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Orost, Iran

Badab-e Surt

Iran's colorful terraces are a rare geologic masterpiece. 

Iridescent pools of water gather on beds of rust-colored travertine. The colorful puddles top each layer of rock at Iran’s Badab-e Surt, blanketing the naturally formed terraces and transforming them into an exquisite sight alight with fiery hues. The scenery is breathtaking.

Badab-e Surt is a rare geologic masterpiece, formed during the Pleistocene and Pliocene epochs. Only a handful of such places exist in the world. A similar natural wonder has already been lost.

This site was crafted by nature after two different mineral hot springs spent thousands of years sending water bubbling down the mountain from over 6,000 feet above sea level. When the water cooled, it left behind its carbonate minerals in a jelly-like substance that eventually hardened to give the slope its current staircase shape.

One of the hot springs spews salty water that’s said to have healing properties. Supposedly, it can cure ailments like rheumatism and certain skin conditions. The other spring spurts a sour sediment full of oxide which gives the water its beautiful orange tint. The place gets its name from a combination of the Persian words for “gassed water” and the old name of the nearest village, which means “intensity.”

When the light hits the terraces just right, it makes the puddles glow with the red, orange, and yellow tones found in the underlying rock. Reflections from the sky and clouds above will sometimes add swirls of blue and gray to the mix, creating a watercolor palette bursting with rich natural hues.

Badab-e Surt can be a bit tough to get to, though it’s a place worth seeking out nonetheless. It’s just shy of 60 miles from the city of Sari. The journey there requires winding along isolated roads and stretches of unpaved mountain passes.