7 Insane Landforms You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped
For the most part, geography is fairly predictable. Mountains look like mountains, rivers look like rivers, and the ocean is vast and terrifying. But sometimes, the giant muscular space wizard that keeps our planet spinning loses its balance, sending those mountains and rivers and oceans crashing together in unexpected ways. The end result is bizarre geographical wonders that look like James Cameron got hammered while playing SimEarth. That's how you get things like ...
The Eye of the Sahara
The Gaia hypothesis states that the Earth is actually a sentient being, and that all life forms that inhabit it are connected through that sentience. While there's no scientific evidence to support the theory that our home planet is a big wet rock with a soul and a heartbeat, it does have a giant freaking eye staring straight out into space:
Objects in the All-Seeing Eye of Beelzebub may be closer than they appear.
Officially known as the Richat Structure, the Eye of the Sahara looks exactly like what its much more appropriate nickname describes. Located in the Mauritania branch of the Sahara, the eye is a 30-mile-wide collection of raised rocks that, for one reason or another, wound up in the shape of an eyeball. A grotesquely infected mummy eyeball, to be sure, but an eyeball nonetheless.
"WHERE'S THE FUCKING VISINE?"
It was initially thought to be a meteorite impact zone, but people soon realized that meteorites typically punch craters into the Earth, and don't just cut a bunch of doughnuts in the sand before launching themselves back into space. Then it was suggested that the ridges might have been formed by a volcanic eruption, but that theory proved to be equally full of wrongness once people realized that there aren't any volcanic rocks anywhere near the damn thing. Nowadays, the prevalent belief is that the Eye was formed by the gradual erosion of nearby rocks over the centuries, and they just happened to settle into the shape of an eye. While that may turn out to be true, it's important to note that all of these theories have overlooked the most obvious explanation: magic.
How the rocks randomly managed to take the shape of an eyeball, nestled inside a raised slit that perfectly resembles an orbital socket, is a mystery that will probably never be explained. If it truly is the eyeball of a sentient Earth, it seems wildly disproportionate, and we have yet to find a second one, which suggests either a terrible birth defect or a cosmic motorcycle accident.
Europe does look suspiciously like an eye patch.
The Psychedelic Salt Mines of Russia
Six hundred feet below Yekaterinburg, Russia, lies an abandoned salt mine that was apparently once used as a birthday clubhouse by Jefferson Airplane. Nobody knew about it until a Russian photographer named Mikhail Mishainik got a day pass from documenting bleak Eastern European landscapes and took a tour of the place. What he found were miles of 1960s album art wallpapering an endless freakout dungeon.
Nope. This doesn't look like hell's throat at all.
Neither the colors nor the patterns are Photoshopped -- Freakydeakistan up there is 100 percent real. The culprit appears to be an abundance of carnallite, a rare mineral that serves as an alteration product of salt and typically shows up in red, yellow, or blue color tones. After years of miners kicking it up all over the place, the carnallite started layering together along the walls to create the grooviest mine in Russia (despite certain stretches that aren't so groovy).
"It's starin' at me, man. It's got, like, 15 eyes, and they're all starin' at me like they know something, man."
But before you hop a plane to Mother Russia to go trip the mine fantastic, make sure you're prepared. As we mentioned, this mine is nothing but salt and carnallite, so the air within it is extremely dry. According to Mishainik, that dry saltiness, combined with the sweltering heat that comes with any windowless subterranean bunker, leaves you with a feeling of perpetual thirst. Combine that with the cotton mouth you get from "expanding your consciousness," and you might want to experience this place sober after all.
Otherwise you might become convinced that the dragons in the ceiling are speaking to you, and no one would ever see you again.
The So-Called Frozen Waves of Antarctica
Chances are you've seen pictures like this floating around the stronghold of accurate information that is the Internet:
Faaaaaaaake. Dude doesn't even look real.
The pictures are usually accompanied by some immediately discrediting caption such as "OMG, it's a frozen wave u guyz!" or "A wave of water just froze in the Arctic. I can't even." Because people evidently believe that The Day After Tomorrow is a documentary film and that flash-freezing a tidal wave mid-rip curl is totally a thing that is possible.
Statistically, if Roland Emmerich keeps making random shit up, eventually he'll come up with something that's true.
Now, while the fact that those are in no way frozen waves probably doesn't shock you, you might actually be surprised to hear that those pictures are 100 percent real. What you're actually looking at are glaciers, turned upside down and partially melted, then refrozen in the most artistic way possible.
For reference, "Iceman's pompadour" is the most artistic way possible.
As explained by Tony Travouillon -- the scientist responsible for the photographs -- during the warm(ish) summer months in Antarctica, some of the nearby sea ice will begin to melt. The thaw is enough to free glaciers that are normally held in place, and many of the glaciers become upended, revealing their crystal blue undersides. The glaciers themselves then gradually melt, sending water running down the sides, and that water freezes again before it gets a chance to hit the ground, like the tears of a yeti. Repeated melting and refreezing forces out any errant air bubbles in the glacier and gives it that flowing "wave" look, which is more than enough to fool absolutely everyone on the Internet into thinking that weather functions like a Batman villain.
The Marble Caves of Chile
Caves aren't typically made entirely out of marble, and in the rare cases that they are, they certainly don't end up looking like the pool house in the Fortress of Solitude. However, the Marble Caves of Chile have managed to do exactly that.
Bring your own towels, though.
The Marble Caves are a testament to Nature's ability to accidentally create humbling works of art. They began as nothing but a giant block of hardened calcium carbonate; in fact, for the most part, that's what they still are:
"Don't worry, it's like a loft apartment -- way less cool on the outside, totally bitchin' on the inside."
Over the millennia, waves beat the bottom of the cube senseless, softening its hard exterior bit by bit until honeycombing caverns eventually formed in the cube's interior. Now it looks like a frost goblin's water park.
Or a dolphin nightclub.
As the seawater laboriously carved its way through the rock, it left behind countless layers of turquoise salt residue, painting the walls the color of a pair of board shorts. The end result is a geographical wonder that looks like Aquaman's garage.
"Wait, where's my Ferrari? Did it sink to the bottom of the ocean again?"
Despite the caves' bright cheeriness, it seems like a good place to drown if you're not careful during your visit. On the plus side, it's probably really difficult for sharks to get inside.
Izvorul Bigar, the Weeping Waterfall of Romania
Romania's Izvorul Bigar isn't a particularly tall waterfall (it's a mere 26 feet high), doesn't have cascading sheets of water so much as continuous drizzles, and is encased in a thick layer of flow-disrupting moss. Yet pretty much everyone who has seen it considers it to be the most beautiful waterfall in the entire world, because it looks like a giant green rock floating on space magic.
The locals call it the "miracle from the Minis Gorge," because unlike most waterfalls, which get their titular resource from a free-flowing river or lake, the water pouring down Izvorul Bigar seems to be flowing from a hole in the universe. There are no connecting sources of water whatsoever. It's as if the waterfall itself is some giant, sweaty rock monster.
Yeah, you have rock monster ball sweat set as your desktop.
The actual source of Izvorul Bigar's water is a subterranean spring bubbling up intermittently through several small holes along the ground, as if the gorge finally got sick of having its radishes stolen and decided to drown Fraggle Rock with a busted water main.
Those are the tears of horrible victory.
Izvorul Bigar's bodysuit of thick moss slows the water's movement to a crawl, and the result is a steady, constant shower that in many ways is more beautiful and impressive than the thundering torrents of Niagara Falls. Until you look at it from the side; then it looks like the dank underdwelling of a Stephen King monster.
There's definitely some kind of clown spider under there chewing on a Velcro sneaker.
The Split Apple Rock of New Zealand
The Split Apple Rock, located on South Island in New Zealand, is an extremely popular tourist attraction where visitors from around the globe gather to take the same goddamned picture year after year.
"Dammit, I really need to be more careful about where I do my squat thrusts."
Known as Toko Ngawha by the locals (which means "burst-open rock," because sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade), the rock is an honest-to-God anomaly with no universally agreed upon explanation. Nobody knows for sure how it was split, except for maybe Poseidon, and you can't get a straight answer out of that guy.
According to local legend, two Maori gods were fighting over possession of a giant boulder, because big rocks are apparently the currency of divinity. They eventually realized that neither one of them was going to back down, so they decided to settle their dispute by splitting the rock in half. Once that was done, they apparently decided they didn't want the rock anymore, because they just left both halves in the middle of the damn ocean.
"Well, I mean, it's broken now. What the hell am I supposed to do with a broken boulder?"
Of course, if you're one of those nerds who prefer a boring, science-y explanation, there is an alternate theory -- frost wedging, which is a common geological phenomenon in cold places (and South Island can admittedly get pretty damn cold). Water will infiltrate a crack in a rock, and once the temperature gets low enough, the water freezes, turning to ice and expanding the crack. As this process is repeated countless times over thousands of years, it could eventually carve a titanic geological sea gonad like Split Apple Rock completely in half. Either that, or a giant Rune Ax was flung down from Valhalla like a shard of Ragnarok and cleft that boulder in two before detonating into clouds of mythic dust, which is clearly the superior explanation.
Ireland's Giant's Causeway: The Lost Levels of Q-Bert
The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland is a series of rocky, raised columns that looks like a level from a puzzle game. It is a pile of natural Tetris pieces that cannot possibly be real, and yet totally is. In addition to looking like the palace of Q-Bert's ancestors, the causeway also provided the cover of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, because apparently it struck the members of that band as something naked children would climb on.
Drugs make everything seem like a great idea.
The causeway was formed by hundreds of basaltic lava columns hardening into stone 65 million years ago during a volcanic eruption. Normally, this leaves behind a flat sheet of rock, but in the case of the Giant's Causeway, the basalt actually contracted as it cooled, essentially forming the world's largest pottery collection.
Think of how many spectral Patrick Swayze fingers it would take to sculpt this garden.
There's a similar structure 200 miles away in Scotland, called Fingal's Cave. As its name suggests, Fingal's Cave is somewhat more enclosed than the Giant's Causeway, but you can still play real-life Q-Bert in it if you feel like shattering your femur and drowning in a pool of shimmering beauty.
Totally worth it.
As is the case with most things in the world that make no immediate sense, ancient people explained the cave and causeway with a badass myth. An Irish giant named Fionn MacCumhaill waged war against his annoying neighbor, the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn built the causeway (which, according to the myth, originally stretched from Ireland to Scotland) so he could march across the ocean and punch Benandonner, but soon realized he was terrible at fighting and had his wife disguise him as a baby instead. Once Benandonner saw the enormous infant, he ran off in terror, coming to the understandable conclusion that a baby that huge must have a cataclysmically gigantic father. Benandonner then destroyed most of the causeway, leaving only the Giant's Causeway in Ireland and Fingal's Cave in Scotland to confuse the almighty shit out of generations of humans.
"But wait, why would a giant build a road of tiny blocks? It ... it doesn't make sense!"
Related Reading: If you're still on the prowl for some fabulous vacation destinations, why not try this hellish maelstrom in the ocean near Scotland? If you'd rather see something amazing that won't fucking kill you, check out the Bosnian Pyramid. It's incredible, the sort of things that are just hiding on our planet.