From a fire blazing inside a New York waterfall to mysterious hums in New Mexico, these natural anomalies have yet to be fully explained.
Our planet is one weird place to live. Even though we’re currently going through the 21st century, where technology is abundant and science has explained many aspects of how the world works, some intriguing places still bear a mystery and defy the conventional. These spots with natural anomalies are curious and chilling, amusing and downright bizarre. From eerie lights in the distance and out-of-place craters to gravity-altering roads and strange desert circles, the earth still hasn’t revealed all of its cards, and it’s a great reason to be curious and explore further.
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The Marfa Lights
WHERE: Marfa, Texas
It’s sunset, and the desert is still anticipating the coming of darkness. Suddenly, just when the last sunray hits the horizon, glowing orbs appear and lazily float in the sky, pulsating and multiplying. It’s the Marfa Lights, a mysterious sensory phenomenon in the high desert of Texas. Ever since it was spotted by a local shepherd in the 19th century, this Dustland Northern Lights-like spectacle has been a beacon for generations of curiosity-driven tourists that come to Marfa in hopes of seeing the mythical anomaly for themselves.
What makes the lights exciting is there still isn’t an explanation for what causes it. Of course, there were suggestions that it’s a UFO or ghosts, as well as some more down-to-earth answers like car traffic lights and atmospheric differentiations. But we’re still not sure. You can try your luck in spotting this rare phenomenon at Marfa Lights Viewing Center next to the U.S. Route 67.
INSIDER TIPMarfa is famous for its minimal art scene. Visit the Chinati Foundation created by celebrated American artist Donald Judd and a faux-Prada boutique installation in the desert by Elmgreen and Dragset.
Fairy Circles in the Namib Desert
With its endless red dunes and seemingly lifeless outlook, the Namib Desert is a fitting example of a post-apocalyptic world. You could have seen the Namib Desert, for instance, in films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, where it served as the wasteland backdrop. Apart from being one of the oldest deserts in the world, it is also famous for the patches of barren land surrounded by grass lovingly called “fairy circles.”
Seen from above, these circles look as if someone polka-dotted the earth to a beautiful-yet-eerie result. The origin of these circles has been a subject of a much-heated debate, with various studies attributing the empty land inside a circle to the toxic bush sap, termites, and radiations. With or without explanation, the fairy circles are one of the highlights of a visit to Namibia and its many natural wonders.
Eternal Flames Falls
WHERE: Chestnut Ridge Park, New York
In pre-tourism times, if you were exploring the rainy forests of the Chestnut Ridge area and stumbled upon this waterfall, you might have believed in the presence of higher powers because inside this waterfall sits a burning flame. Puzzling and mesmerizing, this popular natural attraction is just a 20-mile drive from downtown Buffalo and is one of the rarest formations of such kind on earth. Although the “fire inside a waterfall” concept seems quite far-fetched and unreal at first glance, mother nature sure knows how to surprise. In this case, the phenomenon is caused by natural gas emitted from the hydrocarbon seep (pocket) found underneath the attraction.
INSIDER TIPStart your hike at the 277 Chestnut Ridge Eternal Flame Falls Trail entrance and be prepared for a rugged-yet-short path up to the waterfall.
Lord Howe Island's Time
WHERE: Lord Howe Island, Australia
Although you can’t actually see time, Lord Howe Island’s case is a curious anomaly that makes this tiny volcanic paradise stand out in the world. It has self-imposed a time zone it shouldn’t be in to align clocks with New South Wales, more than 600 miles away in mainland Australia. It is currently the only place in the world in the UTC+10:30 time zone, adding 30 minutes to the clocks instead of an hour during Daylight Savings Time.
Apart from this clock extravaganza, Lord Howe Island is a remarkable and isolated place to visit with no phone signal, spectacular landscapes, and dormant volcanoes. Although it’s quite hard to get to, the island is a perfect destination to completely unwind, and give in to the beauty of this UNESCO-protected reserve of Tasman Sea biodiversity.
INSIDER TIPTwelve miles southwest of Lord Howe Island lies the impressive Ball’s Pyramid, the tallest volcanic stack in the world where the planet’s rarest insect—the Dryococelus australis—lives.
Santa Cruz Mystery Spot
WHERE: Santa Cruz, California
Opened during the U.S. Golden Age of roadside attractions in June 1941, the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot is one of the most famous and beloved California optical illusion destinations. While visiting, there will be a lot of exclamations and surprises. Like when the ball rolls backward or when you can recreate the Titanic pose standing on a table while leaning down unnaturally. It’s not magic, though; the place is built on a so-called gravity hill, a natural anomaly that creates an optical illusion of defied gravity. Such spots can be found in many places across the world, but in Santa Cruz, the curious phenomenon is used to its full touristic potential. Also, it’s a fun attraction that boasts mid-century Americana charms and gives an amusing time, thus a perfect idea for a family day trip from Silicon Valley.
INSIDER TIPAnother famous gravity hill attraction is Oregon Vortex, located on Sardine Creek in Gold Hill, Oregon. Opened in 1930, it sports many different optical illusions.
Zone of Silence
WHERE: Durango, Mexico
Having a name that would be a perfect fit for both a drama of marital troubles and a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, Zone of Silence is among Mexico’s most intriguing places. Enjoying urban myth fame, this half-Bermuda Triangle, half-Area 51 patch of desert in the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve is shrouded in mystery.
The radio doesn’t work here; the Zone has been a location where several meteorites fell in the 20th century, and it was here that the U.S. missile that carried radioactive cobalt 57 elements crashed in July 1970. Mix it up with local legends of sightings of tall blond beings, fireballs in the sky, unexplained flying objects, and the barren Zone of Silence becomes an extremely interesting case of natural anomaly. The one where you don’t want to get lost or stay outside after dark because being inside this unfriendly-yet-spectacular desert landscape, it is easy to believe that all of the stories are true.
Lake George Mystery Spot
WHERE: Lake George, New York
Sometimes we overthink certain things and blow them out of proportion, imagining something that is not there. Standing where X marks the spot at a platform next to Lake George and speaking towards the lake is not that moment. You are not going mad; you are actually hearing your voice returning to you louder, more amplified, and reverberated. It’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it attractions, but as Lake George is one of New York’s top destinations all year round, the Mystery Spot is well worth satisfying your curiosity.
One possible explanation is the coincidental force of the position, the rocks, and the mountain, creating this bizarre and entertaining sound effect.
INSIDER TIPThe reverb only works if you are standing on the X.
Naga Fireballs on the Mekong River
WHERE: Phon Phisai, Thailand
Thai lore tells the legend of nagas, serpent-like half-deity creatures that populate the Mekong River in northeastern Thailand. Once a year, at the end of Buddhist Lent in late October, naga launches fireballs into the sky. True to the legend, you can spot these mysterious lights floating above the river in the Nong Khai Province. In Thailand, it is a popular annual celebration when thousands come to the Mekong River’s shores to see the mysterious phenomena unfolding.
There were a few attempts to debunk the fireball myth, including a 2002 documentary that alleged that the lights were the Laotian soldiers firing into the sky across the river. Also, on the scientific front, a study explained the Naga fireballs’ appearance could be due to gas explosions underneath the river bottom erupting once a year. True or not, the festival that arose around the fireball sightings is an amusing and somewhat nostalgic event that allows a foreigner to experience Thai traditions and enjoy the Mekong River’s beauty.
The Patomskiy Crater
WHERE: Irkutsk Region, Russia
Imagine exploring expansive and uninhabited Siberian taiga and stumbling upon a gigantic crater of unknown origins in the middle of the forest. That was exactly what Russian geologist Vadim Kolpakov did in 1949 when he discovered a crater that would be named Patomskiy Crater. The crater measures 160 meters (525 feet) in diameter and 40 meters (131 feet) in height and is an odd rock formation that can easily be a movie location in which an ancient evil dwells beneath the earth, threatening to escape.
Scientists are still puzzled by the crater’s origins and don’t know what it might hide underneath. Some suggest that there might be a buried UFO or that it was a nuclear disaster site (possibly of extraterrestrial origins). So far, the most plausible theory says that the crater is, in fact, a gas volcano and has a very terrestrial background emerging about 250 years ago.
The Taos Hum
WHERE: Taos, New Mexico
There is a buzzing noise that won’t go away in Taos, New Mexico. It sounds like a hum or droning sound that is always there in the background. So far, science hasn’t been able to explain the phenomenon fully. First discovered in the early 1990s, when at least two percent of Taos residents said that they could hear it, the hum has since been an enigmatic anomaly that unsurprisingly gave way to even more bizarre theories of mind control and UFO bases.
Science explained the strange hum as a hearing hallucination that can occasionally occur in humans. Still, the mass exposure of the sound and its persistence in Taos residents—even those a dozen miles away from the city—continues to puzzle researchers. Taos Hum is not alone in the realm of mysterious sounds that are heard around the world. In 2006, a strange Auckland hum was heard by local residents and captured on tape. There have been other “mysterious sounds” reported by people over the years, but many were either hoaxes or completely explainable factory noises.