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Tinajo, Spain

Timanfaya National Park

Visit a surreal landscape so otherworldly NASA actually used it to train the Apollo 17 crew. 

Located in the Southwest corner of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands is a hidden gem that has been wrought from Mother Nature’s innards, yet looks descended directly from outer space: Timanfaya National Park. 

The Timanfaya National Park (Español: Parque Nacional de Timanfaya), is located in the Southwest of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.  The park is habitat to several rare plant species, which led UNESCO to declare it a World Biosphere Reserve.

Most famously, the park’s Fire Mountains rose to prominence during a peak in the area’s volcanic activity between 1730 and 1736, when over 100 volcanoes covering more than fifty square-kilometers erupted on the island, devastating local villages. The last recorded eruption occurred in 1824, and only one active volcano remains on the island, from which the park draws its name.

What was left in this geologic wake is a surreal, barren landscape that almost looks like it has been turned inside-out in spots, where heavy metals have been drawn directly from the earth’s core. Yet other areas of the park have evolved into a habitat uniquely its own; home to several rare plant species, the whole of Lanzarote including Timanfaya was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

Taken as a whole, the park totals nearly twenty square-miles demonstrating extreme surface temperatures, within the range of 400°C and 600°C just a few meters below the surface. All of these features made it an ideal proving ground for extra-terrestrial projects. NASA identified these special qualities early on, and showed pictures of Timanfaya when training astronauts for their Apollo 17 expedition to the moon.

For the rest of us mere mortals, these extreme underground temperatures are easily demonstrated simply by pouring water into the ground, which results in a geyser of steam. This stunt is one of the most popular among park visitors, partly for the grounding effect it has; against a vast backdrop of landscapes so varied and otherworldly, it can be easy to lose touch with the fact that Timanfaya is a real place, and this little trick reminds tourists in a tangible way that,  yes, nature really just is that majestic.