America's Most Surreal Landscapes
This story originally appeared on jetsetter.com.
One incredible advantage of living or visiting a country as large as the United States is the diversity of its geography. The American Southwest, with its red rock and endless vistas, is nothing like the lush green hills of the Northeast, though no less amazing.
Often times Americans think they need to hop on a plane to Iceland or New Zealand to explore otherworldly landscapes, but that's simply not true.
Sahara-like sand dunes. Ancient Pueblo civilizations. Emerald green grottos. Get ready to have your mind blown.
Badwater Basin, California
As the largest national park in the lower 48 states, Death Valley has plenty of eye-opening sights, including flowing waterfalls, canyons, badlands, craters and sand dunes. But the most striking feature? The Badwater Basin's salt pans. Billions of crystals form a surreal polygonal pattern, and the rugged Black Mountains loom in the distance.
Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
Vail's snowy trails aren't the only slopes you can ride down in Colorado. Between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristos, these sand dunes stretch across 30 square miles of the state's southern San Luis Valley. Hike the biggest dunes in North America (up to 750 feet tall!), then go sandboarding down the steep hills. Serious bragging rights.
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico
Stretching across 41,170 acres in northwest New Mexico, these badlands have a seriously eerie vibe. When the sun sets, shadows sweep over the strange spires and hoodoos. The stark landscape — which is now part Navajo territory — was once a sea, but as the water disappeared over time, it left a 1,400-foot-thick layer of mudstone, shale and coal that's been untouched for more than 50 million years. It's no wonder so many dinosaur fossils have been found here.
Whiteface Mountain, New York
The Stairway Ridge Trail in upstate New York is a stone footpath surrounded by verdant hills. Although the climb is strenuous, there's a reward at the summit: a granite castle with 360-degree views of the lakes and Adirondacks. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Vermont and Canada.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
We bet you can't guess how old this World Heritage Site is. Built by the Ancestral Pueblo people, Mesa Verde's sandstone kivas date back to AD 600. Today, the national park has 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. Tour the largest edifice, the Cliff Palace, then walk the Petroglyph Point trail to see ancient drawings etched into the rocks.
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Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas
Don't let the above picture fool you; this isn't a Mexican cenote. Just 23 miles west of Austin, there’s an emerald grotto where 50-foot waterfalls flow from a limestone overhang and splash into the oasis below. Walk around the pool and marvel up at the stalactites, before taking a dip in the natural spring.
Fly Geyser, Nevada
Not many people know about this rainbow-colored, alien-esque attraction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a detour. Located on private property in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, the man-made geyser spews water five feet in the air. Spot it on a drive-by along State Route 34.