Our planet has built some pretty cool stuff over the past 4+ billion years. The mechanisms it employs to push up and tear down itself are endlessly fascinating. Layers of sediment are laid by eruption or erosion only to be shoved, smashed, pressed, folded, uplifted and eroded again. Minerals react and interact with each other chemically and metamorphically, creating unreal shapes and amazing colors and textures. Most of the time a mountain looks like other mountains or a rock looks like any other rock, but sometimes factors conspire to create the most fantastical things... things you can't believe occurred on their own. Things that seem to flaunt physics or nature itself. This is a list of the most amazing geologic formations on earth. Vote up the ones you think are the most spectacular, the most insane... the most unreal.
Deformation, Mineralogy and Erosion
Thanks to the intense volcanism of the region, the Ausangate Rainbow Mountains of Peru are one of the most astonishing geologic marvels on Earth. The Andes mountains are an incredibly complex chain of mountains that formed by the subduction of the Nazca plate under the South American plate. Like most subduction zones, it produced an enormous amount of volcanic activity and rare minerology. The rainbow itself is due to the environmental conditions and mineralogy. Iron oxides, goethite, oxidized limonite, iron sulphide and chlorite all paint the hillsides with brilliant colors while the twisting shapes are entirely due to the exposure of the deformation of the mountains from the uplifting. It is easily one of the wonders of the geologic world.
Volcanism & Bacteria
Located in Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Prismatic Spring is another fantastical creation of volcanism - like many of the wonders in the park. It is a hot spring, formed when heated water comes up through cracks in the Earth's crust. The water cycles through rising and falling - heating and cooling - and the constant cycle creates rings of distinct temperatures. While water at the center of the spring is too hot to sustain most life at 189 degrees Fahrenheit, as it spreads out it cools and each ring of varying temperature hosts a different type of bacteria. And each type of bacteria produces a different color. The water at the center results from the inherent blue of the water (because of the scattering of blue wavelengths, the same reason the ocean appears blue) because of its depth and sterility.
Found in western Turkey, these otherworldly terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from 17 hot springs for the past thousands of years. Like all the best things in the world of geological wonders, these terraces have volcanism to thank for their existence.
The terraces have been around and been used for much of human history in the region. At the end of the 2nd century BC the dynasty of the Attalids, the kings of Pergamon, established the thermal spa of Hierapolis. The ruins of the baths, temples, and other Greek monuments can be seen at the site. While the oldest rocks in the area are crystaline marbles, quartzite and schists, most are of the Pliocene epoch.
Deformation and Erosion
Located in the spectacular Coyote Buttes on the border of Utah and Arizona, The Wave is a bucket list item for photographers. Believe it or not, the formation is caused almost entirely by wind. The wavy layers themselves were formed in ancient sand dunes, the different layers representing the deposition of sand grains of slightly different sizes. Their twisting orientations are representative of the direction of the prevailing winds of their time.
The Wave exposes deformed laminae within the Navajo Sandstone that was laid down during the Jurassic. Fantastically, these laminae were deformed before to the lithification of the sand to form sandstone and, judging from their physical characteristics, this deformation likely represents the trampling and churning of these sands by dinosaurs! How cool is that?