden ecosystem is similar to what happens in Mars, and hence explain how there could be life on the planet!

6. California’s “sailing stones”

For decades, people attributed the movement of Death Valley’s stones to mystical reasons. This was until 2011 when geologists discovered that ice could explain the phenomenon. When a slab of ice forms around the rock and liquid levels change, it is able to float outside the mud. When it comes into contact with a soft breeze, the stone “sails,” or glides across the sand.

7. The “nine hells” of Beppu, Japan

Located between the mountains and sea, Beppu is home to nine geothermal springs known as the “nine hells,” which exist because Japan is essentially volcanic in origin. Some of the “hells” have water so hot that you can boil an egg in it!

8. Brazil’s valley of the moon

The Vale Da Lua is a stone basin carved out by the San Miguel river and contains one of the oldest (1.8 billion years) rock formations in the world. It gets its name because the erosion of the river has left the stone smooth and gray, similar to the texture and color of the moon. The landscape continues to change and results in new waterfalls and caves, kind of like Earth’s own labyrinth.

9. Longyearbyen: the town where The Sun never sets

At least during the summer. When you travel north of the Arctic Circle during this season, you may experience something known as the “midnight sun.” In Longyearbyen (a town part of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard), the sun never sets from April 20 to August 23. This is due to the fact that during the summertime, Earth’s axis is tilted towards The Sun, so any point above the Arctic Circle receives direct sunlight the entire season.

10. Spain’s “rio tinto”

In the southern region of Spain, you can find a river the color of red wine. For years, it has been mined for copper, gold, silver, among other minerals. The river’s color is attributed to large amounts of iron dissolved in water.