10 Natural Landmarks That No Longer Exist

Jeffrey Joseph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Jeffrey Joseph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Whether it's due to natural causes, drunken vandals, or former Boy Scout leaders who think they're saving lives, many of our ancient natural landmarks have taken a hit in the last century. Here are 10 of Mother Nature's best tourist attractions that are now lost to the ages.

1. OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN // WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE

This famous face-shaped outcropping of rock (pictured above) and the way it was positioned on the side of the mountain once prompted Daniel Webster to write, "Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men."

The New Hampshire landmark is so iconic that it’s featured on the state quarter. Unfortunately, that’s the only place you’ll find it these days—the outcropping slid down the side of the mountain in 2003.

2. WASHINGTON SEQUOIA TREE // SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

At 254.7 feet tall, the Washington Tree in Sequoia National Park was once one of the largest single-stem trees in the world, second only to the sequoia known as General Sherman (274.9 feet). In 2003, the tree caught fire, reducing its height to about 229 feet and burning out much of the dead wood in the center. Two years later, the weakened tree collapsed under the weight of a snowstorm. Though it's still clinging to life, at a mere 115 feet, the Washington Tree is a shadow of its former self.

3. THE JEFFREY PINE // YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

Volleyball Jim, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

This tree is probably most famous from the photography of Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins. We're lucky that they saw fit to record the gnarled pine for posterity, because the centuries-old tree fell to the ground in 2003. It's a wonder the tree stayed erect that long—it actually died during a drought in 1977, despite heroic efforts by Yosemite park rangers to save it by carrying buckets of water out to the remote location. After the tree fell over in 2003, the dead trunk was left there.

4. DUCKBILL // CAPE KIWANDA STATE NATURAL AREA, OREGON

Thomas Shanan, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

When this 7-foot-tall rock formation bit the dust earlier this year, people first thought Mother Nature was responsible—and then a video surfaced. Shot by a park visitor who wanted to catch the act on video, the footage showed a group of vandals going into a roped-off area and purposely pushing the formation until it crashed to the ground. When confronted, the vandals said they were doing the world a favor—a friend of theirs had broken his leg on it.

5. JUMP-OFF JOE // NEWPORT, OREGON

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This large rock formation, called a sea stack (a pillar of stacked stones caused by wave erosion), once dominated Nye Beach in Newport, Oregon. For most of the 1800s, it was impossible to get around the 100-foot-tall stack without jumping off the steep siding, which is why early settlers named it Jump-Off Joe. By the 1890s, erosion had created a small gap between the cliffs and the rock, and without the support of the cliffs, the arch collapsed in a severe storm in 1916. Today, there's barely anything left to photograph, let alone jump off.

6. WALL ARCH // ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, UTAH

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Some time during the night of August 4, 2008, Wall Arch, a more than 30-foot-tall and 70-foot-wide formation in Arches National Park, collapsed. A survey of the site showed obvious stress fractures in the remaining part of the structure, so no foul play was suspected.

The National Park Service issued a statement that said, "All arches are but temporary features and all will eventually succumb to the forces of gravity and erosion. While the geologic forces that created the arches are still very much underway, in human terms it’s rare to observe such dramatic changes."

7. EL DEDO DE DIOS — "GOD'S FINGER" // CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN

This basalt sea stack is located near Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands—and while the base is still there, it once included a spindly stone that vaguely resembled a finger sticking up from a closed fist. At least, it did until November 2005, when Tropical Storm Delta broke the finger off like a vengeful mobster.

8. TWELVE APOSTLES // PORT CAMPBELL NATIONAL PARK, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

Seems like 2005 was a rough year for ocean-based landmarks. That July, one of Australia's "Twelve Apostles," nine limestone monoliths off the southwest coast of Victoria, took a tumble into the ocean. The rock pillar, which took 20 million years to form, crumbled away into the water right before the very eyes of some tourists photographing the formation. (The one that collapsed is the one in the foreground of the picture above.)

9. EYE OF THE NEEDLE // NEAR FORT BENTON, MONTANA

When park rangers investigated the collapse of this arch formation over Memorial Day 1997, they discovered beer bottles, footprints and trash. And while that's definitely a littering citation, it doesn't necessarily mean that vandals purposely trashed the arch. When damage to several other nearby sandstone structures was discovered, however, officials concluded that someone had purposely destroyed the 10,000+ year-old monument. Yet the perpetrators have never been caught, leading some to believe that the collapse was simply due to natural erosion.

10. A "GOBLIN" SANDSTONE FORMATION // GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK, UTAH

In 2013, two former Boy Scout leaders pushed over a rock formation that had been there since the Jurassic Period. The men believed the rock, known as a "Goblin," posed a threat to park visitors. "One gust of wind and a family's dead," one of the men later said. They were both charged with third-degree felonies and later reached plea deals that required them to pay $925 in court costs, $1500 for the investigation, and an undisclosed amount to erect signs around the park warning visitors not to vandalize anything.

A version of this post originally ran in 2009.

10 Terrifyingly Huge Birds You Should Know

AndreaWillmore/iStock via Getty Images
AndreaWillmore/iStock via Getty Images

They’re gigantic, they’re often defensive, and you wouldn’t want to run into them in a zoo after hours. Meet a few of the world’s biggest birds with attitude, from flightless giants to modern-day pterodactyls.

1. Ostrich

Everyone knows that the ostrich is the world’s biggest bird, weighing an average of 230 pounds and standing 7 feet tall (and some individuals can grow up to 9 feet). They can also chase you down: Ostriches are the fastest species on two legs, with a top speed of about 43 mph. They can maintain a swift 30 mph pace for 10 miles, making them the marathon champs of the avian world.

2. Southern Cassowary

Often called the most dangerous bird on Earth, in addition to being one of the planet’s biggest birds, the southern cassowary is roughly 150 pounds of mean. On each foot is a 5-inch claw that cassowaries use to defend themselves. At least two people have been kicked to death by cassowaries, the most recent being a Florida man who unwisely kept one of the birds as a pet.

3. Emu

Emu with eggs
JohnCarnemolla/iStock via Getty Images

Like a smaller, shaggier ostrich, the 5- to 6-foot emu is the second-largest bird on Earth (as well as a goofy spokesbird for insurance). During the breeding season, female emus fight enthusiastically over unattached males. But the results of this mating ritual are impressive: clutches of forest-green, oval eggs that resemble giant avocados.

4. Greater Rhea

This flightless bird is named for the Titan goddess Rhea, who gave birth to all of the Olympian gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. At up to 5 feet tall and 66 pounds, the greater rhea may not seem like as much of a terror as the ostrich. But it gathers in massive flocks of up to 100 birds during the non-breeding season, so watch out if you happen to be in its South American habitat.

5. Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian pelicans
musicinside/iStock via Getty Images

How scary can a pelican be, you ask? When it stands almost 6 feet tall, weighs 33 pounds, and has a wingspan of 9 feet—all traits of the Dalmatian pelican—it's pretty petrifying. These scruffy-feathered monsters, native to Europe and Asia, breed in colonies of up to 250 pairs and can gulp impressive mouthfuls of fish in one go.

6. Mute Swan

One of the heaviest flying birds, mute swans look harmless as they glide over ponds, lakes, and rivers. But mute swans are far from silent when defending their families and territory. Male swans warn interlopers that they’re getting too close with a hiss, then can launch a straight-up assault, bashing the intruder with their wings. They’ll even attack kayakers, canoeists, and people just minding their own business.

7. Andean Condor

Andean condor
Donyanedomam/iStock via Getty Images

This freakishly big vulture isn’t satisfied with just any carrion—it prefers large carcasses like cattle and deer for dinner. Maintaining its average weight of 25 pounds requires a lot of calories, after all. Its wingspan is slightly less than its northern cousin, the California condor, but it still reaches a dramatic 9 to 10 feet.

8. Cinereous Vulture

Another big bird with a 10-foot wingspan, this Old World vulture has excellent vision to spot carrion while it flies, and a featherless head that resists the accumulation of gore when it feeds. Though it’s intimidating to look at, the cinereous vulture plays an important role in its ecosystem by cleaning up roadkill and other dead animals.

9. Marabou Stork

Marabou stork
Sander Meertins/iStock via Getty Images

As if its red-tinged wattle, black back, and dagger-esque bill weren’t alarming enough, the marabou stork is sometimes called the “undertaker bird” thanks to its Dracula-like appearance. It also eats other birds. The largest verified wingspan on a marabou stork measured 10.5 feet, though unverified reports cited a specimen with 13.3-foot span.

10. Shoebill

Shoebill storks may not be the tallest, heaviest, or widest-winged birds, but just look at that death stare. On top of having a nutcracker for a face, the 5-foot-tall shoebill leads a fearsome lifestyle. It stands absolutely still for hours to hunt prey, watching for lungfish or baby crocodiles, then spreads its wings and collapses over it while trapping the target in its bill.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

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