Nature is beautiful — that seems obvious. You likely don’t have to travel far to immerse yourself in a natural environment that can take your breath away. Still, there are some places where nature provides not just amazing sights but also amazing stories. The following five natural sites around the world are worth the visit for their inimitable beauty as well as their fascinating history.
1. Cliffs of Moher
On an island filled with beautiful sights, the Cliffs of Moher might be the most jaw-dropping of them all. Ireland’s famous cliffs have attracted onlookers for centuries — and rightfully so, considering the outstanding views of green grass, brown rock, and deep, blue ocean. However, the cliffs have also cultivated a cadre of legends, many of them divine in nature.
The cliffs are a common setting for stories of the Tuatha de Danann, the pre-Christian gods of Ireland, and one of the most interesting tales concerns their ultimate demise. Saint Patrick, who drove out the heathen ways, rid Ireland of snakes, and performed other miracles that earned him an international holiday, angered the old gods such that they transformed into horses and hid in the caves of Kilcornan. Many years later, the seven foals emerged — but they were blinded by the sunlight and galloped to their doom over the Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs of Moher can be crowded, but the scenery is worth the wait. Almost every feature of the cliffs has a story behind it, so you should be sure to ask your tour guide to recite as many legends as they know.
2. Niagara Falls
From all the celebrities visiting the falls for romantic honeymoons to the mystical and magical First Nations folklore woven into the fabric of the region, Niagara Falls has too many stories to count. Still, it’s hard to beat a good tale of daredevilry — and the size and power of the falls attracts plenty of risk-takers and death-defiers.
Perhaps the most famous of Niagara’s daredevils is Annie Edward Taylor, the first woman to brave the raging river and falls in a barrel. A widow desperate for money, 63-year-old Taylor shoved cushions into a wooden pickle barrel and was tossed into the middle of the Niagara River upstream of the falls. Twenty minutes later, after being tossed violently by the rushing water, Taylor emerged unscathed — but while she attained great fame, she never became wealthy from her act.
By staying in hotels near Niagara Falls, you can enjoy a brief walk to most of the Niagara attractions with amazing stories. You can still see Taylor’s real barrel in the Daredevil Exhibit in Niagara’s IMAX Theatre.
In the very heart of Utah, a crop of quaking aspen trees glow white, creating a beautiful forest landscape. However, this forest is more than it seems; in fact, it is hardly a forest at all. This crop of aspen is Pando, one of the largest single organisms in the entire world.
While there are hardly any legends surrounding Pando, the reality is amazing enough. For centuries, Pando was thought to be a normal forest, but testing determined that the aspen shared identical genetic material. Rather than reproducing sexually with male and female trees producing seeds, aspen create new shoots from lateral moves in the root system. Because Pando has been growing for more than 80,000 years, it has grown to inconceivable size. Consisting of more than 47,000 trees and weighing 6,615 tons, Pando is enormous — and it is in danger.
Overgrazing by deer and elk is causing damage to Pando’s roots, inhibiting its ability to regenerate. Campers and hikers are welcome to visit Pando, as long as they respect the organism by picking up trash and staying away from fenced off areas intended to encourage new growth.
4. Paricutin Volcano
While volcanoes seem rare and terrifying, in truth there are more than 1,500 active volcanoes on the land — more exist under the ocean, and even more have gone dormant. Still, the volcano in Paricutin, Mexico is distinct for the speed and ferocity with which it emerged.
On February 20, 1943, farmer Dionisio Pulido watched as a small crack developed in his cornfields and grew six feet in a matter of minutes. Over the next year, that crack would become a 1,102-foot tall volcano spewing ash and lava and consuming entire towns. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the Volcano died — but though the cornfields had long disappeared under volcanic sand, the farmer left a sign that read “This volcano owned and operated by Dionisio Pulido.”
Because Paracutin is dormant, you can hike up its agave-covered slopes on any day trip from Uruapan or Angahuan, Mexico. You can even take a guided tour to learn more details of this unbelievable story.
Also called Ayer’s Rock, it might seem like just an enormous, red boulder in the middle of the Australian desert — but to a dwindling group of people, Uluru is of the utmost spiritual importance.
According to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, Uluru is the petrified body of one of the powerful, ancestral beings that formed the Earth. Long ago, during a period referred to as the Dreamtime, the world was featureless; then, totemic animals and humans roamed, carving canyons, building mountains, filling lakes, and more with everyday activities like playing, hunting, and singing. Today, the Aborigines continue to conduct important ceremonies at Uluru, and many people are prohibited from visiting, touching, and climbing the rock for fear of upsetting the natural balance.
When you make your trip to Ayer’s Rock, you should be mindful of the spiritual nature of the place. Just as you wouldn’t disrespect important pieces of Judeo-Christian religions, you should approach Uluru as a vital symbol of faith.