Valley of Death, Russia

Beautiful and Deadly: World’s Most Extreme Destinations

The earth has plenty of extreme destinations that many hard-core travellers cannot resist. While the place may look picturesque and inviting enough, it’s like a mirage in the desert- you think you’ve got it, but actually you don’t. Which is why the following destinations shouldn’t be trifled with! Hot temperatures, acid lakes, high velocity winds, lava and natural predators- you fear it, these places have it.

Death Valley, USA

Death Valley, USA
credit@ Pixabay

Death Valley may look picturesque enough- a vast desert with mountain peaks capped with snow and flowers blanketing the area during spring. And yet, only the bravest of souls would consider hiking in one of the USA’s most extreme natural areas. The place is notorious for one of the highest and scorching temperatures ever recorded. Vegetation is sparse due to the heat.

In 1849, gold and silver were discovered here and, during the 1850s, much of it was excavated. The valley was named so when a group of travellers on the way to the gold fields succumbed to the heat. Over the years, there have been several deaths. For a few hard-core adventurers, the park staff always warn against hiking at lower ground because this is where the heat is at its highest. A minimum of one gallon of water is required to stay hydrated here. Without water, nobody could survive Death Valley beyond fourteen hours. The dehydration leads to disorientation, dizziness, nausea and heat strokes. If travelling by car, leaving the car could be fatal and the valley is not known for the best cell phone reception. If there’s anyone who would love to settle down here, it would be Satan himself.

Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island), Brazil

Snake Island, Brazil
credit@ The Irish Sun

Ilha da Queimada Grande is the only home to the endangered golden lance head pit viper, one of the most venomous snakes on earth. The island lies off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean. The snakes made their home on the island when the rising sea levels cut the island off from the main land. The isolation led to the rapid multiplication of snakes, which feed on birds. Before the isolation, an attempt was made to clear off some of the thick vegetation for a banana plantation. In 1909, a lighthouse was built to guide ships away from the island, but the lighthouse keeper and his family are said to have died from a snake bite. The lighthouse has been automated ever since. Another incident is that of a farmer who unwittingly wanders onto the island on a boat and is bitten. People from the mainland later found him on his boat, dead. Now, the snakes blissfully occupy and lord over the island.

For the protection of both humans and the snakes, the island is prohibited to the public. Only the Brazilian Navy and selected researchers from the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation are allowed to step foot on it.

Madidi National Park, Bolivia

Madidi National Park, Bolivia
credit@ Bolivia Hop

Biologically diverse and filled with rare flora and fauna, Madidi National Park lies at the mouth of the Amazon in Bolivia. The place looks perfect for shooting Jurassic Park or The Legend of Tarzan- thick vegetation, wild life, gushing rivers and thunderous waterfalls. Add to it the jungle eco lodges that invite tourists to explore the park.

The park is one of the largest protected areas on earth due to several endangered species found here. However, when it may be any researcher or conservationist’s dream to spend time here, things may not prove so dream- like unless you actually know your way around and the kind of vegetation that exists here. The park has some of the most poisonous plants on earth. Contact with these plants lead to itching, rashes and dizziness. Huge spider and other insect bites could prove fatal. Parasites wait around like hungry vultures to launch into any flesh wounds that inevitably crop up when walking in this Venus- fly trap like park. Prowling wild life like jaguars could come rocketing at you amongst the thick overgrowth. Losing your way and falling prey to the above mentioned things is as easy as blinking your eyes. Not exactly a hiker’s paradise!

Mount Washington, USA

The Observatory at Mt Washington, USA
credit@ Mount Washington Observatory

Mount Washington may not be the tallest mountain range on the planet. In fact, it’s quite small. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in weather. Mt. Washington is known as the most dangerous small mountain in the world- right through the year, snow seems to rain down through the sky and stick to the ground, winds blow at the highest velocity ever recorded and temperatures are so low that hypothermia is common, not just during winter. More than 150 lives have been claimed by this deadly mountain weather.

Due to the wind speed, hiking is almost impossible unless you want to be blown off the cliff. And even if you cling to the cliff for dear life, there are high chances that the combination of the wind and snow will steer you miles away from proper trials. And Mt. Washington isn’t a place where you want to get lost. During summer, the plummeting temperatures can render you unconscious. Add to it the constant icefalls, avalanches and the strewn rocks that’ll twist your ankles any time. Crevasses lie around like mines. Out of the whole year, the mountains may see around ten days of blue sky. If you can’t resist the call of adventure, then go along with an experienced guide.

Valley of Death, Russia

Russia's Valley of Death
credit@ BBC

Russia’s Valley of Death lies at the foot of the Kikhpinych volcano. For many years, biologists kept discovering corpses of animals, birds and insects, but were unable to detect the true reason for it. There were no signs of injuries or struggle, and the bodies were surprisingly well preserved. The Kronotsky Reserve was founded in 1934, but the deadly killer was only discovered in 1975. Where the valley lay was where concentrated gas emissions spewed forward at an alarming rate from the earth’s crust. Amongst other poisonous fumes, the valley was a reservoir for concentrated amounts of hydrogen sulphide, carbon sulphur and carbon dioxide. While the toxic fumes can kill any wildlife in the area, the amount of sulphur is what preserves the bodies- it inhibits the growth of bacteria. The biologists themselves felt headaches, fever, dizziness and weakness while plodding through the area. It was also noted that deaths occur when there is no snow on the ground- from May till October. With the warm sun and the melting snow, smaller animals like rodents gambol around in search of food, only to suffocate in the fumes. The bodies then attract the predatory animals who follow in the same paw steps. Nowadays, to preserve wildlife, scientists remove the bodies before any prowling predator can descend into the death trap.

Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands

Bikini Atoll
credit@ Bikini Atoll

Bikini Atoll, consisting of 23 small islands, is part of the Marshall Islands. The name of the place will have you believing that it’s a summer vacation spot where people come to soak in the sun in their swimwear. Nope, the actual truth is far from that. Between 1946 and 1958, the islands were the site for nuclear testing during World War II. 23 nuclear devices were detonated by the US in the coral reefs of the island, in the air, inside the island and underwater. Literally, no stone remained unturned during testing. Before the testing began, the inhabitants were convinced to relocate to the other islands under the belief that they would soon return home. However, nuclear 3 of the islands were completely vaporized due to the magnitude of radiation produced during the testing. Bikini Atoll itself showed dangerous levels of radiation which render the island uninhabitable to this day. The nuclear tests left craters in the lagoons surrounding the island, and marine animals have made themselves at home in them. While diving tours are organized by natives, the radiation on the island remains far above safety standards.

Danakil Desert, Ethiopia

Danakil Desert
credit@ The Atlantic

Any mention of going to the Danakil Desert will have Ethiopians doing their best to discourage you. The Danakil Desert has been described as one of the hottest, driest and inhospitable places on earth. Very little rain falls here annually. What moisture touches the ground here evaporates in a matter of seconds. The landscape will disillusion travellers into believing that it can’t be as bad as the natives make it to be. Yes, it isn’t as bad as they say- only worse. Besides the murderous temperatures, there are active volcanoes, lava lakes, salt lakes, acidic springs, hot water bubbles at boiling temperatures and toxic gas spewed from the crust. The natives of Ethiopia call it ‘Hell on Earth’ and ‘Gateway to Hell.’ And yet the place attracts adventurous souls for day trips. Nobody, no matter how much of a tough nut you are, is allowed unaccompanied into the desert.

Sinabung Volcano, Indonesia

Volcanic ash when Sinabung Volcano erupted
credit@ CBS News

The picturesque Sinabung Volcanoe lies in Northern Sumatra in Indonesia. After lying dormant for four hundred years, the volcano erupted in August 2010 and has been active ever since. Frequent eruptions (starting from 2010, the latest eruption was on March 2, 2021) have forced the government to evacuate the nearby villages and towns. Each eruption has left a thick blanket of ash on the villages and has cost lives too. The eruptions are so alarming that tremors can be felt more than five kilometres away and residents are advised to stay indoors.

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Lake Natron, Tanzania

For many years, Lake Natron in Tanzania was known as the lake that turned animals into stone. A real life Medusa? Not quite! The lake’s water is so alkaline that it burns any wild life that hasn’t adapted to it. The lake is surrounded by hills. The water that runs into the lake from the hills has staggering amounts of sodium carbonate (used by Egyptians to mummify their pharaohs) and other minerals. For those creatures unlucky enough to perish in this manner, the sodium carbonate deposits also preserve the bodies. The bodies retain their shape, while their eyes and skin are burnt, giving the bodies a ghostly and stone-like appearance. While many die at this killer lake, others have thrived in its atmosphere. For example, algae and flamingos breed here. The flamingos build their nest on the tiny islands surrounding the lake during the dry season. The water in the lake doesn’t flow into the ocean-it is fed by the springs from the hills.

If you think you can battle the extremities surrounding these destinations, then be prepared and consult with the guides. Don’t try it alone!

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