Ansel Adams loved the area around Yosemite National Park so much that he called it “the great earth gesture,” as if Mother Nature had rewarded humanity with a prize. As history’s greatest landscape photographer, Adams knew a thing or two about stunning natural settings, but even his view was extremely limited. Had he been born a century later, chances are good that Adams would have photographed drop dead vistas from the Andes to the Australian Outback, but instead he confined his photography almost exclusively to the American West.
Gorgeous and diverse as the West is, Earth is a far, far larger place, full of landscapes that can be colorful, uniform and fitting to the eye, or just as easily, monotone, barren, misshapen and bizarre. Today, the kind of “great earth gestures,” Adams appreciated can be found on every continent.
Ice, rock, sand, plants, steam, hydraulics, wind and sun are just some of the elements that can contribute to settings so stunning that it is sometimes hard to believe they exist at all—or at least exist on earth. This is why writers struggling to describe such places often rely on adjectives like “alien,” “otherworldly” and “moonscape.” Other times nature’s work is so perfect and precise that is it is hard to fathom it is natural at all. Of the incredibly uniform Chocolate Hills of the Philippines, visitors often believe that like the pyramids, they are the handiwork of some industrious ancient culture.
But in fact, these incredible landscapes are both terrestrial and naturally occurring, and you can see so for yourself, as they beckon the intrepid traveler. Unlike the iconic images of man’s great labors, the Pyramids, the Moai of Easter Island, or the Eiffel Tower, these scenes are powerful to behold precisely because of man’s absence, shaped not by bulldozers, but by elemental forces.
Natural beauty is impossible to define, and truly in the eye of the beholder, and it would be pointless to try to describe one natural site as more beautiful than other. At the same time, it would be hard to imagine a beholder who was not stunned by the almost indescribable stilettos of rock and trees forming Madagascar’sTsingy de Bemaraha nature preserve or bowled over by the ultimate expression of liquid frozen in place that is Iceland’sJokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
These are all among the crème de la crème of landscapes, and they are all utterly breathtaking. Their very diversity defies easy comparison. Are glaciers, which covered nearly a third of the planet during the last ice age, but are now rare enough to require an effort to seek out, more or less beautiful than shifting desert sands studded with wind-carved rock pinnacles or formed into towering dunes that appear to be on fire? Is adeep canyon carved from rock by flowing water more impressive than a plant that can outlive the very rock around it, like the awesome baobob trees of Africa and Australia, which can live nearly 2000 years?
The range of landscapes that could qualify as the best is so vast it has even experts confused. The Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a not-for-profit organization devoted to encouraging people to discover, explore, and engage the natural wonders of the world, is in the process of expanding its list from the historically accepted, and somewhat befuddling seven (Aurora Borealis, Grand Canyon, Paricutin volcano, Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Mt. Everest and Rio’s harbor) to seven on each continent, just for starters.
The organization explains, “it is fair to question how the wonders were originally selected; why Victoria Falls was chosen and notIguazu Falls.” Accordingly, “Seven Natural Wonders recognizes… that this world is full of amazing, beautiful, and unique ‘natural wonders’ that deserve their spotlight and recognition.”
Here are 12 such landscapes, some of which are largely unknown but all of which certainly deserve their spotlight and recognition.
Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar
Chocolate Hills, Philippines
The Pinnacle Desert Australia
Bayron Bay, Australia
Bryce Canon, USA
Avenue of the Baobobs, Madagascar