5 of the creepiest landscapes on Earth
In the spirit of Halloween, we've tracked down some of the most unusual and unsettling landscapes from across the world. Read on if you dare...
Compasses that go haywire. Islands seething with deadly snakes. Eerie drifts of smoke seeping from the ground. All sorts of natural and geologically caused phenomena can give you the heeby jeebies. Throw in universal phobias or something seemingly inexplicable, and you’ve got everything your hair needs to stand on end.
Of course, as Earth scientists we’re always looking for evidence and reason. But as storytellers and tour guides, we love to spin a good yarn! So here are five landscapes guaranteed to give you the creeps – even though there’s (probably) a perfectly rational explanation…
1. The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
It’s obvious why the Darvaza gas crater is better known as ‘The Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates of Hell’. At 69 metres wide and 30 metres deep, the pit is a surreal sight, especially at night when it glows red and orange with smokeless flames in the middle of the Karakum Desert.
Technically, Darvaza is a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern, but mystery surrounds how and when it formed.
Some geologists say the collapse happened in the 1960s; others that Soviet engineers drilled the site as an oil field in 1971 but abandoned it after it collapsed within days.
When the gas was lit to control the emission of poisonous gases, it was thought it would only burn for a few days or weeks. More than fifty-or-so years later, it’s still flaming and has become a permanent, creepy feature of the desert landscape – and perhaps the landscape of Hell too…
2. Snake Island, Brazil
It’s not only people with a fear of snakes who’ll want to stay away from Snake Island. Anyone who wants to make it to their next birthday would be well advised to steer clear too.
This isolated island, officially called Ilha da Queimada Grande, located around 90 miles off the coast of Brazil, is home to around 4,000 lancehead vipers.
These aren’t just any old lancehead vipers. When the island was separated from the mainland by rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age, the population of vipers was trapped there with no natural predators.
They’ve since evolved to become one of the planet’s deadliest snakes. They had to, if they were going to survive on birds (the only food left for the snakes after they ate all the rodents).
Thanks to natural selection, the vipers with the most potent venom thrived; their poison took effect before their prey could fly away.
Now their venom is around five times more poisonous than mainland lancehead vipers’ venom. It can melt human flesh and kill a human in less than an hour.
And with an estimated one viper for every square metre of land in some parts of the island, it’s impossible to walk far without encountering one. Just stay away!
3. Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA
In northeastern Pennsylvania, a ghost town moulders among drifts of smoke. Centralia used to be a bustling mine town, until the honeycomb of coal mines beneath it caught fire in 1962. Since then, the population has declined to just a few brave – or foolhardy – souls eking out their lives in the smouldering landscape; the city was condemned by the government in 1992.
This is a place where fires blaze around cemeteries, and dead trunks act more like chimneys than trees. Demolished houses and the remains of picket fences mark out the eerily empty grid of once-busy streets.
Nobody knows exactly how the fire started, but it’s thought it could continue for another 250 years. Central Philadelphia sits on top of one of the biggest coal deposits in the world, but the black gold that drew people to settle here is also responsible for driving them away.
At first, residents found the situation vaguely amusing. That was before sulphurous fumes and carbon monoxide nearly suffocated people in their homes, and a 12-year-old boy was nearly swallowed by a sinkhole in someone’s yard.
4. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
While many chapels are renowned for their beautiful frescoes and stained-glass windows, the artworks at Sedlec Ossuary, in Kutna Hora, might not be exactly what you had in mind. From the outside, Sedlec Osssuary looks like any other medieval Gothic church. But its interior was made with the help of approximately 40,000 to 70,000 people – or skeletons, to be precise.
In 1870, a local woodcarver was hired to turn bones stored in a crypt into art, and it looks like he took his task very seriously.
The ossuary is decorated with skull candle holders and bone candelabras. A large chandelier made with at least one of every bone in the human body hangs in the centre. There’s even bunting, or prayer flags, made from bones strung overhead, and garlands of skulls. No wonder it’s better known as the ‘Church of Bones’.
5. The Devil’s Sea, Japan
You’ve probably heard of the Bermuda Triangle, an area in the Atlantic where numerous boats and aircraft disappeared without trace. But have you ever heard of the Pacific’s equivalent?
Over the centuries, the area around the island of Miyake, about 100 km south of Tokyo, became known to Japanese fishermen as ‘Manoumi’, which translates as ‘troublesome sea’, ‘dangerous sea’ or ‘The Devil’s Sea’.
In 1980, a ship twice the size of the Titanic vanished here. Aircraft have disappeared while flying overhead in perfect conditions. More than 20 submarines were lost apparently without reason during World War II. And Japan lost five military vessels here between 1952 and 1954.
Naturally, paranormal theories about the area are rife, mostly around electro-magnetic aberrations that affect vehicles’ instruments.
There are geological and environmental theories too. Apparently, gas eruptions from a vast field of methane hydrates on the ocean floor in the area can affect buoyancy and sink a ship without trace.
Many of these theories have been debunked, but the stories, like so many others, have a grip on our collective imagination. And at GeoCultura, we appreciate the way they add even more depth and interest to the geological stories already layered on the landscape. After all, life would be dull without a bit of mystery and speculation!
Hear more landscape-based stories on our upcoming tours. And if you love a spooky tale, just ask our guides – they will be thrilled to tell you some ghost stories on location!