The U.S. is home to its own natural wonders, some of which may be in your very own backyard.
If you live in the U.S., it is easy to forget the eye-popping canyons, springs and meteorite craters, among other marvels, right next door. Join us on a recon of the U.S. to discover the most dazzling natural wonders of America – earthy oddities remarkable for their stunning geometry and the glacial forces that carved them.
Death Valley’s “Sailing Stones”
No natural phenomenon on this list is more extraordinary than Death Valley’s “Sailing Stones.” The seemingly supernatural rocks dot the cracked surface of a dried up lake bed in Death Valley, California. At the old lake bed, known as the Racetrack Playa, the ground is especially flat. The stones are imbued with the bizarre ability to creep across the bed in an example of some of nature’s most dramatic special effects. The reason cannot just be the breeze, because some of the rocks weigh as much as 700 pounds. Some of the tracks that they carve out at glacial speed are almost 600 ft. long. The theory is that the movements happen when the rocks become embedded in sheets of ice forming at night on the sand’s surface. As the ice melts, combined with the wind, the rocks start moving and forming patterns, which are all part of the fun. The sailing stones can travel over 1,000 ft. a year.
Antelope Canyon, in Arizona, just looks like a big rip in the rock. Carved by flash flooding and the slower force of a creek, the slot canyon, however, as the kind of natural structure is called, goes extraordinarily deep. The canyon’s walls shine orange and purple among other colors, in a dazzling spectrum that mesmerizes visitors. The attraction, said to be the most-visited and most-photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest, stands on Navajo land near Page in Coconino County. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon, “Tse bighanilini,” means “the place where water runs through rocks.” Mind how you go because flooding still happens. On Oct. 30, 2006, a flood occurred that lasted 36 hours, and drove the Tribal Park Authorities to close Lower Antelope Canyon for five months. Likewise, on July 30, 2010, several tourists became marooned on a ledge when two flash floods rocked the canyon.
Grand Prismatic Spring
We love Grand Prismatic Spring. Hence its inclusion in our round-up of the world’s most breathtaking geysers. A wonder in its own right, too, Grand Prismatic Spring is famous for all kinds of reasons. For instance, Grand Prismatic Spring ranks as the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third largest in the world, after Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand and Boiling Lake in Dominica. You will find the geyser, which soars 300 feet, in the Midway Geyser Basin, which author Rudyard Kipling called “Hell’s Half Acre.” Like Antelope Canyon, the sensational spring serves up a dazzling palette. Think blue, green, yellow, orange, gold, red and brown. Thank pigmented bacteria in the microbial mats that grow at the edge of the mineral-rich water. Old Faithful may be a better known natural wonder of America, but Grand Prismatic Spring is just as exciting. Part of the appeal is the poetic name that sums it up with such precision and panache.
Barringer Meteorite Crater
Like Death Valley’s “sailing stones,” the Barringer Meteorite Crater keys into the American fascination with the strange and unexplained. The off-beat natural wonder of America has such presence that it even boasts its own website, which explains how the crater came to be in dramatic detail. “Fifty thousand years ago, a giant fireball streaked across the North American sky. It struck the earth in what is now northern Arizona, exploding with the force of 2.5 million tons of TNT,” the website says. It also adds that the crater’s story relates to the collisions and impacts that have shaped the Earth and other planets in our solar system. Barringer Meteorite Crater is part of the cosmic big picture. Set in Winslow, Arizona, the marvel is 4,000 feet in diameter and about 600 feet deep. Discovered in 1891, its age has been pegged at between 5,000 and 50,000 years.
The more that you dig into America’s geology, the more it becomes apparent that a list of the country’s natural wonders could run on and on. Feast your eyes on the Delicate Arch, near Moab, Utah. The Delicate Arch is not the most aggressively spectacular feature in this round-up, but it is stunning – it lives up to its name that underlines its sculptural fragility and improbability. It is certainly something to see, as it seems to defy the laws of physics. The natural wonder came to be over millennia, as the central part of a sandstone fin wore away, leaving the arch, which rises up about 70 ft. According to Climb-Utah, the freestanding natural monument has become the state’s unofficial symbol. The website adds that it may be the most beautiful arch in the world. “This hike competes with Devils Garden as the best hike in Arches National Park,” it says, also stating that the icon is probably the world’s most photographed arch in the world. Perched atop the massive Entrada Sandstone formation, it affords tremendous views.
Are there any other amazing natural wonders in the U.S. that deserve to be on this list? Let us know what you think in the comments below or @DegreeMen.