Michele Falzone / Alamy

Socotra Archipelago, Yemen

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Sitting alone at the junction of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Socotra Archipelago has enjoyed almost uninterrupted isolation since it broke off from the super-continent of Gondwana (the land mass from which the Americas, Africa, Australia, Arabia, and India emerged) 100 million years ago. Since then, Mother Nature has evolved in many weird and wonderful ways. This Unesco World Heritage Site is home to exotic flora (trees that ooze bloodred sap; some that bear foul-smelling, poisonous cucumbers; and others shaped like bottles), 180 exotic birds, and 700 plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth.

Traveler’s Tip: Don’t bother brushing up on your Arabic. The local Socotri language, spoken by the 40,000 inhabitants, is unique in this world—just like the environment.

—Adam McCulloch

World’s Strangest Natural Wonders

Socotra Archipelago, Yemen

Sitting alone at the junction of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Socotra Archipelago has enjoyed almost uninterrupted isolation since it broke off from the super-continent of Gondwana (the land mass from which the Americas, Africa, Australia, Arabia, and India emerged) 100 million years ago. Since then, Mother Nature has evolved in many weird and wonderful ways. This Unesco World Heritage Site is home to exotic flora (trees that ooze bloodred sap; some that bear foul-smelling, poisonous cucumbers; and others shaped like bottles), 180 exotic birds, and 700 plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth.

Traveler’s Tip: Don’t bother brushing up on your Arabic. The local Socotri language, spoken by the 40,000 inhabitants, is unique in this world—just like the environment.

—Adam McCulloch

Michele Falzone / Alamy

World’s Strangest Natural Wonders

Ever played the game of Twister on water? The green, yellow, and brown polka dots that form on British Columbia’s Spotted Lake each summer make it look like you could.

It’s a far cry from the stereotypical landscapes of clear blue lakes, rolling green hills, and white-sand beaches that inspire most travelers—and that’s part of what makes strange natural wonders like Spotted Lake so thrilling. A recently discovered cave that grows crystals the size of four-story buildings, a lake the color of a strawberry milkshake, and a glacier that seems to bleed sound like they’re from another planet, but can be seen right here on earth, and they remind us that there’s plenty of mystery left to explore.

For billions of years, our planet has been a work in progress. Wind, water, pressure, minerals, heat, and lesser-understood forces mold and shape our environment, carving out caves and canyons, flooding and drying lakes, shaping mountains, shifting shorelines, moving the ground beneath our feet, and creating all manner of strange formations.

Long before scientists were able to offer explanations for the world’s more curious natural achievements, locals have been coming up with their own ideas. Māori legend says the enormous boulders found on New Zealand’s Moeraki Beach are the washed-ashore gourds and sweet potatoes from the wreck of a mythological canoe, while Irish folklore attributes the creation of the Giant’s Causeway to a quarrel that spanned across the sea to Scotland.

Such bizarre formations are, in fact, the result of time and pressure working against soil and rock, an often slow and methodical process that yields showstopping results. Others are the result of a sudden dramatic shift in conditions. Together, they caution us, as author Will Durant wrote in the January 1946 edition of Ladies Home Journal, that “civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

Seeing is believing, so take our tour of the strangest natural wonders—and keep an eye out for what the powerful planetary forces may do next.

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