Our Enigmatic Earth

Our planet is indeed a beautiful place, but it can also be a strange and mysterious place. From bodies of water and beaches that are unusually hued and unexplained ancient structures to fantastical flora, fauna, and geologic formations, here are 34 destinations on almost every continent — some explained, others not so much — that will blow your mind.

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Nazca Lines

Nazca, Peru
These giant ancient pieces of line art — of which, according to National Geographic, there are "over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures, and 70 animal and plant designs" — were only discovered after the invention of flight. Atlas Obscura notes that they’re estimated to have been made around 200 B.C. to 600 A.D., but otherwise remain a relative mystery.

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The Richat Structure

Mauritania, Africa
Also called the Eye of Africa or the Eye of the Sahara, this is a type of geologic feature characterized by an eroded volcanic dome. It is 25 miles in diameter and, despite parts of it being around 100 millions years old, its existence was not well known until the 20th century.

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Uluru

Australia
Also known as Ayers Rock, this red sandstone monolithic rock is in Australia’s arid and expansive North Territory and about 280 miles from the nearest town. In geologic circles, it is known as an inselberg, or "island mountain," and it’s sacred to the local Pitjantjatjara people.

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Dragon’s Blood Trees

Socotra Island, Yemen
This island, part of an Indian Ocean archipelago, is home to some of the oddest-looking plant life found on Earth: the Dragon’s Blood Tree. According to Atlas Obscura, the island is thought by some to be the original Garden of Eden "due to its isolation, biological diversity, and the fact that it is located on the edge of Yemen’s Gulf of Aden …"

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Patagonia, Chile
These cerulean caves have been carved by some 600 years of waves crashing into them. Not easy to get to, visitors must fly to the Chilean city of Balmaceda and then drive 120 miles, including over some remote dirt terrain, before finally boarding a boat to tour the caves.

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Liaoning Province, China
This natural wonder in southern China, near the North Korean border, gets its fiery hue from a seepweed species that, as it soaks up saline, turns crimson in autumn. More than 2 million people visit this destination every fall, and 260 species of birds make their home here.

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Lake Hillier

Esperance, Australia
A lake the color of cotton candy? Yep, the 600-meter-long Lake Hillier’s vibrant pink color is made even more dramatic by its proximity to the sparkling blue ocean it lies near. According to the lake website, it’s color still isn’t fully understood, but "most suspect it has to do with the presence of the Dunaliella salina microalgae."

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Giant’s Causeway

Northern Ireland
As the only World Heritage site in Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway is home to unique column-like rock formations made some 60 million years ago. In all, there are more than 40,000 columns that are packed so tightly and shaped so regularly that they almost look man-made. You can find out more about their geologic history here.

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The Gates of Hell

Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan
This constantly burning part of central Turkmenistan, formally known as the Darvaza gas crater, sits above the largest natural gas reserve in the world. It’s man-made, created in 1971 after a drilling rig inadvertently punched into the natural gas cavern, creating a 230-foot wide hole. The Soviets set the escaping gas on fire, thinking it would eventually burn itself out. Fifty years later, they’re still waiting.

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Vatnajokull Glacier Ice Caves

Iceland
One of nature’s great works of art, Iceland’s ice caves reform each year in the fall and are safe to visit from about November to sometime in March with a tour guide. Each is entirely unique, but some of the most extraordinary are the "Crystal Caves." in Skaftafell National Park’s Vatnajökull Glacier.

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Abraham Lake

Alberta, Canada
This frozen lake looks like it’s filled with gorgeous sculptures, but there’s a more nefarious explanation behind its beauty. Those bubble-like forms underneath the surface are actually frozen pockets of methane released by dead vegetation on the man-made reservoir’s bottom. It’s become a popular destination for nature photographers over the years — but no one is likely to light a match near it.

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Belhaven Bridge

Scotland
This apparent bridge-to-nowhere is certainly mystifying at first glance, but there’s actually a perfectly natural explanation for why it looks this way: the tide. When the tide is low, the entirety of the structure is revealed. Locals use this bridge to walk over the water and get to the Belhaven Bay beach — a view that can be partially seen here.

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Fly Geyser

Gerlach, Nevada
This American Southwest geyser certainly looks natural, and it is, in part, but it might surprise you to know human error played a part in its formation. Two misguided drilling incidents — once more than 100 years ago in an effort to make the site usable for agriculture, and again in the 1960s by an energy company — uncovered geothermal activity at this site that has grown into extraordinary multi-colored mineral deposits.

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Q’eswachaka Inca Bridge

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Stonehenge

Wiltshire, England
This ancient megalithic site has been mystifying archaeologists and others for some time, in no small part because its massive stones have been traced to two quarries hundreds of miles away. It’s theorized that people from the Neolithic era began building the site some 3,000 years ago.

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Sarcofagi of Carajía

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Gippsland Lakes

Raymond Island, Australia
Algae blooms known as Noctiluca scintillans are characterized by their bioluminescent glow at night, and this species flourished in this area of Australia after a series of bushfires and weather events that dumped ash and nitrogen-laden organic matter into the lake in 2006 and 2007. The bioluminescence has since faded, but still exists.

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Yucatan, Mexico
This lush underground swimming hole, near the Mayan Chichen Itza ruins, was likely formed after a collapse of limestone formations. It’s a public swimming hole today — with a carved staircase leading down into it — but was once used by the Mayans as a human sacrificial site.

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Jigokudani Monkey Park

Yamanouchi, Japan
Wild macaques, also known as snow monkeys, descend from higher elevations in winter to sit in this park’s hot springs during the day, and go back into the forest at night. The only monkeys in the world known to engage in such behavior, website Snow Monkey Resorts notes that the animals learned the practice from watching humans do it.

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