For the 50+ Traveler

Earth never ceases to be amazing. Consider, for instance, pictures of unusual phenomena that leave you wondering, “Wait, is that even real?”

Want some examples? Check out these jaw-dropping natural phenomena that look like they came from another planet.

The Yosemite Firefall in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Firefall, Yosemite National Park, California

Sometime in mid-February, the setting sun shines on Horsetail Fall waterfall on the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and creates what’s known as the Yosemite Firefall. For it to happen, the phenomenon first requires significant snowpack in the mountains. Then, warmer temperatures in February melt the snow, which feeds the waterfall. When the sky is clear, the setting sun’s rays strike the waterfall to create what appears to be a waterfall of liquid fire. The fire-like glow of orange and red colors lasts for about 10 minutes.

Blooming bluebells in a UK forest.

Bluebell Blooms, UK

In late April, English bluebells -- or Hyacinthoides non-scripta -- begin to bloom and cover woodlands all over the UK. The blooms, which generally last until late May, can range from light blue to purple but often are a stunning cobalt color. Bluebells also bloom in gardens and on hillsides; however, they are most striking when they overtake an entire woodland. It is possible to see bluebell blooms outside of Britain, but nearly 50 percent of bluebells are found in the UK’s woodlands. What makes them even more impressive is that the flowers are also fragrant.

The northern lights over Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland.

Northern Lights, Iceland

The northern lights -- or aurora borealis -- can be seen from many places in the Northern Hemisphere, but one of the best places to watch them is Iceland. Here’s why they occur: Storms on the sun send solar winds full of dust across space. The electrically charged solar particles then enter the Earth’s atmosphere near the poles, where the magnetic fields are weakest. When these particles collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere, it creates shafts of green, pink, red, yellow, blue, and violet light. The northern lights are brightest when seen on cold, dark winter nights near Earth’s north pole, making Iceland the ideal place to view them.

The southern lights from Tasmania.

Southern Lights, Tasmania

In the Southern Hemisphere, the southern lights are called aurora australis. Since the southern lights are brightest near the south pole, Antarctica is the best place to see them. However, Australia’s southern island Tasmania, 150 miles south of the Australian mainland, offers a fantastic view since it’s near the south pole -- and is considerably easier to reach. While the southern lights can be seen all year in Tasmania, the optimal time to see them is on dark winter nights.

Niagara Falls appearing frozen during winter.

Frozen Waterfalls, Niagara Falls

A trip to see Niagara Falls is a common bucket list item. That trip is even more impressive when you can see the frozen Falls. Actually, Niagara Falls doesn’t freeze. When temperatures get cold enough, mist and spray freeze and form an ice crust over the falling water. So although it appears the Falls have frozen over and stopped, water is still rushing below the ice, which can be up to 40 feet thick. While ice forms on the Falls every winter, it is thickest -- and most impressive -- when the area experiences prolonged periods of bitter cold.

A drifting iceberg near Newfoundland in Canada.

Drifting Icebergs, Newfoundland

It’s fun to watch whales as they migrate, but for a real treat, you need to see drifting icebergs as they make their way past “Iceberg Alley,” which stretches from the northern coast of Labrador to the southeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. The icebergs are pieces of ice that broke off of glaciers, fell into the ocean, and were caught in the ocean’s current. Most of these icebergs, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and colors ranging from snow-white to deep blue, came from Greenland’s glaciers. The best time to see them is late May and early June.

Frozen methane bubbles in Siberia’s Lake Baikal.

Frozen Bubbles, Lake Baikal, Russia

Sure, it gets cold in Russia, but how do bubbles get trapped in the ice of Siberia’s Lake Baikal? The freshwater lake, which is the world’s oldest, deepest, and largest by volume, doesn’t have a solid bottom. Instead, the lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a sediment layer containing gas, including methane. As those sediments release methane, the resulting bubbles rise to the surface. In the winter, the rising gas bubbles become trapped in the clear ice in layers. Locals say the best time to see the frozen bubbles is late November and December when the ice is purest.

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