Most people are aware that the geography, climate, and life on earth can be complex, diverse, and outright weird. We have, after all, evolved in good time; the equatorial regions of this planet are covered in tropical forests and deserts while the poles are covered in snow, and the oceans are awash with myriad ecologists. However, a majority probably aren’t aware to what degree those factors can be. The most well-traveled denizens of Earth most likely think that they’ve seen the most bizarre geology, plant and animal forms this planet has to offer, that they’d have to skip over to the Moon or Mars to see something novel. And most, we’re betting, are probably wrong.
The fact is that, even with the exciting developments made in the private space tourism industry, you just need a regular plane ticket (or maybe even just an Uber ride) to experience a location which seems like you’ve landed on a planet in a galaxy far, far away.
Prospective science fiction authors and artists should be taking notes. Your “alien” planets may seem rather tame, compared to some of the more exotic locations on our home world.
18. Redwood National Forest – USA
Yeah, we started with a location that was used to film the location Endor for the film Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi…and some of ET. And some obscure sci-fi thriller film called Primal Rage: The Legend of Oh-Mah. But can you blame us? After all, what’s not to find mesmerizing? The Redwoods have some of the largest and oldest trees in the world. What’s more, with flora which has existed since the Jurassic period (that’s over one hundred and fifty million years for you non-paleontology nerds out there) it’s easy to look at this seemingly primal forest and feel as if you’ve either stepped back in time or onto another planet.
17. Valle de la Luna – Chile
While the Valle de la Luna doesn’t sport one terribly unique feature the overall landscape, from its alien reddish-hued sky, arid valley’s, and jagged mountains, you’d be forgiven if you thought you set foot on the fourth rock from the sun. Given its location within the Atacama desert and adjacent to the Andes Mountains, this region’s features are due to a rain shadow effect. In fact, this area is one of the driest regions on earth; consequently, there’s little vegetation or fauna and the valley of the moon is one of the most hostile places for human life on earth. Talk about alien, eh?
Fun fact: this valley has been used by engineers to test a prototype rover designed for a traverse the surface of Mars. Given the dry, red substrate and pink-cerulean skies, the location seems exceptionally fitting both with respect to Mars-like geology and aesthetics.
16. Son Doong Cave – Vietnam
Typically caves are dark, dank places devoid of any form of verdant growth, and instead, bear a few small slimy organisms clinging to the damp walls and floor of a decrepit hole in the ground. However, Son Doong Cave is an ancient cave system whose formation dates back to the Carboniferous Period and holds baseball-sized cave pearls and some of the tallest stalagmites of any subterranean structure in the world. What’s more, being in excess of three miles-long, Son Doong is one of the world’s largest cave systems on earth. But what makes this geologic marvel stand out is the extensive sunlight it receives from a wide mouth and two large dolines (sinkholes) within the system. Consequently, this cave holds a small forest of trees and surface vegetation.
15. Giants Causeway – Ireland
Uniformity and geometry are almost unheard of in nature. But, in northern Ireland there exist roughly forty-thousand interlocking basalt columns. The form of these columns range from square to octagonal, but the majority are hexagonal in shape.
Rather than be the result of some weird alien orbital geometry carving project by extraterrestrials or as local legend has it the remains of a causeway built by a giant named Finn MacCool, these columns were made by a volcanic eruption during the early Paleocene Epoch. Bizarrely, as molten lava flowed over the region and cooled, violent contractions fractured the drying basalt resulting in the strangely uniform structures.
14. Avenue of the Baobabs – Madagascar
Cited by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as one of the best examples of seemingly extraterrestrial life on earth (although we think it’s more akin to a fantasy location like one from, Westeros or Earth-Sea), the baobab trees of Madagascar have a particularly queer appearance to them. While baobab grow throughout the south-western regions of the island, the Alley comprises a specific set of baobab trees which surround an extensive dirt road which connects to Madagascar cities Belo-Tsiribihina and Morondava. Consequently, this road is one of the most visited in the country and, in fact, this location has been designated as the nation of Madagascar’s first natural monument.
13. Seven Color Rocks – Mauritius
Also called the Seven Coloured Earths, this strange attraction in an obscure east African island country Mauritius appears to be a series of hills which look like they were painted by Bob Ross after he had dropped half a jacket of acid. Rather than being comprised of soft alluvial soil or a mix of rock and damp dirt, these “hills” are sand dunes originally deposited by a volcanic eruption. The spectrum of the seven primary colors found in the formation is a result of the high concentrations of unblended aluminum and iron which produce rock ranging from blue to purple, and reddish to brown colors, respectively.
If you’re ever lucky enough to grab a flight to the relatively obscure island nation in the Indian Ocean, be sure to check out these happy little sand dunes that will make you feel like you’re visiting another world.
12. Namib Naukluft – Namibia
For those who don’t know, the term “Namib” means open space, and when applied to this desert region it’s certainly fitting. The Namib Naukluft Desert exceeds the size of some American states – like Rhode Island and New Hampshire, for example – but is even larger than some entire European countries – such as Luxembourg or even Switzerland. Amidst all of the ancient, iron-rich orange sand a few rocky outcroppings occasionally break up the shifting sands. The sand dunes themselves in some regions can be as a high as some high-rise buildings – or almost a thousand feet tall.
However, this entire area is not completely devoid of complex animal life. In fact, there exists enough moisture in some regions to form mudflats and even lagoons and attract a panoply of birds, geckos, jackals, and hyenas. This is largely due to the massive blankets of fog which occasionally roll high across the desert and falls during the spring as rain.
11. Wulingyuan Scenic Area – China
Appropriately enough for this list, Wulingyuan contains the Zhangjiajie National Forest, which includes an area referred to as the Hallelujah Mountains. That is the real Hallelujah Mountains, for all you die-hard Avatar fans. Although the spires of rock don’t float into the heavens via some inexplicable magnetic unobtanium-induced vortices or something, instead fingers of quartz-sandstone reach up into the sky holding thrilling amounts of trees and shrubs. It’s truly a sight to behold, and one that is unique to this part of the world.
Interestingly though, the heart of the Wulingyuan was renamed the Hallelujah Mountains in homage to James Cameron’s blockbuster film. What a way to highlight the fact that this place truly does appear to be from another planet. We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw
10. Grand Prismatic Spring – USA
Yellowstone National Park is well-known for its variety of floral, fauna, and geological features, but most are fairly familiar even to the most urban of us. But the Grand Prismatic Spring really does seem like something from out of this world. Being the third largest hot spring in the world and its curious rainbow colors which surround the periphery, this spring is one of the most unusual on this planet.
What produces the color combination of this spring is the series of archaen microbial mats which live in the pool, particularly around the periphery, despite the intense heat of the pool. However, the center of the Grand Prismatic Spring is both so deep and hot that microbes aren’t much in abundance, thus a deep azure color.
9. Sistema Dos Ojos – Mexico
Being the most recently discovered cave network on this list, Sistema Dos Ojos contains a whopping twenty-eight sinkholes and is one of the longest underwater cave system on the planet. Dos Ojos, while treacherous for most, is a great location for elite cave divers. Fortunately, the water is extremely clear as a result of the filtration effect of the cave systems limestone.
Besides its killer views, this site is noted for being an important location with respect to the Guinness Book of World Records. Ever since the year 2010, Sistema Dos Ojos has been the place wherein Carlos Coste set a record for free diving; in a single breath, Coste swam a total distance of four hundred and ninety feet.
8. Dallol – Ethiopia
This is a place which possesses unearthly but still natural lime-green mineral deposits, still-active volcano, barren surroundings which can barely support life, one of the highest recorded temperatures on this planet, and boiling hot springs. In other words, everything which would make a great real-world location to shoot the next Star Trek movie. However, despite its seemingly inhospitable even Dallol is capable of supporting life…although barely. The natives to this region have figured out a unique way of constructing buildings out of salt blocks. Furthermore, the region has a history of intermittent inhabitance having historically been a productive region for potash mining as well as a salt trading route.
7. Roraima – Venezuela
While it’s often referred to as the highest peak in the Pakaraima Mountain chain, Roraima is technically a plateau covered in myriad species which are unique to the summit. With a geography that looks like something out of the 1960 version of The Lost World (yeah, we know the crappy version, but still) Roraima looks like a truly “lost” region of the world. Given the fact that this area, at about two-billion years old, is one of the most ancient surface geological formations in the world, the comparison seems abundantly appropriate.
6. Dry Valleys – Antarctica
Being a continent which is (mostly) composed of ice and snow blanketing frigid rock, the vast majority of Antarctica naturally looks like an ice world wholly removed from our own. But just about every region on earth possesses its own exceptions and the perennial glacial continent has its own geo-climactic oddities. Located near west Antarctica’s coast in the McMurdo Sound, the Dry Valley remains curiously parched receiving almost no precipitation. Bearing no permanent snowfall and just a smattering of ice, the Valley is composed of course gravel and rocks, with a few haunting, bleach-white skeletons stripped bear by microbial scavengers.
5. Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves – Austria
Deep within the Tennengebridge Mountains next to Salzburg, Austria, exists a forty-some-kilometer maze of naturally carved rock. Within this geological labyrinth of smoothed-limestone cave walls a fascinating series of mammoth frozen flows, ice stalactites, and stalagmites throughout.
Interestingly, despite the pleasing appearance of this cave system to modern eyes, locals from centuries past believed the place to be an entrance into hell. Fortunately, in the event that you want to experience this icy abyss, limited tours are available during the summer and fall seasons. But come with a fresh, retentive mind, as photos inside the cave aren’t permitted once inside the system’s interior.
4. Blood Pond Hot Spring – Japan
Water, generally speaking, is blue right…or at least a bluish-white, clear color, depending on how deep and turbulent it is. But in Beppu, Japan water in one particular region which contains the nine hells, a series of hot springs. The most notable of these is the Blood Pond Spring, which roils as hot as one hundred and fifty degrees Celsius with an eerie orange-red hue.
Most of the other springs have a much more “natural” appearance, while others appear unusually cobalt-blue due to high levels of iron sulfate. The Blood Pond, however, contains an unusually high amount of iron oxide, hence the red color. Morbid fact: in ancient Japan, this pond was used as a means of torture and slow execution.
3. Window to Hell – Russia
Welcome to Hell, or at least the closest thing your mortal coil will get to it in this world. Many locales across the earth claim that they have a famous location which appears to be (or is?!) a portal to the sulfury pits of Tartarus. But we think that the best example of a real world location which appears to be (and looking at it just might actually be) a window into Gehenna itself. Within the already hellish landscape of Kamchatka – which appropriately looks surprisingly a lot like Mordor – there are a series of surface level hotspots and subterranean magma tunnels which compose a massive volcanic network. Most prominent among them is an open magma exposure which looks just like an open, fiery pit into the underworld. In fact, according to our sources, the temperature near this portal exceed two thousand degrees Fahrenheit – literally enough to melt your face.
2. Socotra Island – Pacific Ocean
Darwin studied the strange and diverse lifeforms on the Galapagos; Alfred Russel Wallace made extensive observations of the exotic flora and fauna of Malay Archipelago. And both noted that geographic isolation from a highly populated area led to the development of bizarre and rare lifeforms.
Stranded in out in the Indian Ocean, Socotra Island is part of a four isle chain located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Having been isolated from the African mainland for over six million years, a series of new forms have evolved on this dry spit of land, most notable among them the unique caves which bear man-sized stalagmites and stalactites coupled with unique endemic flora such as the Dragon Blood Tree.
1. Waitomo Glowworm Caves – New Zealand
Truly reminiscent of an alien planet, this isolated cave is shrouded entirely in darkness but shines like a scene ripped straight out of James Cameron’s film Avatar.
This cave system possesses varieties of cave flower which are actually a mushroom-like fungus, weird albino insects and an endemic species of freshwater eel. But what makes this location stand out is its native bioluminescence invertebrates, which go by many names including the glowworm, a fungal gnat, and titiwai, which in Maori means “projected over water”, none of which are technically correct. In fact, Arachnocampa luminosa is a species of “true” fly in its larval form. These special “worms” inhabit the roof of the Waitomo Cave and give it a fascinating iridescent, blue-green glow.
While these glowworms are found only in New Zealand, you can schedule tours to see the sights of Waitomo with tourism services like Trip Adviser today.
Sources: Boredpanda.com, cntraveler.com, Dangerousroads.org, Sondoongcave.org, Viralnova.com
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