Can I Lick It? Yes You Can! -- Atlas Obscura's Guide to the World's Salty Wonders

Salt. We use it almost everyday without even thinking about it, sprinkling it on fries, eggs, adding a pinch here an there to whatever we find to be a little bland. It is nearly ubiquitious and totally unremarkable. However salt is a substance with both a rich history and a deep hidden beauty.


The only mineral we eat, the documented use of salt dates over 8500 years back. In ancient times, salt was as more coveted than precious metals, and towns such as Salzburg, (or "Salt City") Austria built thier kingdoms on the stuff. The Romans used the salt tax to fund their empire, wars were waged over now common table condiment, and President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out to the West, at least in part, to find a mountain of salt said to lie near the Missouri River.

Even the bible proclaims the wonders of salt. When Jesus said "You are the salt of the earth" he was actually being nicer than we think. Salt was very valuable then and it was more along the lines of: "You guys are the most awesome guys around," then "you are a bunch of noble crusties" which is how we use it today. In Job 6:6 Job asks "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?" Nope, it totally can't.


But beyond its gustatory and historical influence, salt has another important property: it can be absolutly beautiful. Occupying huge parts of our earth -- both above and below ground salt forms and creates some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet.

With this in mind...Behold! Atlas Obscura's thirst-inducing collection of this planet's top nine "Wonders of Salt." We're delighted to present them to you below, in no particular order.


1. The Devil's Golf Course

Death Valley is a weird, wonderful place. But if I had to pick a favorite spot, I'd have to go with the Devil's Golf Course, an ancient lake that evaporated thousands of years ago, leaving mounds the size of laser printers covered in razor-sharp salt spikes as far as the eye can see. Please note: Not really a golf course. 

Saltiest Places on Earth - Atlas Obscura - Devil's Golf Course


Devil's Golf Course - Weird Salt Formations - Atlas Obscura Blog


Devil's Golf Course Death Valley - Wonders of Salt - Atlas Obscura


2. 3N Cave

Salt caves are, for lack of a more appropriate word, awesome. The huge, dripped formations can form in a matter of weeks after a rainfall, rather than the thousands of years it takes limestone deposits to grow. 3N is a relatively new addition to the map, but is officially the world's largest salt cave, teeming with karsts, megadomes, and is cut through by a briney river... Oh my!


3N Cave - World's Longest Salt Cave - Atlas Obscura Salty Wonders


3N Salt Cave - Wonders of Salt Collection - Atlas Obscura Blog


3N Cave Salt River - Atlas Obscura Blog Roundup - Saltiest Places on Earth


3. Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira

Located a mile underneath the Columbian city of Zipaquira, the Catedral de Sal can accommodate up to 10,000 devotees. Though certainly a labor of love -- and debatably an exercise in Catholic guilt -- the cathedral and its multiple naves devoted to Christ's life remain unrecognized by the Vatican.  

Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira - Columbia - Atlas Obscura Salty Wonders


Salt Cathedral - Columbia - Saltiest Places on Earth - Atlas Obscura Blog


Catedral de Sal - Salt Cathedral - Columbia - Atlas Obscura Blog


Espejo en la Catedral de Sal - Cathedral of Salt Mirror - Atlas Obscura Blog


4. Salar de Uyuni

Southwestern Bolivia is a land of pink flamingos, cacti, drymouth, and 3,800 square miles of hexagonally-tiled salt flats.  Apparently, in the rainy season, the world's largest salt flats become a 20-inch deep lake that perfectly mirrors the sky, causing trippy mirages of infinity.  Did I forget to mention there's a hotel built of salt in the center? 

Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia - Saltiest Places on Earth - Atlas Obscura


Salar de Uyuni - World's Largest Salt Flat - Bolivia - Atlas Obscura Blog


Salar de Uyuni - Blovia's Huge Salt Flat - Atlas Obscura Blog


5. Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is to salt as the Sistine chapel is to paint, which is to say, an unparalleled masterpiece in its medium.

Everything in this former mine is made of salt, save for the wooden structural pillars and the electronic wiring. The floors, walls statues, railings, even chandeliers are pure NaCl, and tour guides encourage visitors to lick the walls. Throughout the 19th Century, the polish miners of this cave became artisans, carving ornate pieces in their mine's labyrinthine chambers.

There is also a restaurant within the mine, where naturally, salt is always close at hand.

Poland's Salt Mine - World's Saltiest Places on Earth - Atlas Obscura Blog



Wieliczka Salt Mine - Poland - Atlas Obscura's Saltiest Places on Earth




Wieliczka Salt Mine - Poland - Underground Salt - Atlas Obscura Blog


Poland's Wieliczka Salt Mine Cave - Atlas Obscura Saltiest Places Roundup


6. Kitum Cave

For a very long time, the source of the abrasions on this cave's walls remained a mystery.  Some speculated ancient peoples, possilby Eygptians, were responsible. But no, the carvings in the cave weren't man made at all... elephants had been the culprits all along! The cave is the elephant equivalent of drunk college students raiding their fridge at midnight. Late at night, the Pachiderms go into the cave, get their salt lick on under the cover of darkness, and emerge unseen. Take that, Egyptians!  (Unfortunatly the cave is also the site of the deadly Malburg virus, so, visiting the cave is ill advised.)


 Kitum Cave - Elephants Licking Salt - Atlas Obscura Blog


Kitum Cave of Kenya - Elephants Eating Salt - Atlas Obscura Blog


7. The Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson built this piece of earthen sculpture in 1970, projecting into Utah's Great Salt Lake by more than 15,000 feet.  Each year, based on overall water levels combined with snowmelt and drought severity, determines whether the Spiral Jetty may or may not make an appearance.

As time wears on, the jetty is slowly dissolving back into the salty lake and one day, it probably won't emerge intact from the water. Luckily its slow destruciton by nature seems to all have been a part of Smithson's artistic master plan. 


Great Salt Lake Sprial Jetty - Atlas Obscura's Salt Wonders on Earth


Spiral Jetty - Salt Lake - Utah - Atlas Obscura Blog


Spiral Jetty from Rozel Point - Salt Lake UT - Atlas Obscura Blog


8. Detroit Salt Mine

Sadly, only a privileged few are permitted to roam the 1,500 acres of underground salt roads winding beneath the city of Detroit. To get to the pits of the mine itself, workers cram into an elevator for a descent that is longer than the Empire State Building is tall.

Today, the mine is responsible for producing the vast majority of Michigan's road salt.

Detroit Salt Mine - Atlas Obscura Blog - Saltiest Places in the World


Detroit Salt Mine - World's Salty Wonders - Atlas Obscura Blog


9. Undersea Brine Lake

Imagine you're on a leisurely submersible cruise beneath the Gulf of Mexico, when all of a sudden you find yourself at the shores of a mussel-encrusted lake... but you're already underwater!

That's the position researchers found themselves in when stumbled upon this area of super-salinated water, home to hearty bacteria the mussels feed on.  Effectively, the brine in the lake and nearby brine streams is so dense that it separates from the regular salt water, and is extremely difficult to penetrate; the submersible literally bounced off of its surface!

Under Sea Brine Lake - Gulf of Mexico - Atlas Obscura


Brine River - Under the Gulf of Mexico - Saltiest Wonders on Earth


So there you have it, some of the world's greatest wonders of salt! Of course, there are many more. For a comprehensive list of the world's salty amazments check out the Atlas category "Wonders of Salt" where we have even more saline sites.

If there is a salty wonder we are missing, by all means, leave a comment, or enter it as a place in the Atlas. Remember, we couldn't do this without you, the salt of the earth. 

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Places in this article

3N Cave - The World's Largest Salt Cave

Qeshm, Iran

Devils Golf Course Landscape

Inyo, California

Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira

Zipaquira, Colombia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivian Salt Flat

Daniel Campos, Bolivia

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka, Poland

Kitum Cave


Detroit Salt Mine

Detroit, Michigan

The Spiral Jetty

Corinne, Utah

Undersea Brine Lake


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