One thing we've discovered over and over again is that nature is always weirder than what we give it credit for. That's why, for instance, some of the most staggering naturally occurring landscapes on Earth don't look like they belong on Earth at all. They look like they were created in a lab, or beamed down to our world from a distant fold in the universe.
Tell us you wouldn't think you'd been kidnapped by aliens if one day you woke up to see ...
#11. The 3N Cave
That soon-to-be-eaten-by-a-monster explorer up there has obviously stumbled upon the undead carcass of an alien supercreature, one that crash landed in a cave on our planet millions of years ago. It's now slowly crawling its way through the heavy rock walls of its own tomb to wreak horrible vengeance upon the race that unwittingly oversaw its imprisonment.
This must be the teenage alien boy's room.
Actually, those are just salt crystals growing in 3N Cave in Iran. 3N is the world's largest salt cave, extending over 7,000 yards. The salt is found in the rock layers above the cave; during heavy rainfall, water penetrates the rock and takes the salt with it, slowly dragging it down into those terrifying white subterranean tentacles. Unlike limestone stalactites, which take millenniums to form, the salt deposits grow fast -- often reaching lengths of a foot and a half in just one month.
Kingdom of the Crystal Spinal Column just doesn't have the same ring to it.
This picture appears to be the landscape of some arctic planet dotted with the half-exhumed penises of dead frost giants. The tips are all bowed slightly, as if in reverence to the ancient galactic snow fairy that came along and sheathed them all in enormous gym socks to save weary travelers from having awkward conversations with their children. They are known by local tribes as the Frozen Yogurt Cannons, the Throbcicles and the Twinkling Ice Shafts of Frostbitten Erotica. OK, not really.
In actuality, this photograph was taken in Finnish Lapland, the country's northernmost region, and all it is showing us is a bunch of trees. Lapland is known for ferocious, driving snow and temperatures well below freezing, which routinely leaves the region's trees encased in shells of frost, like pornographic snow worms or gigantic anorexic snowmen. Just for comparison's sake, here is a picture of Lapland after the snow melts, revealing the trees beneath:
So if you live in Lapland, it's either alien wangs or sky farts, all year round.
#9. The Crystal Cave
Clearly, this is the Azure Cave of Eternity, carved high into the Mountains of Wisdom by space trolls. Its crystal walls glow an eerie blue, the source of which is a cosmic mystery (unlike neighboring planet Pandora, which owes its blueness to the fact that it is the default setting on Corel Paint). Travelers come from across dimensions to ponder the infinite mysticism of the cave and attempt to reconcile it with their own existence.
The News Burner
And also to master the Level 9 Ice Bolt.
Seriously, though, this is the Crystal Cave of Svinafellsjokull, a 150-foot-long ice cave in Iceland (which, to be fair, is where one would expect ice caves to be found).
The cave is located on the border between a glacier and the Icelandic coast, which accounts for the unusual color of the ice walls -- snow that falls onto the glacier has all of the oxygen forced out of it when the glacier moves, causing the snow to turn an otherworldly dark blue when it freezes into ice. However, like a flaming bald eagle decal plastered over the hood of an impractically fast sports car, the ice cave's beauty masks the fact that it's actually a death trap. The cave's structural integrity is entirely dependent on a moving glacier, which it happily reminds tourists of by emitting massive cracking sounds whenever the glacier shifts a single millimeter.
Still, getting crushed to death by that thing would be an awesome way to die.
#8. Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave
This almost looks like the basement of somebody's massive crystal fortress or ice palace, like where Kal-El keeps his spare capes, or where the Wampa stores wayward Jedi he's going to eat later. Either way, when you find yourself in a sprawling cavern surrounded by waterfalls frozen in time, it's hard to imagine you're still on Earth.
"Ten bucks my tongue won't stick to it."
That is the Eisriesenwelt ice cave, located in the Austrian Alps. It's even bigger than those pictures would indicate -- it's over 24 miles long, and the entire first mile is covered with small glaciers. During the summer, the snow on the Alps melts and drips down into the lower realms of the cave.
If they ever do a Cliffhanger sequel, Stallone needs to impale someone here.
These lower parts have a cold wind pattern blowing through them, freezing the melted snow right onto the limestone, providing the "Fortress of Solitude's wine cellar" effect. The mere sight of the Eisriesenwelt ice cave is so terrifying that locals used to believe that it was the entrance to hell. Because nothing says "sinful hole to the fiery heart of evil" like a beautiful ice-covered cave in the snowy Alps.
All right, water does not do that. Lakes don't just form themselves into perfectly flat levels that you can freaking climb up like a set of stairs. Either it's man-made, or it formed under completely different laws of physics than what we have here. Are things so different in the far-off alien world of Turkey?
Because that's where you find Pamukkale ("cotton castle"), a series of naturally forming hot springs located on the side of a cliff. The water that fills these mineral baths comes from 17 hot springs located more than 1,000 feet below the surface. There, the water can reach temperatures over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing it to become supersaturated with minerals like calcium. When the water reaches the cooler surface, however, the calcium flies out of it, and over time those calcium deposits solidified into perfectly terraced mineral spas on the cliff. Also, magic is involved somehow.
Thousands of people enjoy the hot springs every year, making Pamukkale the most beautiful and sanitary method of public bathing in Turkey.
OK, second most beautiful.
#6. Tessellated Pavement
See, there it is again -- since when does nature form squares? Look at that shit: It's like nature's chessboard, lines carved into the surface of the planet millenniums ago by bored dimensional shamblers. It's like an alien with a telescope zoomed in too close to Earth and now they can see the pixels.
My Bicycling Adventure
"Will this podunk-ass solar system ever upgrade to HD?"
What they really are is tessellated pavement, a set of stones on the Tasmanian coastline that are each shaped like a near-perfect rectangle. The stones cracked millions of years ago when tectonic plates in Tasmania decided they didn't want to live in Australia's shadow anymore and moved away. This caused the stones to form nearly straight crevices, which are reinforced by the regular low tides that erode the cracks much faster than the rest of the stone. Also, magic.