8 Cool Natural Earth Illusions

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Wikimedia Commons

A phenomenon called pareidolia is what makes us interpret random stimuli as something meaningful—for example, believing a grilled cheese sandwich resembles the Virgin Mary and is suddenly worth $28,000. In less extreme versions, the phenomenon simply makes us recognize faces and familiar shapes in random shapes. But even if you know that the resulting illusion carries no deeper meaning, they're still fun to look at. Here are 8 fantastic examples of the phenomenon in nature.

Special thanks to Moillusions.com, which features one of the best illusion collections on the net.

1. The Sleeping Indian

Sheep Mountain in Wyoming (above) goes by the far more descriptive name of “The Sleeping Indian” when viewed from the nearby Jackson Hole valley. The mountain looks like an Indian chief with a full head dress lying on his back.

2. The Dinosaur Lake

This brachiosaurus-shaped lake can be found in Zagreb, Croatia. If you want to find it for yourself in Google Maps, use the latitude and longitude of 45.78231 N, 16.024332 E.

3. The Dragon of Alberta

If you happen to be visiting a farm in Medicine Hat, Alberta, be sure to check your location on Google Earth. Who knows, you could be standing right in the mouth of this gorgeous plot of land naturally shaped like a dragon. Find it for yourself on Google at 50°01'45.29 N, 110°13'20.59 W.

4. The Badlands Guardian

One of the most famous Google Earth illusions, the Badlands Guardian was discovered in 2006 by Lynn Hickox at 50°0'38.20"N 110°6'48.32"W. While the chief and his headdress are all natural, humans have added one fitting touch to his appearance—the line that looks like an earbud attached to his ear is actually a road to an oil well. Interestingly, although the image appears to be a small mountain range when viewed on Google, it is actually a valley.

5. The Old Man of the Mountain

This is the only rock formation on this list that you can no longer go see, as the rocks that made up the face of the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. The illusion, located on Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire, was first noted in 1805 and became the state emblem in 1945. Fans of the rock formation are working to create a memorial monument at the base of the mountain.

6. The Apache Head in the Rocks

Those who regret not getting to see the Old Man of the Mountain while it was still standing can console themselves by seeing one of the many similar rock formations located around the globe. The Apache Head in the Rocks located in Ebihens, France, is always a great alternative.

7. The Alien in the Desert

This one isn’t as clear as many of the others, but with its massive head and eyes paired with a tiny mouth and chin, this face shape in the desert looks a lot like the stereotypical description of alien visitors. Fittingly, this alien head illusion can be found just outside of Area 51 in Nevada, giving conspiracy theorists even more evidence that “they” are among us—even if only in the sand.

You can find this one on Google maps at 37°13'31.37 N, 115°53'27.06 W, but be warned—the face is upside down on the map.

8. Mother Nature Crying

It’s easy to imagine Mother Nature crying after all the pain she’s suffered throughout the years, which is why Michael Nolan’s gorgeous image of a weeping face in a glacier immediately makes people think of Mother Nature. In the photographer’s own words, “This is how one would imagine Mother Nature would express her sentiments about our inability to reduce global warming. It seemed an obvious place for her to appear, on a retreating ice shelf, crying.”

We’ve all seen animals and faces in clouds and mountains, but do any of you know of more striking examples of natural illusions like the ones seen here?

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August 11, 2013 - 2:00pm
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