SALT LAKE CITY — Travelers looking to expand their literal horizons and discover the unknown are not centuries too late. Though the globe has been explored, mapped and conquered, many splendors of the natural world remain untouched by modern man and continue to beckon explorers.
Many of these natural phenomena appear so mysterious and ethereal they seem to belong on another planet; others give the feeling of being straight out of a movie, rivaling the best of modern CGI. Despite appearances, these five locations are actually real and treat travelers from all over the world to an almost otherworldly experience.
Mount Roraima, South America
The South American countries of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana all meet at one awe-inspiring site: Mount Roraima, a staggering rock formation surrounded on all four sides by sheer cliffs 400 meters high. As part of Guyana’s Highland mountain range, the unique ecosystem on and around Mount Roraima is home to several unusual species and some of the highest waterfalls in the world. But what makes the cliffs so striking are the views when Mount Roraima is surrounded by clouds, giving it the appearance of floating in air. The mountain has found its way into the myths and folklore of many indigenous peoples in the area, but it became known to the rest of the world as the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,” and the remarkable waterfalls served as a model for Paradise Falls in the Pixar film “Up.”
Lake Retba, Senegal
Near the westernmost point in Africa is a one-square-mile lake that looks less like the salty water it contains and more like strawberry milk. Lake Retba, or “Lac Rose,” is in the country of Senegal. Its vibrant hue varies depending on the time of day, ranging from a pale purple to a deep pink. In addition to possessing nearly 40 percent salinity, the lake is also home to halophilic bacteria, which is responsible for turning the water pink. “"The strawberry colour is produced by salt-loving organism Dunaliella salina. They produce a red pigment that absorbs and uses the energy of sunlight to create more energy, turning the water pink," said Michael Danson, an expert in bacteria from Britain's Bath University. Locals mine Lake Retba for salt, which they are able to collect by hand from the bottom of the shallow lake.
Naica Mine, Mexico
In 2001, two miners went looking for lead in northwestern Mexico. What they found bore a striking resemblance to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, but it wasn’t made of ice. Giant gypsum crystals as large as 4 feet wide and 50 feet long fill what is now known as Naica Mine. The monstrous beams — some of the largest natural crystals ever found — have been growing for hundreds of thousands of years beneath the earth. Though now part of a working lead, zinc and silver mine, scientists are petitioning for protection of the site to preserve the unique formations.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
At an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet sits an unlikely desert: the world’s largest salt flats. The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia consists of more than 4,600 square miles of salt so flat that the altitude variations average just a few feet across the entire site. While this is remarkable in itself, what’s even more breathtaking is the flat when covered with water beneath clouded skies, giving visitors the appearance of walking through the clouds. Other times of year, travelers are treated to vibrant splashes of color when three species of pink flamingos make their annual migration.
The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
About 300 miles east of the Caspian Sea, the Door to Hell sits in the middle of the Karakum Desert. This enormous flaming pit in the country of Turkmenistan is actually home to one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, but because of its appearance it is aptly named. The site was discovered and the flames were actually caused by Soviet scientists in 1971, when their drilling rig accidentally punctured a massive underground cavern full of natural gas. The ground caved and created a 230-foot-wide crater, which sent fumes and gases spewing into the air. To prevent even greater catastrophic harm, they set the pit on fire, which has been burning ever since.