15 Bizarre Natural Wonders

turkey Here at Gadling, we love finding the quirkiest, most bizarre and out-of-the-ordinary aspects of travel from around the planet. While we’ve told you about some of the world’s strangest natural wonders before, there are just too many unworldly aspects in nature to uncover in one list.

Have you ever witnessed hot pink lagoons littered with feeding flamingos in the desert? Or enormous frost-covered trees that look like menacing monsters? How about waterfalls so red they look like blood? There are no limits to what you can find when you begin to roam the Earth.

To help make your next trip a little more unique, check out 15 bizarre natural wonders in the gallery below.

[image via Brocken Inaglory]

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Urquhart Castle: The Other Attraction On Loch Ness

castle, Loch Ness
Today the Olympic torch is crossing Loch Ness by boat. While locals are hoping for Nessie to make an appearance, one attraction will definitely be on view: the spectacular Urquhart Castle.

This castle sits on Strone Point, a headland jutting out into the loch. It’s unclear when the castle was built. It was certainly there by the 13th century but there may have been a fort there as far back as the 6th century. It was besieged many times over the years in the countless wars with the English and between rival Scottish rulers. It survived these fights until 1692, when the walls were smashed by supporters of the English King William III so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of the rival Jacobites.

Although the castle became useless as a place for defense, much of the layout is clearly visible. You can see where the bakers made bread, where the blacksmith fixed swords and where the residents lived. You can even delve into the dungeon to see the miserable conditions of the prisoners. The most impressive and best-preserved portion is the tower, which rises five stories above the ruins.

%Gallery-157771%From the tower you get a sweeping view of the Loch. Scotland is a beautiful place for photography and its many lochs reflect the mood of its ever-changing light. On overcast days the loch looks gloomy and forbidding, and you could well imagine a monster lurking in its depths. Then the sun will break through and sparkle across the waters like a scattering of gold coins. Dawn and dusk are great times to take photos, when the sun is low and casts a rich golden hue across the water and shore. The castle is lit up at night and makes for a nice shot as well. Check out the gallery for more views of the fantastic castle.

Those wanting to see the Loch Ness Monster should be reassured that the castle is one of the main sites for spotting the mysterious beastie. Perhaps there are secret tunnels underneath the castle where the monster guards a medieval treasure, or perhaps it’s because so many people visit Urquhart castle and gaze out across the waters hoping for a glimpse of the unknown.

[Photo courtesy Baasir Gaisawat]

Vampire Graves Dug Up In Bulgaria

vampire
Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered two vampire graves in the city of Sozopol on the Black Sea. The burials, which are about 700 years old, were each held down with a massive iron stake through the chest. One vampire was buried in the apse of a church – a spot usually reserved for aristocrats – and showed evidence of multiple stab wounds.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the Bulgarian National Museum of History, says more than a hundred vampire graves have been found in Bulgaria. He says that most suspected vampires were aristocrats or clergy. Interestingly, none were women.

One possible explanation for the vampire myth comes from anthropologist Paul Barber in his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death.” He posits the vampire legend started because people didn’t know how bodies decomposed. Rigor mortis is only temporary. After a few days the muscles ease up and expanding gases in the body will actually shift it within the coffin. Blood seeps out of the mouth and the face and belly get a flushed and puffy look. So. . .a guy dies, they bury him, and shortly thereafter several more people die. The villagers decide the first guy is a vampire, and when they open up his grave they find he’s moved, looks fat and flush with life, and has bloody teeth. When you drive a stake through a body filled with corpse gas it lets out a shriek.

There are several good vampire attractions in Europe, such as Dracula’s Castle in Romania, the Vampire Museum in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London, scene of a wave of vampire sightings in the 1970s.

Vampires have long captured the imagination. Vampire stories were popular in the nineteenth century and some of the best early horror films are vampire tales. “Nosferatu” (1922), a still of which is shown here in the Wikimedia Commons image, sticks close to the Bram Stoker novel. A different take can be found in the film “Vampyr” (1932). Both monsters are spooky, kick-ass killers, not the angsty pretty-boy teens of today’s vampire craze. As Bart Simpson once said, “Girls ruin everything, even vampires!”

Top ten lake monsters (besides Nessie)

lake monstersHere at Gadling we’ve reported a lot of news about the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie gets so much media attention that one might think its Scottish loch is the only body of water haunted by a mysterious and almost certainly fictitious creature.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lake monsters are everywhere. Here are ten of the most interesting, most of which inhabit lakes that are easy to get to, so you can start your own investigation.

The Lough Ness Monster. A young English upstart in Loughborough, Leicestershire, recently tried to steal the limelight from its Scottish cousin by eating some ducks.

Nahuelito. This critter lives in Nahuel Huapi Lake, Patagonia, Argentina. As you can see from this alleged photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, it looks a bit like Nessie. Cryptozoologists, the people who study such things, say both may be plesiosaurs. These swimming dinosaurs supposedly died out 65 million years ago. Interestingly, a plesiosaur fossil was discovered at Loch Ness in 2003.

Isshii. Japan’s most famous lake monster lives in Lake Ikeda, where it has been spotted numerous times in the past thirty years. According to the website Pink Tentacle, it’s a super-fast swimmer and once had a run-in with the U.S. military. The story goes that in 1961, an American jet crashed in the vicinity of the lake. The military used sonar to look for it and spotted a large object moving under the water. Divers on the lake floor spotted the creature and said it nearly attacked them. Or so the story goes. Sounds to me like someone was drinking too much saké.

The Lake Tianchi Monster. In an alpine lake straddling the border of China and North Korea there supposedly lives a community of up to 20 lake monsters. The first recorded sighting dates to 1903, when something resembling a giant buffalo threatened three people by the lakeside. One guy shot it six times before it gave out a ear-splitting roar and returned to the water.

%Gallery-141876%The Brosno Dragon. This beastie lives in Lake Brosno, near Andreapol in western Russia. Some people dismiss the idea of a monster living in the lake and say it’s really a giant mutant beaver, as if this make more sense. Whatever it is, it’s a patriot. It once gobbled up an invasion force of Mongols, and in World War Two snatched a Luftwaffe plane right out of the air. Pravda wrote a long article about the Brosno Dragon, so it must exist.

The Varberg Fortress Moat Monster. The 13th century castle at Varberg reportedly has a monster in its moat. It hasn’t been seen much, despite the castle being a major tourist attraction and home to a youth hostel. Some lucky visitors did get to see it in 2006, however, and described it as brown, furless, and with a 16-inch tail. It was summertime, so perhaps it came out of hibernation to check out the sights at the nearby nudist beach.

The Lagarfljóts Worm. Iceland is a land filled with legends. Many Icelanders still believe in trolls and other supernatural creatures, so it’s no surprise they have a lake monster too. In the glacial lake of Lagarfljót dwells a strange creature said to be more than 300 feet long. According to the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, the worm was first mentioned in the Icelandic Annals of 1345 and sighting its hump rising out of the water was a sign that good news was sure to follow.

Chipekwe or Emela-ntouka. Called by many names in many African languages, this monster of Central Africa is known as the “killer of elephants” by the pygmies, who are the people who have the most legends about it. The creature dwells in swamps, lakes, and rivers, anywhere the water is shallow, and looks a bit like a rhino. Several pith-helmeted white explorers have gone out to hunt for it, but never found anything. Some say it’s really a spirit instead of a monster, but until someone blasts it with an elephant gun, we’ll never know.

Bunyip. The Australian Aborigines say the bunyip can be found all over Australia. It dwells in all types of water, not just lakes, so you better be careful. Unlike most of the critters on our list, the bunyip can be downright aggressive. Descriptions of the bunyip vary from a big canine to a giant starfish. Like the Chipekwe, it seems to be more of a spirit than an actual living monster, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Its booming voice is a signal to run, lest you get eaten like the poor fellow shown in the image gallery.

Ogopogo. Native Americans say this “lake demon” has been around a long time. It lives in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada, and looks much like Nessie. Like the Scottish monster, it’s created an entire tourism industry around it, along with groups that study it. Your typical serpent with wavy humps coming out of the water, it’s said to be about 50 feet long. A recent video of the creature went viral on the Internet and can be seen here. To me it looks like a pair of logs stuck close to shore. Perhaps Ogopogo likes to play fetch.

And yes, I didn’t mention the Lake Champlain Monster. I wanted to focus on the less famous critters. Heck, I once saw someone wearing a Lake Champlain Monster t-shirt in Ethiopia.

Portland’s International Cryptozoology Museum to get a bigger home

cryptozoology, Mothman
One of Maine’s most offbeat attractions is about to get five times the space.

The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland will be moving from its current home in the back of the Green Hand Bookshop at 661 Congress St over to 11 Avon Street, where it will have much more room to show off its collection of Bigfoot print casts, monster photos, movie props, and thousands of other strange items. The move, according to the Portland Daily Sun, is to give the museum a more visible location and attract more visitors.

Cryptozoology is the study of animals thought by science not to exist. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Mothman all qualify. Sometimes animals thought extinct, like the coelacanth, turn out to be still alive and move from cryptozoology into mainstream biology.

Museum founder Loren Coleman hopes this success will be repeated with other monsters. Coleman was born in 1947 (the same year the term “flying saucer” was coined) and has dedicated much of his life to studying strange sightings of things that shouldn’t exist. His books show a skeptical eye, an open mind, and most importantly a sense of humor. He probably wouldn’t be impressed by this purported photo of the Mothman. Considering that it was uploaded by someone whose Wikimedia Commons handle is Mostlymade, I have to say I’m skeptical too.

Despite being a skeptic I love museums like this. Once while hiking in the Himalayas I found some Yeti footprints that turned out to be from a normal animal, but I have had a strange experience with the legendary Thunderbird.

The museum’s “Grand Monster Reopening” is scheduled for noon to 6 p.m. on October 30.