The world is filled with amazing beauty, eye-catching creatures and awe-inspiring phenomenon. Here are a few of our favorite incredible and diverse natural wonders.
Every afternoon in late October, around 5:30 p.m., lucky drivers on Highway 64 in Cashiers, North Carolina, are greeted by an amazing sight. A giant black bear. Or, at least, the shadow of one. The Shadow of the Bear is a natural phenomenon that appears every fall, for just a half hour each day, when the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain. How or why the shadow takes the shape of an American black bear, which is native to the region, no one is quite sure. It might very well have something to do with Whiteside Mountain itself. According to Serenity Richards, a librarian in Cashiers, the mountain is known as unega yona, or “white bear” in Cherokee. “It’s said that the Cherokee in the area knew the mountain as the spirit of the great bear,” Serenity says. The best place to see the Shadow of the Bear is off the highway, at Rhodes Big View Overlook. Just don’t wait too long—this bear goes into hibernation come mid-November.—Samantha Green, editorial intern
The Helix Nebula or "Eye of God" as it is sometimes referred to is one of the most beautiful objects in space. This iconic celestial image was first discovered by Karl Ludwig Harding in 1824. The closest planetary nebulae, it is located about 700 light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius. Despite their name planetary nebulas, actually have nothing to do with planets. The Helix Nebula is formed from the gases of an aging star which was once like our sun.
Underwater photographer Yoji Ookata was puzzled by strange patterns he saw on the seafloor off Japan’s southern coast. Elaborate six-and-a-half-foot-wide circles with multiple rings, grooves and layers. Further investigation revealed the artist: a tiny male puffer fish, who carved the designs with his fins to get the attention of female puffer fish who will lay eggs in the fine sand of the center, safe from sea currents and hidden from predators.
If you look closely, the Forest Tent Caterpillar, seems to be wearing a distinct penguin pattern sweater. Found throughout the United States and Canada, these insects do not build "tents" as their name suggests but actually create a mat out of silken threads. Despite their festive decoration, Forest Tent Caterpillars are considered pests that swarm and feast on surrounding plant life.
The Caño Cristales River in Colombia is a stunning spectacle of nature. With almost as many names as the colors it displays this river is called "The River That Ran Away from Paradise", "The Rainbow River" and "The River of Five Colors." Each year from September through the river "blooms" in hues of red, yellow, blue, green and black. The aweseome display is caused by an aquatic plant called macarenia clavigera. Though the river is home to several plants, it is competely devoid of fish.
Prohodna is one of Bulgaria’s most celebrated national landmarks, an 860-foot-long cave situated in the Iskâr Gorge. The cave, popular for spelunking and even bungee jumping, is best known for a pair of illuminated eyes that can be seen from either one of its entrances. Two almond-shaped holes stare back at visitors from the ceiling of the middle chamber, the result of erosion that began in the Paleolithic Era. Light streams through these natural windows, creating an eerie effect in the dark cave. Locals have dubbed them the Eyes of God. Some visitors can even make out a face in the rock formation. On a rainy day, “tears” fall from the corners of the eyes; on clear afternoons, you can look up to view the blue heavens above, as if you were looking at the very soul of God.
This stunning composition of coral is located in the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. The naturally formed heart-shaped reef was discovered in 1975 by a pilot. It is now a popular wedding and engagement attraction.
"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age." --Psalm 92. Contrary to Scripture, sometime around 500 AD, the Judean Date Palm went exinct. Once a primary source of shade, food, even medicine the tree was lost. Or was it? In 2005 Dr. Elaine Solowey at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies heard about 2,000-year-old seeds found in a 1970s excavation at Masada, Herod the Great's Mountain fortress. The seeds had sat for decades in a drawer. Solowey retrieved three of the seeds soaked them in fertilizer and hormones and planted them. No one believed they could sprout after so many centuries but one did. Today, the Methuselah (pictured above) is six feet tall.
A flock of hundreds of thousands of starlings soar in breathtaking formations. Their incredible display of aerial precision is visual artistry reminding us that nature's beauty is often ephemeral, a moment of awe, a glimpse of glory that lasts a lifetime.
High in the Peruvian Andes, some 60 miles south of Cusco, the ancient Incan capital, you’ll find a rainbow that never ends. It’s called Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain. The multicolored striations are the result of weather and mineralogical changes over millions of years, “similar to how a nail will rust,” according to geologist Trevor Nace. Want to make a visit? The hike to Vinicunca, at an elevation of about 17,000 feet, is not easy. Those who do make it, however, are in for a heavenly treat. Even before the Inca Empire, the “seven-colored mountain” was held sacred by the indigenous population, who still make yearly pilgrimages to the site today.—Michelle Krishnanand, Editorial Intern
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