Most Mysterious Places on Earth
Much of what happens on our planet can be explained. But to this day, some destinations remain shrouded in mystery, with the world's greatest minds unable to determine their histories or explain their remarkable features.
Take, for instance, a remote valley in Norway where a regular light show has no known origin. Or a forest in Poland where trees grow at a mystifying 90-degree angle. Or an area of Lake Michigan where all sorts of bizarre incidents have taken place, and no one is sure why.
We combed the continents in search of the world’s most mysterious places, and found some truly wild places.
San Luis Valley
The San Luis Valley desert in southern Colorado is so mysterious, it even has its own Google Map highlighting various paranormal activity that's been reported there. A flying humanoid was spotted in the desert in 2009, there have been many bigfoot sightings over the years, and it's home to a ranch that “figured prominently in the [animal] mutilation waves of the ’70s.”
This otherwise beautiful valley — the largest alpine valley in the world — has been inhabited by humans (or aliens?) for thousands of years. One indication of this is the snaking stones of unknown origin that measure hundreds of feet long and contain rocks so enormous that it would take a well-coordinated effort to place them.
But perhaps the weirdest feature isn’t otherworldly at all, it’s just bizarre. The northern part of the valley floor contains the 40-square-mile Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which features the world’s tallest dune at 750 feet. Geologists have a hard time explaining the origin of the sand, but they think it might’ve been blown in from the Rio Grande riverbed to the west. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the sand is some of the purest silica on Earth, and has a distinct mineral composition unlike anything else in the valley.
They’re massive and they’re mysterious.
Covering some 19 square miles in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru, about 260 miles south of Lima, remarkable geoglyphs called Nazca Lines were built between 500 BCE and 500 CE. There’s no definitive explanation for their existence, but they are widely believed to have religious significance for the pre-Columbian people of Nazca.
Remarkably, the Nazca Lines have withstood time, in large part due to their isolated location in a windless and stable desert climate. They were created by digging trenches in the desert’s reddish-brown earth, revealing a light-colored clay underneath.
The geoglyphs range from simple straight lines to geometric shapes to more complicated animals like a hummingbird, spider and monkey. There’s also a human-like figure. They are best viewed from the air, although surrounding foothills offer ideal vantage points for some of the designs.
Because they are best viewed from above, conspiracy theories posit that the Nazca people were either communicating with their gods or extraterrestrial visitors.
Few if any presumed UFO sites are as rich with conspiracy as the one formerly owned by billionaire Robert Bigelow in the Utah wilderness 150 miles east of Salt Lake City. It helps that a movie in the found-footage genre called “Skinwalker Ranch” was filmed there in 2013, and that the ranch was featured in the “Extraordinary Beliefs” documentary series. Add that to decades of mysterious sightings and encounters, and you have (allegedly) a full-fledged government cover-up in plain sight.
Whether you believe in extraterrestrials or paranormal activity, there’s no denying the bizarre at Skinwalker Ranch, where there have been reported sightings of UFOs, bigfoot-type creatures, animal mutilations, unexplained lights, poltergeist activity and crop circles. These things have been reported throughout Uintah County, but are in the highest concentration around the ranch.
The ranch was named after the Navajo legend about harmful witches who disguise themselves as, turn into or possess any animal.
La Zona del Silencio (Zone of Silence)
Deep in the northern deserts of Mexico is a 30-odd square-mile area where things are just a bit off. In the earthly realm, the Zone contains dozens of flora and fauna endemic to the area and is rich in uranium and magnetite. It’s the otherworldly claims, however, that are most intriguing.
Anomalies include radio signals and electronic equipment being lost or going haywire. A radioactive U.S. military test rocket sent into space in 1970 ended up in the Zone some 500 miles away from its reentry destination. Strange lights and UFOs have been spotted in the vicinity. And it lies along the mysterious 30th parallel.
But our favorite legend is that of the helpful and polite people who seemingly appear out of nowhere, only to disappear just as fast.
A ranching family in the area has spoken of frequent visits from two men and one woman, all Spanish-speaking and with long blonde hair, who simply request to fill their canteens with fresh water and then leave. One time they reportedly told an inquisitive family member they come “from above.” A researcher who ended up lost in the Zone said a trio of similar-looking people led him back to his camp, then disappeared.
A couple whose vehicle got trapped in a torrential storm, meanwhile, were helped by two unusually tall men wearing baseball caps and yellow raincoats, who pushed their truck to safety. When the couple got out of their vehicle to give thanks, the mysterious good Samaritans were nowhere to be found.
There’s a curious little forest in far-western Poland near the German border where trees grow at a 90-degree angle at their base — and no one knows why. This mystery is doubly intriguing because the Crooked Forest, as it’s known, is surrounded by a non-crooked forest of trees that grow straight up in the normal way.
The Crooked Forest trees were planted in the 1930s and experienced their inverted arc some seven to 10 years later. Intriguing theories posit that the trees are the result of extraterrestrial influences or a gravitational pull that works like no other on Earth.
The more boring and likely answer is that humans did this, perhaps hoping to harvest the trees for shipbuilding. The reason no one knows for sure is that the age of the trees and their possible human manipulation coincide directly with World War II and the Nazi invasion of Poland, which essentially wiped the city of Gryfino off the map until a power plant was constructed there in the 1970s and brought back residents.
Thus, no one living there now would have any recollection of the Crooked Forest’s origins.
Plain of Jars
The 1930s discovery of thousands of megalithic stone jars dotting a remote landscape in Laos has long intrigued travelers and scientists alike.
The jars date as far back as 500 BC and are quite the sight to behold. Most of the jars are sandstone, but some are granite or limestone, and it’s presumed they were chiseled with iron tools. They were likely covered with lids, although few stone lids have been found so it’s again presumed the lids were made from wood or ratan. It’s unknown what they were used for or why they were placed where they are, but local legend tells the best story.
The story goes that the jars are the last remnants of a society of giants whose king used them to store his rice wine. Other, less fantastical explanations are that they collected rainwater or were used as funerary urns, the latter of which makes the most sense considering human remains and ceramics have been unearthed near the jars.
Temple of Jupiter
The giant blocks of stone called the Trilithon that make up the base of this Roman temple in Baalbek, Lebanon remain a great mystery of the ancient world despite over 100 years of study by archaeologists.
What was the purpose of the temple, and why were such large stones used for its foundation? No one knows for sure.
There are 25 stones underneath the ruins that each weigh 450 tons, and three that clock in at a massive 1,000 tons each. By comparison, the blocks used for the Great Pyramid of Giza weigh 80 tons each. So how were the Jupiter stones transported to the site, since their quarry is located a quarter-mile away? That might forever remain a mystery.
And speaking of the quarry, the largest cut piece of stone in the world, weighing 1,200 tons, still sits there resting at an angle and attached at the bottom as if it were about to be cut free and hauled to the temple.
Explanations for the blocks’ transport are that, like the Egyptian pyramids, a system of pulleys, ramps and rollers were used to get them to the temple site. The problem with this explanation is that the temple sits atop a hill, which would make the feat even more outrageously difficult.
Across the Mississippi River from St. Louis there once was a thriving city of 20,000 American Indians from many different cultures — making it at the time the largest and most sophisticated city in North America outside Mexico, with a larger population than European cities like London.
Very little is known about this sprawling metropolis because its residents did not keep written records of any kind, but in recent years archaeologists have unearthed some amazing facts.
Cahokia, which was named after the tribe living there when French explorers arrived in the 17th century, was at its peak from 1050-1200. Inhabitants liked to drink caffeinated beverages, play games, and create art and jewelry. The area climate was wetter and warmer at the time, which made farming easier. And human teeth found in the area show that people from as far away as the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast lived there.
A flood in the 1200s largely wiped out Cahokia, and not much else is known. Today, Missouri’s Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site has helped preserve what’s left.
Any trip to Mexico City should include a visit to this fascinating Mesoamerican city just 30 miles northeast of the capital. The pyramids and other structures here date to 400 BCE; by the time the Aztecs found the city in the 1400s, it had already been abandoned for centuries. They named it “the place where the gods were created,” or Teotihuacan.
But who built the city and why is one of the great mysteries of Mexico.
Nothing speaking to its origins was left behind, but features of the buildings, avenues, pyramids and other structures indicate Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec influences. One of the best explanations is that people from many ancient cultures flooded the area following a nearby volcanic eruption and built the city. While far from definitive, this idea is boosted by the fact that the main road, called the Avenue of the Dead, points directly at Cerro Gordo, a sacred extinct volcano.
Deep down in Japan’s southern island chain, near Taiwan, is Yonaguni. Island waters here are known among divers for their abundance of hammerhead sharks, but in 1987 one diver discovered something much cooler that still baffles scientists to this day.
Not far below the surface of the water is Yonaguni Monument, a series of sandstone and mudstone structures connected to rock that many people believe are too distinct to be the work of Mother Nature. The largest of the structures is some 500 feet long, 130 feet wide and 90 feet tall.
Features like pillars and stone columns, a star-shaped platform and a road indicate that humans built this thing, but no one knows for sure. Naturally, many believe it to be the remains of the mythical lost city of Atlantis.
Lake Michigan Triangle
Everyone’s heard of the Bermuda Triangle in the Caribbean, but on the mainland U.S. there is an even more mysterious aquatic polygon in Lake Michigan. The lore started in 1891 when a wooden ship hauling lumber and seven sailors disappeared without a trace — literally, not even a single piece of wood was ever found despite a thorough search.
The most eerie of the odd stories is that of the Rosa Belle, a ship containing 11 people that was empty and overturned when it was finally discovered in 1921. The ship contained damage that would indicate a collision with another vessel, but there were no other reports of accidents at the time or other wreckage found. The boat had also been rebuilt after a similar incident years before.
This and other mysteries led people to claim that the triangle contained a time portal or that alien craft inhabited the waters. Whatever might be going on there, to this day ship captains do their best to avoid the triangle.
Starting in 1981, residents of Hessdalen Valley in central Norway started seeing colored lights hanging in the sky from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., with appearances most common in winter months. The lights were considered so strange that they sparked a massive scientific effort to explain their origin, complete with an automated measurement station.
This led to a pile of possible explanations — including solar activity, cosmic rays, mini-black holes, heated nanoparticles and quantum fluctuation of the vacuum state — but none of them checked out and still no one is certain of where the lights come from.
One seemingly reasonable explanation is also the most boring: The lights are from aircraft at a distant airport. This doesn’t fully explain the phenomenon, though, even if it stacks up with the origin of once-unexplainable lights in places like Texas and North Carolina.
In the Namib Desert in southern Africa, patches of barren land dubbed "fairy circles" are both impressive and mysterious, and efforts to explain them have been debunked.
Are they caused by termites, plants competing for precious water or the feet of gods walking the lands? Scientists have mostly settled on the insects and water ideas, but nothing is conclusive. And throwing a wrench into the whole mystery was the discovery of the same type of circles in Western Australia in 2014.
The circles have been described as resembling a polka-dot dress. They are evenly spaced across vast expanses of short grass and are best viewed from above. While science might yet confirm a perfectly reasonable if uninspiring explanation, it’s much more fun to imagine giant deities roaming the Earth with their massive, circular feet.
Taos, New Mexico — which has been drawing artists to its ancient surroundings since the very end of the 19th century — is a magical place well worth a visit in its own right. The Taos Pueblo, a five-story series of adjoining homes, dates back a millenia and is one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in America.
For those seeking the weird and mystical, Taos is also a top attraction. Since at least 30 years ago, people living in Taos have been hearing a low-frequency and highly annoying humming sound. It’s estimated that at least 2 percent of the 5,600-plus residents can hear the sound, which has no concrete explanation.
It could be a government mind-control experiment. Maybe it emanates from an underground alien base. More plausibly, if less thrillingly, it's just the sound of mankind, or perhaps all in the heads of cannabis-influenced Bohemians.
In any case, there are other hums around the world, and for some people it’s no laughing matter, with the soft and constant pitch driving them bonkers.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Our next mysterious locale is perhaps a study in the desire of believers to grasp any verifiable connection to what they worship. The story begins in 2016, but really it started more than 2,000 years ago. And it’s spine-tinglingly mysterious.
In the holy land of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is presumed to be the burial ground of one Jesus Christ before his resurrection. In 2016, strange things started happening there. People reported smelling a sweet aroma emanating from Christ’s tomb, and sensitive instrumentation used to scan beneath the tomb simply stopped working properly.
Was this evidence of the Second Coming or mere coincidence? Did science have an explanation?
The short answer to all of that is no. But the world works in strange ways. The tomb had not been opened since the year 135 during the reign of Emperor Constantine, which in and of itself is worth a pause and reflection.