Just about everyone knows about Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Old Faithful geyser. We know these places exist, but most really don’t know much else. Those people wouldn’t be alone as many scientists have been trying to figure these places out for generations. People like to think we’ve got a pretty good handle on the world around us and that everything has can be analyzed and explained. However, they would be incorrect.
The world is still full of many mysteries and wondrous places, with us barely any closer to fully understanding them now than we did upon their discovery. Sure, there are some crazy locales on the Earth that baffled science for years and, eventually, they kind of got a theory as to what’s going on, yet they still feel strange when viewed. These mysterious places, some appearing otherworldly, leave us filled with wonder and amazement. Just knowing that places such as these exist entices and excites us. Maybe we weren’t meant to understand them; maybe they are better left alone and simply viewed for the experience.
There are so many of these strangely mysterious and weird places on Earth that we could easily write a book. Maybe one day, you will have the opportunity to visit and behold some of these locations and experience them for yourselves, both visually and scientifically. Join us as we attempt to describe 15 of these most mysterious and weird places.
15 Eternal Flame Falls
If you ever find yourself in Chestnut Ridge Park, in the small town of Orchard Park, New York, you have to visit Eternal Flame Falls. It is a waterfall in the Shale Creek section of the park. The first thing you will notice is the strange orange-reddish light emitting from behind the waterfall. It has to be an optical illusion, right? No, you look closer and see that there is actually a flame burning in the midst of the waterfall. You can smell the methane gas seeping from natural gas pockets in the cracks of the rocky surface. One of those methane leaks ignited one day and has pretty much stayed lit ever since. Well, occasionally the water from the falls will extinguish it for a bit, but helpful hikers or park workers will ignite it once again with a trusty lighter.
It is a beauty to behold, a lone eternally flickering flame in the middle of a flowing waterfall. These types of eternal flames, caused by escaping natural gas, are not that uncommon, but this one is a bit unique due to its watery location. For years, the flame has elicited tales and sightings of elves frolicking in the falls. The flame itself still remains a mystery. The rocky falls is composed of young, hot shale deposits, surrounded by large amounts of water, to say the least; scientifically the last place one would expect an eternal flame. Nonetheless, there it is, the Eternal Flame Falls.
14 The Oregon Vortex
An unusual area in the tiny town of Gold Hill, Oregon, that Native Americans always referred to as the “Forbidden Ground,” where not even horses dared to tread. There is a small stretch of land where, in 1904, The Old Grey Eagle Mining Company built a small office. By 1911, gold mining in the area had ceased, and a few years later, the building slid off its foundation at an angle; remaining that way ever since. By 1930, that angled building became known as The House of Mystery, and the area was called The Oregon Vortex. This circular area of visual phenomena has been a tourist attraction ever since.
The Vortex is basically a spherical field of force surrounding the area, described as being half below and half above ground. People entering this vortex usually feel a strong sense of vertigo. Nowhere in the area can a person stand absolutely straight, and would appear to others in different sizes. One person would feel the need to stand with an incline toward magnetic north. Another person, standing across from the first person, on a level platform, would appear taller, and would feel ebb toward magnetic south. If that person were to approach the first person, in effect going towards magnetic north, they would appear to be growing shorter in height. Violates the laws of perspective, right? You can even place a common household broom in the middle of the House of Mystery and it will stand up straight on its own. When it was owned by the mining company, the unusual conditions were noted but no scientific analysis was ever conducted. It wasn’t until John Litster, a geologist and physicist, began to develop the area in the early 1920s, that thousands of experiments were conducted. Litster died in 1959, but not before opening the area to the public in 1930, where the phenomenon has to be seen and experienced to be believed.
13 Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
Racetrack Playa is a remote dry lakebed in California’s Death Valley, best known for its mysterious sailing rocks. No one has ever seen the rocks move, but they appear to have “sailed” across the dry lakebed, leaving long winding tracks in their wake. The mystery is that no one can definitively explain this geological occurrence. They also don’t know why some rocks move in a straight line, while others leave long, winding tracks. There are hundreds of these rocks, some weighing as much as 320 kg (700 lbs.), with some leaving tracks that go one for hundreds of meters.
In 2013, after two years of experiments and observations, scientists have formulated a theory that could explain how the rocks take their strange journey across the lakebed. It requires a rare combination of events. Initially, the playa must fill with water. This is Death Valley which is one of the hottest places on the planet and experiences very, very little rainfall. But, if it rains, if there is enough to allow for floating ice to form during the cold winter nights, it still has to remain shallow enough to keep the rocks exposed. After a rainy, freezing night, the following day’s unforgiving sun, would melt the ice, breaking it up into large floating panels, which the light winds would then drive across the playa. The rocks would go along for the ride, dragging their bottoms across the soft mud floor. I know that’s a lot of “if’s,” but so far it is the most logical explanation that they have come up with to explain the mysterious phenomena.
12 Blood Falls, Antarctica
One of the most mysterious places on the planet is also probably the one most people have not nor will ever get a chance to see firsthand. It is the Blood Falls, a waterfall that flows from the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. It earned its name due to the blood-red color of the water flowing out of the glacier. Microbiologists and glaciologists have been mystified by it ever since the falls were discovered way back in 1911. Back then geologists believed the color was a result of algae, but in the years since, it is now believed it might be due to large quantities of iron oxide in the nearby West Lake Bonney.
The five-story, bloody waterfall pours out very slowly from the Taylor Glacier, which about two million years ago, sealed over a small body of water that contained ancient microbial life. Those microbes were trapped below the thick layers of ice, survived, and have remained there ever since. Down there, under the glacier, there is no light, little oxygen, and even less heat; it is very basically “primordial ooze.” This microbial community is surrounded by water containing a high salinity level, as well as being rich in iron, giving the water leaking from this submerged lake its reddish color; at least that’s the theory. Somehow, this subglacial blood-red lake water leaks from the fissure in the glacier, forming the falls, without contaminating the delicate microbial ecosystem that surrounds it. Scientists find it astounding and mysterious.
11 Travertine Pools Of Pamukkale
If you’ve ever seen the beautiful Travertine Pools of Pamukkale, in Turkey, it’s easy to be lured into snow-covered feelings of a winter wonderland. These bizarre white travertine overhangs and pools appear like a landscape of frozen waterfalls. They are truly beautiful to behold. This geological phenomenon is called Pamukkale, which is Turkish for “Cotton Castle.” Adjacent to Pamukkale is the remarkably well-preserved ruins of the Greek-Roman city of Hierapolis.
Though they appeared snow-covered, the travertine pools are actually calcium carbonate deposits. They are the byproduct of seventeen natural hot springs located in the area. Looking at them might invoke wintery thoughts, but these pools are anything but frozen. The temperatures range but can go up to a simmering 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Pamukkale is truly a wonder to see. The whole area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site, with over two million visitors annually. It is Turkey’s single-most visited tourist location.
10 The Richat Structure, Mauritania
It has been called the “Eye of the Sahara,” the Richat Structure is an odd circular geological feature found in the Mauritania portion of the Sahara desert. While standing in it, one could hardly notice its peculiarity, but its striking features become very conspicuous when viewed from above. It has attracted attention and study ever since it was first seen by early space missions orbiting the Earth. It is a prominent bulls-eye in the middle of a desert expanse, and was used as a landmark by space shuttle crews. The Richat Structure is roughly 48 km (30 miles) in diameter, a perfect sphere, with equidistant rings. Scientists really don’t know what it is or how it got there. There are several theories, with some saying it was created by a meteorite impact, due to its circular nature. Others believe it was the result of a volcanic eruption. Still other scientists say it was originally a large symmetrical uplifted land mass that weathered away slowly by erosion. However, none of these theories, scientists admit, can explain the perfect circular shape or equidistant rings.
9 Caño Cristales of Colombia
It’s been called “The Most Beautiful River in the World.” Caño Cristales is a truly unique spectacle. It has also been referred to as the “River of Five Colors,” or “The River that ran away from Paradise.” Once you’ve seen it, you’ll know why. The river is normally a cool current of clear water, a bed of rocks visibly seen covered in green moss. However, for two months of the year, September and November, the otherwise normal-looking river exhibits innumerable shades of colors like yellow, pink, green, blue, and red.
This beautiful explosion of color is the result of millions of plants growing under the water. During these months, between the wet and dry seasons, there is enough sunlight unobscured, and the water level is just right for a distinct species of plant known as the Macarenia clavigera to turn a brilliant red. This red hue is then offset by spots of the various other colors, transforming the river into a flowing rainbow. There are no fish in this river, as the very lack of nutrients and particles that keep it devoid of animal life is what allows the water to remain so clean as to display the beautiful colors of the vibrant plant life. Caño Cristales is in an isolated area not easily reached by road. Tourists attempting to gaze upon the river have to first reach the nearby town of La Macarena (do a little dancing, I’m sure) and then make their way to the river via horseback, or even as part of a guided foot tour. I’m sure it is worth the effort.
8 The Aokigahara
The Aokigahara is otherwise known as the infamous “Suicide Forest!” Located at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, also known as the “Sea of Trees,” Aokigahara has become globally notorious due to ghost reports and the huge amount of suicides that occur there. Over 500 people in the past 65 years have ventured into the dense forest only to kill themselves. In fact, so many people have killed themselves there that the police routinely conduct searches to remove any bodies. The police no longer even publish the number of bodies that are recovered for fear of actually encouraging others to commit suicide in the forest. In 2004 alone, 108 people killed themselves there. Police have posted signs throughout the forest imploring visitors to reexamine their lives: “Your life is a precious gift to your parents,” and “Please consult with the police before you decide to die.”
Due to the uncanny allure of the forest to those seeking to end their lives, many people believe the forest is forever haunted by the numerous souls of those who have died there. Others say that the forest’s history is why so many end their lives there. According to legend, in Ancient Japan, when families couldn’t feed themselves due to famine, some members would be abandoned in Aokigahara to die of starvation. Whatever the reason, many curious people every year hazard their way into the forest only to come face to face with the sad spirits that are said to inhabit this tragic area.
7 The Skeleton Lake of Roopkund
One of the most famous tourist spots in India is in Uttarakhand, famous for its picturesque beauty and pleasant weather. There you will find Roopkund, where a glacial pool has earned the enigmatic name of “Skeleton Lake.” This lake is located in the Himalayas at a height of 5,029 meters (16,000 ft.), and is so-named because of the hundreds of skeletal remains that are revealed there when the snow melts every year. Originally discovered in 1942, at the bottom of a small valley, the frozen lake thaws every year revealing multitudes of skeletons floating in the water and collecting around the lake’s edges; evidence of some terrible tragedy on a grand scale. At first it was believed that these must be the remains of Japanese soldiers from World War II who died of exposure while trekking through India. A British investigative team quickly discovered that the remains were too old to be war-era. Scientists had no idea who the skeletons were or what killed them. Several theories were developed: epidemic, landslide, ritual suicide.
In 2004, DNA testing revealed that the bodies, approximately 200 of them, date to around 850 CE, and that they were two distinct groups of people: one tribe or closely-related family, and a second, smaller group, possibly guides or hired locals. All the bodies were shown to have died the same way, from blunt trauma to the head. The short deep cracks in the skulls didn’t appear to be from weapons, but rather from something rounded, struck from directly above. A new theory has now been proposed, that the entire group was killed by an abrupt and devastating hailstorm. Trapped in the valley, with nowhere to flee for shelter, the entire group was killed by thousands of hailstones raining down upon them.
6 Salar De Uyuni
In southwest Bolivia there sits an immense 10,000 square kilometer (4,000 sq. mi.) area of salt flats. In the summer, it’s a rich source of salt and lithium, but during the flood season, it is transformed by the water into something wondrous and mysterious: the world’s largest mirror. To walk on this amazing wonder of science during a bright day would make you feel like you were walking in the clouds. The Bolivia Salt Flats, known to locals as Salar de Uyuni, is nestled near the crest of the Andes Mountains. It is the result of thousands of years of transformation in between periods when it was several prehistoric lakes.
The flats are saturated with meters-thick salt brine, creating a strikingly flat surface. Once it is covered in water, the flat surface becomes so reflective that many governments use it focus in on and calibrate their satellites. This is the largest salt flat on the planet and, in the low-rain season from April to November, due to its high elevation, the skies above Salar de Uyuni are very clear, and the air is very dry. The smooth surface is the result of seasonal flooding dissolving the salt surface, keeping it level. The surface elevation over the entire 10,000 square kilometer salt flats is less than 1 meter (3 ft.). There are very few areas that large that are that flat. The surface reflectivity is very high making it better for satellite calibration than even the surface of the ocean. But aside from its usefulness, Salar de Uyuni is aesthetically breathtaking to behold.
5 Glass Beach, California
Glass Beach, the southern beach of MacKerricher State Park, in Fort Bragg, California, is a 38 acre former garbage dump. From 1906 until 1967, discarded bottles, cans, appliances, even old cars were thrown over the side of the cliffs into the ocean dump. This was common practice in those days for coastal towns. The beach underwent a considerable cleanup effort in the late 1990s, but something incredible was discovered. Good old planet Earth had taken our refuse and abuse and returned it to us years later as beautiful, smooth, colored sea glass in a multitude of colors. These rounded, smooth glass pebbles had been worn over time as they tumbled about the ocean.
Glass Beach has become a destination spot for glass collectors. California law prohibits anyone from removing the sea glass from the beach, but people, unfortunately, still try to sneak out small handfuls, or even whole trashcans! Locals recall the days when the beach was covered in thick layers of sea glass so smooth that walking on it barefoot was no issue; however, now, due to years of pilfering, some parts of the beach contain only scattered traces of the sea glass. Visitors are encouraged, though, to search through the beach and try to find the rarest of the rare, such as ruby reds (from old auto tail lights), or blue sapphires (from apothecary bottles). Park rangers ask you photograph your finds, but then leave the sea glass behind for others to discover their beauty.
4 Yonaguni Monument, Japan
Officially known as Yonaguni-jima Kaitei Chikei, literally Yonaguni Island Submarine Topography, it is simply referred to as the Yonaguni Monument. This underwater mystery can be found off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands, Japan. It is an incredible submerged rock formation that is believed to over 5,000 years old. There is considerable debate over whether the formation is man-made, natural, or some blending of the two. It was discovered in 1986, when a diver came across this massive underwater structure. It appears to be an incredible pyramid standing 27 meters (90 ft.) high and 182 meters (600 ft.) wide, with large stone blocks stacked over five levels. There even appears to a roadway structure that runs around the monument.
Some researchers cite markings and perceived images on the monument making it evident that the structure is man-made. Some marine biologists believe that the structure could have been above-ground as recently as 2,000 years ago when an earthquake sank it. Others don’t agree that Eastern culture was advanced enough to have built this enormous structure 5,000 years ago and that it must be a natural formation. One marine geologist, Masaaki Kimura, has spent decades exploring the monument and is convinced that it shows signs of human craftsmanship. He points out that the monument is full of numerous right angles, strategically-placed holes, aesthetic triangles, as well as carvings that appear to resemble Kaidā script. Despite years of study, there is still much debate as to the origin of the Yonaguni Monument.
3 Kliluk, Canada’s Spotted Lake
Natives of the First Nations in both Canada and the United States call it Kliluk, the Spotted Lake. It was and remains a sacred spot for healing, known by the First Nations’ peoples for the water’s healing properties. The water of the Spotted Lake, located in British Columbia, evaporates in the hot summer and crystallizes the minerals, forming the many white-rimmed circles that can be seen adorning the lake. The shallow pools that remain take on vibrant hues of blues, greens, yellows, or simply turn white, depending on the mineral composition of the water left behind. During this time of year, it is possible to actually walk between the pools on the crystallized surfaces, composed of magnesium sulphate, that have hardened around the spots. This lake has one of the world’s highest concentrations of minerals, such as the aforementioned magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), calcium, sodium sulphates, as well as eight other minerals, including traces of titanium and silver.
The lake was owned by Ernest Smith and his family for about forty years. In 1979, when Smith wanted to open a spa at the lake, the Natives first tried to purchase the lake so it could remain a sacred site. After twenty years of unsuccessful attempts at buying the land from the Smith family, a deal was finally struck in October 2001. Aided by the Indian Affairs Department, the First Nations bought the land, erecting a fence around the Spotted Lake to keep people from walking on it, but one can still catch a good view of this geological wonder.
2 The Devil’s Tower
Many people have heard of the Devil’s Tower, even more are familiar with what it looks like even if they didn’t know its name. It was featured quite prominently in the 1977 Steven Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Devil’s Tower is a striking geological formation that protrudes up from the prairies of the Black Hills. In 1906, it became the first United States national monument. It is considered sacred to the Lakota and other Native American tribes of the area. It rises 265 meters (867 ft.) from summit to base, being approximately 304 meters (1,000 ft.) in diameter at the base and 83 meters (275 ft.) at the top. Its hundreds of parallel cracks make it the premier rock climbing destination in the Black Hills.
Scientists agree that the Devil’s Tower is the result of the introduction of igneous rock material into the otherwise sedimentary landscape, but just how that occurred is not known. Some scientists believe that maybe around 56 to 66 million years ago, the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills were uplifted when molten magma rose through the Earth’s crust, intruding into the existing layers of rock but never quite reaching the surface. The tower might be the remnants of that “bulge” of igneous rock, worn away into the tower appearance. Others believe that it is possible that the Devil’s Tower is all that is left of an ancient volcano, as some pyroclastic material, particles relating to a volcanic eruption, have been found elsewhere in the state. Regardless of what it is or how it came to be, the Devil’s Tower strikes an imposing figure along the Black Hills landscape.
1 Hashima Island, Japan
Hashima, otherwise known as Gunkanjima, “Battleship Island,” is downright creepy. This abandoned island city sits about 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) off the Japanese coast in the East China Sea. Have you ever seen the James Bond film, Skyfall? Good movie, right? Remember the island lair of the bad guy? The decrepit old abandoned buildings, out in the middle of the ocean; that was Hashima Island. It was not a set built for the movie, it is a real place. In the late 1880s, Mitsubishi was mining for coal on the sea floor near the island. The company would ferry over miners to and from the island from Nagasaki. To make it easier, Mitsubishi just developed the island, building housing for the workers and their families. They eventually built apartment buildings, schools, bath houses, temples, restaurants, markets, even shopping centers; transforming the entire island into one little corporate city, 61,000 square meters in size.
At its peak, the tiny island of Hashima housed 5,259 people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Finally, in 1974, coal mining had declined to the point that Mitsubishi decided to close their operation, effectively abandoning the island. The island was abandoned so quickly that many left their possessions where they lay. It’s a very surreal experience to visit the island, exploring the interiors and lost history. The island has pretty much sat and decayed since that final day in 1974.