10 Jaw-Dropping Basalt Formations Around the World
Who knew Mother Nature was such a talented sculptor?
In Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel, the characters land on a barren planet in search of—what else?—aliens. One of the scientists remarks that they must’ve found the alien base because “God does not build in straight lines.” Apparently, this “scientist” has never heard of columnar basalt formations. To be fair though, these perfectly geometric formations are so striking that they do look like you’re about to stumble on a lair of Handsome Squidward aliens. In reality, however, they’re formed by lava that contracts, consequentially fractures, and then, (depending on the spacing of the fractures and the lava flow) when the lava cools, the results are these perfectly shaped rock columns. Here are 10 of the most incredible examples of these geological wonders from around the world.
With its long and storied history of volcanic activity, Iceland offers a plethora of gorgeous basalt formations. But one of the most enchanting vistas is Stuðlagil Canyon. Located in the eastern part of the island, this canyon requires a five-mile hike, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. Vertical basalt cliffs make up either side of the canyon and, completing the tableau, are the bright, blue-green waters of the river that runs down its center.
WHERE: Northern Ireland
Located on Northern Ireland’s north coast, Giant’s Causeway is perhaps one of the most quintessential and impressive hexagonal basalt columns in the world. There are a couple of variations on the legend that gave this collection of thousands of columns their name, but the most common version involves Fionn mac Cumhaill (a figure that appears in both Irish and Scottish mythology) building the causeway in order to battle the Scottish giant Benandonner. Upon discovering how much larger his opponent is, however, Fionn retreats to Ireland and disguises himself as a baby. When Benandonner arrives, he sees Fionn in his baby disguise and decides that if this is how big the baby is, he’d be no match for the father and so flees back to Scotland, destroying the causeway in his wake.
The thing about causeways is that there tends to be something on the other side. And if you go across the North Channel that separates Northern Ireland to the Scottish island of Staffa you’ll find the mythological endpoint of Giant’s Causeway—Fingal’s Cave. But there is in fact some geological truth behind the legend, as experts have said that both sites were formed by the same lava flow.
It’s such an awe-inspiring site that it’s served as a point of inspiration for artists, writers, and musicians for hundreds of years. Felix Mendelssohn composed his Hebrides Overture after a visit to the eponymous Scottish archipelago which includes the island of Staffa. Although he was very seasick during a boat trip to view the cave itself (and so was likely composing in order to evoke the Hebrides more generally), the overture has also become known as Fingal’s Cave. No matter what title it goes by, however, it wonderfully conveys the island’s (and cave’s) rugged beauty.
If you hike or drive your way into Armenia’s Garni Gorge, you’ll eventually find a section of its cliff face that’s known as the “Symphony of Stones.” This collection of thousands of vertical basalt columns is as impressive as it is well-preserved. They also make for an interesting, colonnade double feature with another major point of interest in the area. Not far from the “Symphony of Stones” is the Temple of Garni. This remarkable, Greco-Roman-style structure dates back as far as the first century when it was dedicated to Mihr, the Armenian sun god.
Ganh Da Dia
These seaside formations are located on the coast of Vietnam. This site gets its name (which translates to Sea Cliff of Stone Plates) from the way the many interlocking columns resemble large plates. The formations descend beneath the crystalline clear waves, making them look like a staircase into a fantastical, underwater world.
Not far from the incredible engravings found at Twyfelfontein is a formation known simply as the Organ Pipes. Naturally, they get their name thanks to their resemblance to said keyboard instrument. This formation was created approximately 150 million years ago. While many formations are dark gray or black, these run the gamut from gray to a striking red-orange.
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While there are many captivating sites throughout Australia, the cliffs of Tasmania’s Cape Raoul may be one of the continent’s most beguiling. The columns that make up the sheer coast are remarkable in their own right, but there are also parts where they seem to shoot out of the sea like towering, rocky spires. The columns can be viewed during a moderately difficult hike or, to really take in their scale, via boat.
Cascada Los Tercios
WHERE: El Salvador
Waterfalls already rank pretty highly when it comes to natural wonders. But when you add in the phenomenon of columnar jointing, you’ve got yourself quite a spectacle. Specifically, you’ve got Cascada Los Tercios. Located in Suchitoto, El Salvador, this waterfall features vertical rock formations over which the water cascades into a small swimming hole below.
The small island nation of Mauritius is also home to some remarkable waterfalls. Here, the water falls over a wide array of perfectly geometric rocks against a lush, verdant background. Unsurprisingly, this makes it a very popular attraction for visitors looking for a scenic locale.
WHERE: United States
This remarkable formation, located in Mammoth, California, has been designated a National Monument. Formed over 100,000 years ago, the columns that make up this site are over 60 feet tall. In order to take it in for yourself, be prepared to take on a one-mile hike, but once you’re at your destination you’ll be greeted by such an otherworldly site you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported a lot farther than one mile.