Earth's toughest spot

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Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) ride out high surf on blue-ice icebergs near Candlemas Island in the South Sandwich Islands.

For trees that grow on mountaintops near Cape Town, South Africa, wind can be a magnificent sculptor. Trees that can handle the wind’s effects best will alter their shape to deal with the load of the wind.

Silhouetted by the sun, the Hand of Fatima rock formations near Hombori village stretch toward the sky in Mali. The tallest tower rises 2,000 feet (610 meters) from the desert floor. Lore has it that the formation’s name stems from the five towers’ resemblance to a hand from the sky.

Erosion’s force becomes clear in these limestone cliffs in Port Campbell National Park, Australia. About five million years ago the area was a limestone plateau, but as sea levels rose the effects of surf and rain began to carve out these magnificent cliffs, along with stacks and arches.

A storm passes over Yellow Mounds Overlook in South Dakotas Badlands, casting light and shadow below. Although the regions name derives from the Oglala Sioux.

Travertine chimneys near Lake Abbe, Djibouti, were created by hot springs depositing
calcium carbonate the same process that creates stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the formations reach 165 feet (50 meters) near the lake located on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border.

A thick blanket of snow covers West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. There are more geysers in this park than anywhere else in the world.

Towers of salt and a riverbed colored by crystallized salt create an otherworldly landscape in Ethiopias Danakil Desert. Sitting more than 300 feet (90 meters) below sea level, with temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius), local inhabitants prize the Danakil for one thing: its salt deposits.

A deep gorge drops some 650 feet (198 meters) near the abandoned city of Araden, Crete. Visitors can descend into the gorge and walk a little more than 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) to the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to magnificent scenery, the gorge provides a 2,460-foot (750-meter) descent to the sea.

Towering in close symmetry, these basalt columns near Fingals Cave form the base of the
Scottish island of Staffa. The columns formed when cooling lava flows met bedrock and the regions cold weather. The island contains three main caves.



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