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The Most Mysterious Places in the World

Written by Kevin Jennings

There are countless mysterious places in the world. Most of the mysterious places people like to talk about are either manmade like Easter Island or Area 51, or have a mysterious but untrue mythology like Loch Ness or the Bermuda Triangle. Some, like Atlantis, never even existed at all. Today’s episode isn’t about those, as we’ll be looking at some of the most mysterious places that are naturally occurring, at least as far as we know.

The Crooked Forest

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crooked_Forest_2.jpg

            In north-west Poland, close to the German border, there is a little town called Nowe Czarnowo. The town has approximately 660 residents, and circa 1930 those residents planted a grove of 400 pine trees. The result was what has become known as the Crooked Forest, or Krzywy Las in Polish. The trunk of each tree comes out of the ground, then takes a nearly 90 degree turn. After growing sideways for 1-3 meters, the trees right themselves and grow upwards the rest of their height. It’s a remarkable site to behold, even in pictures, and the uniqueness of this forest is further highlighted by the surrounding forest of straight pine trees that encircles it.

            While many believe that the curvature of the trees is the result of manmade tools and techniques, there are no records of this having been done. Given that the forest is less than 100 years old, it seems likely that someone who knew the truth regarding how or why they made the crooked forest would have been able to provide the answer. Furthermore, even if the trees were grown this way intentionally, no method for how it was done has been able to be determined.

            Another popular theory is that the growth of these trees is the result of some natural weather pattern such as a typhoon. Every tree in the Crooked Forest curves to the north which is not necessarily evidence of this theory over the previous one, but if the trees bent in different directions it would likely rule out these sorts of natural phenomena entirely.

            A similar forest is located on the Curonian Split in Russia. Known as the Dancing Forest, these trees bend into various patterns such as rings, hearts, and spirals. The Dancing Forest was planted in the 1960s at the former site of a Nazi German gliding school. Just like the Crooked Forest, the dancing trees are pine trees, and no one knows why they grew in this unusual manner. The least supernatural theory is that the growth patterns were caused by caterpillars of the pine shoot moth, which feed on pine, but there is nothing conclusive.

Eternal Flame Falls

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            Chestnut Ridge Park is a 1200 acre park in Orchard Park, New York. Inside the park is the Shale Creek Preserve which is home to Eternal Flame Falls, and it’s all right there in the name. It is a small waterfall, about 30 feet high, that by itself is fairly unimpressive. It relies on rainwater and melting snow, so water usually only flows in the spring or after heavy rainfall. However, at the base of the waterfall is a small grotto. Inside the grotto is an 8 inch flame that burns year round.

            Legend has it that the flame was lit by Native Americans hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and that it has been burning ever since. It’s likely true that they were the first ones to light the flame, however it has definitely not been burning nonstop. The flame does occasionally go out, but it is easily relit, normally by the next tourist that happens to hike by.

            By itself, a naturally occurring eternal flame is pretty cool, but it’s not unique. There’s over a dozen known eternal flames in the world, including the famous Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan, also known as the Door to Hell. What makes this flame mysterious is that scientists aren’t actually sure how the flame is able to stay lit.

            Typically, shale must be heated to water’s boiling point for the carbon structures within the shale to break down and form natural gas molecules. However, the Eternal Flame Fall’s shale is much cooler than that, as well as being much younger and more shallow than the shale that normally produces gas. Geologists investigated the site in 2013, and they discovered that the composition of gasses leaking from the seep was different than those normally found at eternal flames. If scientists can better understand what is causing the creation of natural gas that is keeping this flame lit, it may provide a new source of natural gas to reduce humanity’s dependency on fossil fuels.

Lake Hillier

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            On January 15, 1802, Captain Matthew Flinders visited Middle Island, the largest island of the Recherche Archipelago off the southern coat of Western Australia. Upon climbing the highest peak on the island, now known as Flinders Peak, he discovered a lake 2000 feet long and 820 feet wide (600 meters by 250 meters). What made this lake so mysterious was that it was bright pink, often described as bubble gum pink. On a return trip to the island in May of 1803, he named it Lake Hillier in honour of his crew member William Hillier. Like so many pioneers on the digital Oregon Trail, William died of dysentery while they were on the island.

            There are other lakes that have been known to turn pink, but what separates Lake Hillier from other pink lakes is that it retains its colour year round. Even if you were to bottle water from the lake, the bottle’s contents would remain pink, something that it is not true of other pink lakes. Don’t drink from that bottle, however, as Lake Hillier is ten times more saline than seawater, comparable to the Dead Sea. The lake is so salty that the shore is surrounded by a ring of salt. On his first trip to the island, Flinders was able to fill his ship with salt that was found on the shore of the lake saying that it “was of a good quality, and required no other process than drying to be fit for use.”

            The lake was the subject of salt mining operations in the late 19th century, but it did not last long. One of the key reasons this operation failed mentioned “the toxicity of the salt collected for consumption.” This was likely not the salt itself but rather some other factor. Extensive research of the lake has found that there is nothing toxic or dangerous, and that the water is perfectly safe for humans to swim in. Of course, you aren’t actually allowed to swim in it. The lake is difficult to reach so generally it is off limits to tourists, only being viewed by helicopter and airplane rides.

            So what makes the water pink? While this was a mystery for a long time, scientists believe they have found the answer. The excessive salt content makes marine life impossible, but there are still microorganisms thriving in Lake Hillier. Scientists have concluded that a combination of salt-loving red algae and red bacteria combine with the salt to release red dye and give the water it’s pinkish hue.

Marfa Lights

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            The Marfa lights, also known as the marfa ghost lights, were first recorded in 1883 when a young cowhand named Robert Reed Ellison saw a flickering light while driving his cattle. He thought he may have just seen the campfire of nearby Apache Indians. Other settlers told him that they also saw the lights appear from time to time, but that whenever the investigated, there were never any signs of a campfire.

            People travel from all around the world to Marfa, Texas to view the eponymous and mysterious lights. Marfa’s tourism website refers to the lights as “a” top reason to visit Marfa, incorrectly implying that there is any other reason to visit the city. The official viewing area is located 9 miles east of Marfa on Route 90. Looking to the southeast horizon, spectators will see mostly white lights, but sometimes red, blue, or green, moving across the horizon. Sometimes they remain stationary, sometimes they flicker, and sometimes they dart around and inconceivable speeds. The Marfa lights are visible year round, though the best time of day to see them changes throughout the year.

            Skeptics and researchers have analyzed the appearance and frequency of the lights and compared it to the frequency of cars traveling along the nearby Route 67. They found a strong correlation and believe that all of the Marfa lights are simply cars or fires, which would certainly account for the colours seen. However, Route 67 is also visible from the official viewing area and whether it is somehow the source or not, it is not the location of the ghost lights.

It has been argued that unusual atmospheric conditions may cause the lights from Route 67 to reflect across the sky. Because of Marfa’s elevation of nearly a mile above sea level, it is also believed that the lights could be mirages created by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. The latter explanation may be possible, but it is highly unlikely that highway traffic was the cause of reports of the Marfa lights in the 1800s.

Whatever the cause of these mysterious lights, they are a sight to behold and no amount of scientific research into the phenomenon has impeded tourists from traveling across the globe to witness the lights for themselves. Even if you aren’t impressed with the lights, the city of Marfa’s visitor center assures you that there are plenty of other attractions in town worth visiting, a statement they might even believe.

Blood Falls

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            Antarctica is a scary place to travel to. To say the conditions are inhospitable for humans is putting it rather charitably. Now imagine you’re exploring an unknown part of the frozen continent and you suddenly discover a five story tall waterfall of blood, slowly traveling down the side of a glacier. If you were Australian geologist Griffith Taylor who discovered this waterfall of blood in 1911 on the Taylor Glacier in the Taylor Valley, you would have assumed it was just red algae. You always would have been wrong.

            The liquid is in fact the blood of ancient beings of impossible size trapped beneath the frozen glaciers of Antarctica. That may be a bit overly dramatic and misleading, but it’s both much more interesting and much closer to the truth than Taylor’s assumption.

            The blood red colour of the water comes from high levels of iron in the extremely salty water. Much more interesting than the water itself, is where the water is coming from. Trapped below the Taylor Glacier is a small lake, sealed away from the rest of the world roughly 1.5-2 million years ago. The lake has no access to light and virtually no oxygen, yet it is teeming with microbial life.

            The explanation of exactly what is going on gets more than a little technical, but the important thing is that this lake was isolated from the rest of the world long enough ago and for a long enough time to develop and evolve independently of other marine life on Earth. It is often referred to as a “time capsule” and the definition of primordial ooze.

            Extreme conditions in the lake include the lack of light and oxygen, arctic temperatures, and extreme salinity. Not only do the mysterious Blood Falls show that life can evolve in even the harshest conditions on Earth, but it provides support for the Snowball Earth hypothesis, the idea that during one or more of Earth’s ice ages the entire surface of the planet froze over. We now have a glimpse of how life may have survived such inhospitable conditions. While the biome found at the source of the Blood Falls may not be extraterrestrial, their ability to thrive in this conditions is almost otherworldly.

Fosse Dionne

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            The Fosse Dionne is a natural spring in the town of Tonnarre, France. It roughly translates to Divine Pit, and the spring has been in use for as long as humans have been humaning, or at least for as long as we’ve known it was there. The oldest account of the Fosse Dionne comes from 659, though it very likely was used before that. For everything from drinking, to bathing, to washing clothes, if people needed water, this was the place.

            On average, 311 liters of water flow out of the spring every second, though there are seasonal changes. In periods of intense rainfall, the flow can reach as much as 3,000 liters every second. With so much water pouring out of this natural spring, the question was bound to come up: where exactly is all this water coming from?

            It’s a question that was asked hundreds of years ago, and one that we still don’t have an answer to. That’s not for lack of trying, either. Much of the water is rainfall that seeps into the limestone of the surrounding area. By using dye tracing, an aptly named technique where dye is placed into water to track its flow, it was demonstrated that some of the water comes from the Laigne River which disappears underground 27 miles (43.5 kilometers) away from the Fosse Dionne. This can’t possibly account for all of the water, however.

            In 1974, it was time to finally crack this mystery. The spring has a large basin, but quickly becomes narrow and takes a 45 degree incline. Two professional divers descended into these narrow passages to try to find the source of the Fosse Dionne’s water. They both died in their attempt. In 1996, the town decided another attempt was in order and again hired a professional diver, another person who died without giving us any answers.

            A sensible person, and particularly a French person, may simply surrender and accept defeat, but Tonnarre’s mayor wasn’t going to give up. He was going to solve this mystery or let hundreds of professional divers die trying. In October of 2019, professional diver Pierre-Éric Deseigne was hired for the task. He did not die.

            Deseigne traveled a total of 370 meters (over 1200 feet) from the entrance of the spring to a final depth of 70 meters (230 feet). He filmed his entire expedition, giving us access to views of territory that no one had ever seen before. What he did not do was find the source of the spring.

            The mystery of Fosse Dionne may never be solved, but perhaps we should just be grateful that our ancestors had access to this wellspring of clean water. Those divers who perished trying to find the source of the water would certainly agree, it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

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