When people think of , they tend to focus on those big ones – the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls, for instance. And while those are iconic, they’re also pretty hearty and destined to last for the long haul. Nothing’s likely to ruin the Grand Canyon any time soon. But there have been many other wonders of nature that captured people’s imaginations with their beauty, their scale, or their uniqueness that have, sadly, vanished from the world entirely. Let’s take a look at 10 that are .
10. Darwin’s Arch
Located in the Galapagos Islands near Darwin Island in specific, is one of the most iconic natural stone arches in the world. Even if you didn’t know the name, looking at an image of it, chances are you’d recognize it from photos.
The Arch had long been a population destination for scuba divers. The rich life of the archipelago could be found all around it and attracted researchers and tourists from around the world. Divers routinely encounter hammerheads and whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, tuna, hawksbill turtles and many other species. And while you can likely still dive there and see all those creatures, you won’t be doing it under the arch. In May 2021 it collapsed into the sea.
The result of natural erosion, the two pillars that once supported the arch are still standing. However, the crosspiece is now part of the sea floor.
9. The Azure Window
If you were a fan, you might be familiar with the Azure Window of Malta. The limestone arch extended out over the sea and was the backdrop for the wedding of Daenerys and Khal Drogo in the first season of Game of Thrones. And it’s good that HBO got the footage when they could because that location just doesn’t exist anymore.
The arch had been suffering the effects of erosion for years. You can only do so much to fight wind, rain and sea. However, hit the coast of Malta in 2017 with gale force winds that the arch couldn’t manage. The entire structure collapsed into the sea, leaving nothing behind.
8. Sequoia Tunnel Tree
California’s massive sequoia trees have been a tourist attraction for ages. One of the most iconic was the Pioneer Cabin Tree. Back in the 1800s, a tunnel was carved into the trunk of the monstrous tree to allow people to pass through it. The image is one of the most recognizable forest images ever.
The huge tree towered 100 feet in the air and was 22 feet in diameter. It had been struck by lightning sometime in the 1800s, so the base was carved out to allow passage right through it in 1881.
Despite standing for centuries and serving as a tourist attraction for decades, nothing can take out nature quite like nature. The tree was already suffering root issues when a severe struck in January of 2017. The tree was unable to withstand the winds and was taken down.
7. The Ice Shelves
The Antarctic isn’t known for a lot besides ice and penguins. For a time, it seemed like those things were destined to stay there forever, but maybe that’s not the case. Icebergs of massive sizes are breaking away from the continent with more and more regularity. In May 2021, the broke away from the continent. It was bigger than the state of Rhode Island. This was, of course, not the iceberg that broke off in 2019. Or the one that broke away in 2017. Or the that was also as big as Rhode Island back in 2002.
Right now, no one has any idea how much time the rest of the ice in has. One year? One hundred? It’s a crapshoot and there are doomsday predictions right alongside mundane ones. But regardless of where the future takes things, massive chunks have already vanished and they’re not coming back any time soon.
6. Chacaltaya Glacier
When most of us think of skiing, there are a few places that come to mind. Colorado, perhaps, and British Columbia. Switzerland and France as well. But what about Bolivia? The country actually did have a famous ski resort on Chacaltaya mountain. It was over 17,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest ski resort in all the world and surely something a true fan of the sport would want to check out at least once. And if you had that urge before 2009, you may have had your chance.
These days, the resort is an abandoned building on the rocky top of a mountain. The reason being that the had completely melted from existence by 2009.
The resort was built in the ’30s and the loss of the glacier was quite noticeable in the 1980s as poor precipitation and weather patterns eroded it away. In the 1990s researchers predicted that the glacier would be gone entirely by 2015. Their estimate was a few years off.
5. The Old Man of the Mountain
Also known as the Great Stone Face, the Old Man of the Mountain was really just a chunk of granite that, when looked at from the right angle, bore a resemblance to a human profile. People like finding patterns and familiar shapes in things, though, and enough people could see the profile that it became a landmark.
The granite cliffs were located on , part of New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park. The massive face was 40 feet tall and held significance for the native tribes in the area. The Abenaki people called it Stone Face. According to legend, it was once a man named Nis Kizos who waited on the mountain for the woman he loved to return to him after she had gone to her village to attend to a sickness. He stayed on the mountain looking for her every day, but she never returned. She had died in her village, and Nis Kizos’s brother went up the mountain to share the tragic news. He found his brother had vanished, and that he had become part of the mountain itself, his face staring out forever, looking over the land.
In 2003, after staring out from the mountain for literally thousands of years, the old man disappeared. Extreme temperature shifts, years of freezing and thawing, had cracked the stone until it could no longer endure. Attempts to fix it traced all the way back to the 1920s when chains were affixed to hold it together. In the 1950s, the government spent $25,000 on a restoration project using cement and more to preserve it, but clearly it was only a stopgap.
4. Great Barrier Reef
No, the Great Barrier Reef isn’t gone. Not yet anyway. But things are not looking good and it’s only not gone if you look at it as a whole rather than the many pieces that made it up. The fact is, since 1995, in the Great Barrier Reef has been lost. Predictions for the future are grim. Some say the Reef will be if steps aren’t taken to preserve it now. Some have called this to do at this point.
The loss to the world and to our oceans would be unprecedented. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world, and the largest coral reef in the world. It’s actually made up of nearly 3,000 smaller reefs. Pollution and overfishing, but most notably climate change, have taken their toll on the Reef.
Upwards of is at risk of losing their habitat if the great Barrier Reef and reefs like it are destroyed. Local fishing industries would be destroyed and, without the reef as protection, the coastal areas nearby would suffer serious erosion and weather-related damage, among other issues.
3. Pink and White Terraces
Once recognized as a true wonder of the natural world, the Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand were the of silica sinter, or geyserite, in the world. The terraces were formed at Lake Rotomahana. They were actually two terraces. One was the white and one was the pink, several hundred meters away. They were formed as a result of boiling geysers draining down the mountain over hundreds of years. The water carried silica with it that built up over time, white in one place and pink in the other. The result was a series of stone plateaus like steps complete with pools on each level of the terraces they created.
The terraces were considered the 8th Wonder of the World and drew in tourists from all over. And then, in 1886, Mount Tarawera erupted. The eruption buried the terraces as a crater formed and swallowed them, destroying the landscape and the nearby town while sending the terraces to the bottom of the lake that was now far deeper than it ever had been before.
People have attempted to rediscover the terraces over the years and there has been speculation that parts of them were not destroyed but buried. However, there is not a lot of evidence to support the need for an excavation of the land, which is owned by the Maori.
2. The Aral Sea
The Aral Sea was located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and, after the Caspian Sea, Lake Superior and Lake Victoria, was the 4th largest lake on earth at just over 26,000 square miles. That’s all past tense, of course, because the Aral Sea doesn’t exist anymore.
Known as the Sea of Island, there were over 1,000 islands in the lake. Things started going awry back in the 1960s when sea levels started dropping. The reason? The . The Soviets had engaged in a number of irrigation projects that diverted rivers away from the lake to other locations. , the lake was almost entirely dried up.
Called one of the ever, the loss of the lake has reshaped the landscape completely. Efforts are still underway to preserve what remains of the lake, which is now several smaller lakes. The South Aral and North Aral became separate projects, with Uzbekistan’s South Aral essentially dying out. The North Aral, in Kazakhstan, is still being preserved, and there are even fish living in some parts of it again.
1. The Tenere Tree
The Sahara Desert is mostly known for being the largest hot desert in the world at over nine million square kilometer. That space is almost exclusively taken up by sand. But there was one very unusual feature that had been known for around 300 years, smack in the middle of all that nothing – an acacia tree called the Tenere Tree. You could travel for 250 miles and not find another tree. Somehow that one plant managed to survive against impossible odds. Right up until a drunk guy drove into it.
Deserts are not eternal things and there was a time when the Sahara was more vibrant than it is today. That was when the tree sprouted and it was able to take root and grow and survive despite the changing world around it. The tree itself looked about as wizened and sad as any tree in the desert should, but its roots were said to run 100 feet deep to find water.
In 1973, a truck driver following a roadmap of old trade roots plowed right into the tree and destroyed it. Rumor has it and you’d have to believe it was true, because how could anyone drive into literally the only thing for 250 miles in any direction? Today the destroyed tree lives in a museum in Niger while a metal tree was erected as a landmark in the original’s place.
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