10 Amazing Places You Won't Believe Are on Earth
Obsessed with images from the Mars Rover? Turns out you don't have to go intergalactic to see extraterrestrial terrain. These 10 spots may look like they are on another planet, but they are right here on earth.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
The towering limestone pillars at this park, part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area in China's Hunan Province, may look familiar—rumor has it that they were the inspiration for the floating forests in Avatar's fictitious world of Pandora. There are 3,000 of the jagged columns—at least one rising more then 3,500 feet in the air—that got their start more than 200 million years ago when seas receded and the limestone landscape took over. Today about 157 different types of trees grow in the forest park (including the rare Chinese dove tree) and the frequent fog that covers the area makes them seem even more cinematic.
See it for yourself: The town of Zhangjiajie is the gateway to the park and is reachable by air from major cities throughout mainland China as well as Hong Kong (about $500 roundtrip from Beijing or Shanghai, according to Kayak). There are frequent buses to the park from town. Once you are there you can either hike up for the best view, or take the cable car the half-mile ride up Huang Shi Zhai.
Simpson Desert, Australia
Australia is a large land mass with many extremes, but there is nothing like the Simpson Desert, which lies in a largely uninhabited region near the center of the country. That's because sand that swirls through the 54,000-square-mile desert is a blood red. This is a dunal desert, with linear dunes that can be 125 miles long and as tall as 23 miles. The color comes from iron oxide in the sand, with shades ranging from light pink to blood red. The further you get from area's river channels, the deeper—and more unsettling—the tone.
See it for yourself: This is an isolated part of Australia, but there are two towns close to the desert—Birdsville and Oonadatta. The drive from Adelaide (the closest major city) takes between 15 and 20 hours. Visitors to the park must have a Desert Parks Pass to visit (from $40 per vehicle for access over a two-month period). You will need four-wheel drive to traverse the desert. Temperatures can be extreme during the Australian summer and the park is typically closed from the beginning of December until mid-March.