Jun 22, 2012 3:06:51 AM
Seasoned travel: world’s saltiest sights
These amazing sights won’t be found next to the dried herbs in your pantry! Check out the plains, caves, lakes and tunnels that add flavour to your travels.
1. Salt-crystal formations of Devil’s Golf Course, Nevada, USA
In the centre of the Southern Californian desert, Nevada, sit elements of nearly every major geological era. Death Valley National Park is one of the lowest points in the western hemisphere, one of the hottest places in the world, and it also plays host to an incredible salt phenomenon. The bizarre, moon-like field of salt crystals at Devil’s Golf Course, in the centre of the park, will take you back to the world of dinosaurs and prehistoric wonders. The crystals are fragile to touch and should be handled with care; it’s not an actual golf course – park rangers advise that you leave the golf balls at home.
2. Namakdan Caves, Persian Gulf, Iran
In January 2006 a group of Czech geology students discovered an area touted to become the largest salt-cave system in the world. The students stumbled upon the hidden treasure in the Namakdan Mountain on Qeshm Island, and could hardly believe their eyes – underground salt lakes, glistening dripstones and sparkling domes of pure salt stood majestically before them. Unlike limestone, which takes thousands of years to grow, the jewels of the salt caves grow just days or weeks after rain, forming beautiful dripstone crystals. The student discoverers named the cave the Three Naked Men (coined while bathing in its salty glory?).
Qeshm’s Hara Protected Area is a mangrove forest restricted to fishing and ecotourism use, and migratory home for 25% of Iran‘s native bird population.
3. Great Salinas, Argentina
The Great Salinas in Cordoba is a collection of large salt dunes in the central northwest of mainland Argentina. It is said that the origin of these mountains lies in a large gap in the Mar, a tectonic fault which exposed the saline seafloor from which the great dunes were formed. The area is also known to be in a constant hurricane; in times of flooding, a surface of saline creates a pristine mirror to the sky. This is the place to show off your extra-dark sunglasses with UV protection – even if your only audience is the sky.
Take Highways 9 and 60 north out of Cordoba for the 200km drive to Las Salinas Grandes.
4. Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, Colombia
If you need a reason to go to church, the small town of Zipaquira will give you one. Several kilometres from the town, in Cundinamarca, sits one of the world’s only salt cathedrals, built in a tunnel of mines from 200-million-year-old salt deposits. As you wind your way underground, take note of the 14 small chapels on the descent, each of which illustrates the events of Jesus’ last journey. Each station has a cross and kneeling platforms, several of which are carved into the salt structure. You won’t be alone; more than 3000 churchgoers worship in this shimmering cathedral every Sunday.
Zipaquira is a city of 100,000 residents, with an attractive Spanish colonial old town. It’s 50km north of Bogotá, easily reached by train or bus.
5. Qīnghǎi Lake, China
Ever wondered whether salt lakes exist inland? Set between the snowy mountains of Tibet and the grasslands of the Qīnghǎi region lies China’s largest interior salt lake, situated some 3200m above sea level and covering nearly 4400 sq metres. Located on the Qīnghǎi–Tibetan plateau, this area is often looked on simply as a passage to Tibet or northwest China – indeed, the lake attracts lots of migratory birds, which stop here on their way across Asia. The main attraction is Bird Island: huge numbers of birds congregate in the breeding season, between March and early June.
Tour buses to Bird Island depart from the bus station in Xīníng – allow two hours for a visit.
6. Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA
Size does matter. The Great Salt Lake, located in northern Utah, lays claim to being the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere, no mean feat. The lake used to be part of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, and is also known as America’s Dead Sea. It’s home to millions of creatures able to survive the high saline levels, such as waterfowl and other birds, including the largest staging population of Wilson’s phalarope in the world – a boon for birdwatchers.
If you’re looking to get lost for a while, why not take a salty cruise to one of the lake’s 11 recognised tidal islands. Antelope Island has superb beaches that off er great swimming opportunities. Take Interstate 15, heading north from Salt Lake City.
7. Salt Plains of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Pack your Santa hat and make the trek to the world’s most enduring salt plains, spanning nearly 12,000 sq km in the Potosí region of Bolivia. In some places the salt is over 10m thick; in the wet season the plains are covered with a thin sheet of water. Take a photo of your shadow on the sparkling plains or visit the salt-mining area, where tonnes of the stuff are piled into giant mounds. When it’s time for bed don’t go past a salt hotel, where you’ll be handed a candy bar when entering your shimmering white bedroom.
4WD trips start in Uyuni, but with so many on offer it pays to shop around and seek the advice of fellow travellers.
8. White-Salt Mountains of Trapani, Italy
Next time you have an urge to reach for the moon, why not get a leg-up from one of the glistening white salt mountains and shallow saline (salty pools) in Trapani, western Sicily? These saltpans were formed by the evaporation of seawater, and are situated majestically along the coast road between Trapani and Marsala. Here, life still centres around the ocean, as it has for generations, with industries such as tuna fishing, coral harvesting and salt production. Be sure to take in the sight of the 100-year-old windmills that sit alongside the saline, slowly fanning the winds of salt harvesting.
If you want to unearth the history of this local industry, there are dedicated museums in converted salt-mills at Nubia and Trapani.
9. Cardona Salt Mountain, Spain
In the hilltop town of Cardona, some 90km northwest of Barcelona, sits a group of majestic mountain masses made entirely from salt. The mountains, partner to the town’s historic castles, form a solid backdrop to this picturesque city; reddish-brown and clay in parts, and translucent in others. When you’ve had your mountaintop moment, make a trip to the portico of St Vincenç in Cardona, where the fragments of painted vaults will give you a strong sense of the sacred.
Want to see the murals but can’t get to Cardona? Fragments are displayed at Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
10. Salt Tunnels of Solotvyno, Ukraine
Solotvyno is not the most stunning destination, but it certainly attracts thousands of visitors each year. The Soviet-looking Ukrainian mining town runs one of the most successful tourist businesses in Eastern Europe, albeit a long way underground. The town’s working salt mine, situated near the Romanian border, offers speleotherapy – an unusual form of treatment for people with respiratory conditions. The mine has a unique microclimate because of the salt particles in the air. Patients descend more than 300m underground, where they breathe in the salty atmosphere while sitting or lying in rock-walled grottoes that glisten and sparkle.
Treatment costs about US$22 a day and usually takes place over 18 to 20 daily or overnight visits.