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.
Located in the Yunnan Province of China, the Stone Forest is one of the most outstanding examples of karst topography found on Earth. The unique stone trees have their roots from 270 million years ago, when the area was a shallow sea that accumulated many layers of sandstone and limestone. This period of deposition was followed by uplift and then erosion. The formations seen today took millions of years to shape.
Naturally, such a place would have a story attached to it and the Stone Forest is no different. According to legend, the area is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Yi people. After falling in love she was forbidden to marry her chosen suitor and instead turned into a stone in the forest that still bears her name. Also known as the Shilin National Scenic Area, the forest covers an area of 150 square miles and contains several different sections with their own unique rock composition and erosion pattern.
While there are many, many extraordinary slot canyons out there in the world, most would say that Antelope Canyon takes first place in pure, amazing beauty. Found in Arizona, this canyon was formed by the erosion of 191-174 million year old Navajo sandstone and primarily carved by flash flooding. When it rains over these sandstone desert regions, water rushes and collects and merges and gains speed on rocky sandstone basins without any earth to soak it up or slow it down. Each time a new wall of water mixed with debris rushes down these narrow slots, it gouges sand off the walls of the canyon. The color comes from the iron oxides deposited in the sandstone in varying amounts and when the light shines down through the top of the slot, the colors and stripes of the walls make Antelope one of the most amazing geologic sights in the world.
Also known as the Eye of the Sahara, the Richat Structure can be found in the Sahara (hence the name) near Ouadane, west–central Mauritania. Once thought to be an asteroid impact because of its shape and size, we now know that it is instead a deeply eroded geologic dome.
The Richat Structure is 25 miles in diameter and contains rocks that date back to well before life on Earth. Millions of years ago, volcanic activity pushed up the entire area around the eye of the structure.
At that time, the area was likely much more wet, temperate, and nothing like the arid landscape it is today. This climate would have accumulated eroded materials in layers that would become sandstone. The supercontinent of Pangea was in the process of breaking up the band, and magma was pushing up into the mantle which pushed the sandstone up from below into a rocky dome with an igneous center. After the volcanic activity quelled, regular surface erosion when to work on the dome, eating away at the layers of rock in a mostly symmetrical fashion. The whole area began to settle and collapse, creating the somewhat sunken 'eye'.
Like nearly all the arches in Arches National Park (located in Utah), Delicate was formed from the sandstone fins that fracture across this amazing area. Underneath the majority of the park lies a salt bed that was deposited some 300 million years ago. Over time, sand and other sediments overlaid the salt bed and eventually were compressed into rock. The weight of this overlying sandstone caused the unstable salt bed to shift and buckle; layers of rock were moved upward to form domes, while elsewhere in the region cavities developed. When any given salt dome collapsed, the rocks on its flanks cracked. Wind and water took over and eroded the rock into fins of sandstone, and further weathering (particularly of the sides of the fins) created rock arches.
Like a lot of the redrock country of Utah, Delicate Arch is made of Entrada sandstone. Originally it was part of a fin, but now, because the rock that makes up the arch is somehow, miraculously, sturdier than the rest of its departed structure - only Delicate remains.