The 5 Most Unusual Natural Wonders in the Western USA

Last updated on June 15th, 2021 at 12:19 pm. Originally published on August 17th, 2015

There are lots of natural wonders in this country, and there are lots of strange roadside attractions, but when these two things converge, you get some really amazing sights to see. In the American west, there are quite a few unusual spots to check out, all of which are naturally occurring. If you’re heading out on a western road trip soon, try to fit one or more of these weird natural wonders on your sightseeing list.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


Brocken Inaglory/ wikimedia

The fact that this site is one of the largest hot springs in the world is probably enough for lots of people to be interested in going there. However, Wyoming’s Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park has an appearance that will delight visitors of all ages. True to the term “prismatic” in its name, the spring is a multi-hued wonder that looks like a swimming pool for rainbows. The colors are caused by bacteria that are at home in the mineral-rich water, and the order follows the same as that of the color spectrum. If a trip to Yellowstone is on your must-do list for an upcoming season, be sure to see this amazing and unusual rainbow wonder.

Mount Grinnell in Glacier National Park, Montana


Eric Pheterson/flickr

All mountains are majestic and beautiful, but Mount Grinnell is different. Why? Because when the sun rises on a clear day, the lighting creates a burning mountain effect — it actually glows bright red. This is a must-see for early birds, as the mountain does not look this color during the rest of the day. Catch the reflection in Swiftcurrent Lake, and don’t forget your camera.

3. Fly Geyser in Fly Ranch, Nevada


Jeremy C. Munns/ wikimedia

We’re only half telling the truth on the naturally occurring nature of this one, as Fly Geyser didn’t exactly form out of completely natural causes. It’s the result of a geothermal well from the 1960s left to its own devices. The water that is continually released from the well contains high levels of limestone and other minerals, which have built up into the strange mushroom castle shape you can see today. Visit again in a few years, and it will probably look bigger, as the attraction is always expanding with new mineral deposits. Unfortunately, Fly Geyser is not exactly open to the public, and there are deterrents to keep people away, but if you’re bent on seeing it, you can: it’s five feet high and 12 feet wide, which means it’s big enough to be viewed from the road.

Thor’s Well in Cape Perpetua, Oregon


Bill Young/ flickr

Think Niagara Falls, only rounder, smaller, and more intimate, and you’ll have an idea of what Thor’s Well is like. It’s like a giant hole into which the Pacific seems to drain, and it’s completely mesmerizing. A word of caution, however: don’t get too close. Thor’s Well is like the vortex of nature’s wrath, and like going over the falls in a barrel, falling into Thor’s Well does not bode well for your future.

5. Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California

The cracked earth of this dry desert lake is the stuff of nightmares, but the real appeal of Racetrack Playa is its Sailing Stones, which leave a trail in their wake. How do they move? No one knows. Really: it’s one of Mother Earth’s great mysteries. Still, it’s an otherworldly place to check out on next trip out west.

Get Out & Explore!

When you’re tired of seeing the giant balls of string, the world’s largest brick, or Cadillacs buried front-end down in the desert, steer your RV to some odd natural wonders. The American west is full of them, and the five mentioned here are a good start. They’re beautiful, they’re strange, and they’re good reminders that the earth is a weird and wonderful place.

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