Fantasy Landscapes that Actually Exist: Part 1 – The Ends of the Earth

When I’m creating a new cosplay picture, my subject might be a video game or a cartoon character, but I like to increase the sense of realism in each shot by grounding it in real-life locations as much as possible.

That doesn’t mean the picture turns out any less fantastic though.

As I’ve scoured the world for the most phantasmagorical cosplay settings, I’ve discovered that mother earth is often more beautiful than almost any fantasy world we could dream of.

To find these stunning landscapes, however, we may have to journey far from the comfort and familiarity of home. At the edges of our world—high in the sky, deep below the ground, in blazing deserts and over frozen seas—lie scenes so stunning they seem almost alien.

Allow me to share a few of these incredible locations with you. Perhaps they will inspire your imagination as they have mine!


Few creatures can survive in the hottest, driest places on earth, and so they can be almost as foreign to us as outer space.

For those willing to brave the heat, however, there are some incredible wonders hiding in plain sight.

Devil’s Golf Course

California’s Death Valley is the hottest place in North America year after year. Even so, it once housed a body of water known as Lake Manly. When this lake evaporated a layer of salt and gravel up to 9,000 feet deep remained.

Image from: Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than remain flat like Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats (incredible in their own rite), however, time and weather has sculpted the salt into vicious looking spires.

Image from: Wikimedia Commons.

Scenery this brutal and grotesque seems like it must be part of another world, and has earned it the fanciful name “Devil’s Golf course.”

Namibian Fairy Circles

An equally fanciful name belongs to one of the greatest mysteries of the desert. A 1,100-mile strip of grasses in the Kalahari desert is pock-marked with mysterious circles completely barren of life.

Film still from BBC Earth’s “Africa.”

These blemishes on the desert floor are always the same shape and never change position, year in and year out.

Film still from BBC Earth’s “Africa.”

The real mystery is…how did they get there?  What are they?

Many explanations have been attempted over the years, but none has stood up to serious scrutiny. This mystery alone makes the area fantastic, but its appearance is almost like a crater-blasted alien planet.


Nature has few secrets deeper (literally!) than those buried in caves. Like a chapter from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, some subterranean landscapes are filled with stunning surprises and otherworldly beauty.

Cristales Cueva de Naica

Just when we think we have Mother Nature figured out, she throws a curve ball that defies everything we thought we knew. Only recently, in April of the year 2000, an incredible “Cave of Crystals” was discovered in Mexico.

Image from:


This place looks like it could only exist in a computer generated world.  One thousand feet underground, a volcanic fissure houses the largest crystals known to man, at up to 36 feet long and 50 tons in weight.

Image from: Wikimedia Commons.

The place doesn’t just look like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, it is an environment where perhaps only he could survive for long. The air in the fissure is approximately 136 degrees Farenheit, with 98% humidity.

The crystals are made of Gypsum and contain pockets of fluid. Samples taken of this fluid have revealed bacteria, viruses, and other ancient forms of life previously unknown to science.

A mysterious cave of giant crystals filled with unknown forms of life? Sounds more like a Jules Verne novel than reality…but reality’s exactly what it is.

Ice Caves

A cave filled with gems is one thing, but what about an entire cavern carved from a single crystal? Only one molecule could pull off crystals on this scale—planet earth’s trademark water!

Image from:


Ice caves of various types occur all over the world. You may remember the Icelandic cave featured in my Fairy Fountain cosplay picture:

Click here to see the rest of the picture and learn how it was made!

The ice seen here is from the inside of a glacier, where enormous pressure has caused years of snow to recrystalize into a form able to flow under its own weight.

Across the Atlantic a very different type of beauty occurs where freezing water spray builds almost like the mineral deposition seen in more conventional caves. In the Apostle Islands Ice Caves, icicles stand in for stalagmites and stalactites, and as they grow they slowly coat rock walls in a layer of white:

I used the spiked nature of these formations to camouflage the toothy maw of a Freezard in another Zelda cosplay picture.

New Zealand Glow Worm Caves

For light-loving humans, caves can seem like alien worlds, and their inhabitants can seem just as extraterrestrial: eyeless fish, flying mammals that see with their ears, and…some surprisingly beautiful insects.

Image from:

In Waitomo, New Zealand, gnat larvae (“glow worms”) hunt with strands of mucous they illuminate with light from their own bodies.  If you were a little moth caught in the trap it would seems quite morbid, but from a human scale the sight is nothing short of breathtaking!

Again, I couldn’t pass up the chance to include this incredible landscape in the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project, and it became the backdrop to showcase the magical spell Nayru’s Love.

Celestial Wonders

Zooming from deep underground to high in the air, the sky is frequently one of nature’s most beautiful canvasses.

The Hubble Space Telescope constantly identifies new galaxies, planets, and nebulae—each more spectacular than the last—but closer to our corner of the solar system there are still plenty of marvels that defy imagination.


You’ve probably heard of the northern and southern lights before. Respectively known as the aurora borealis and aurora australis, these dazzling displays occur when energy and microscopic particles released from the sun during solar storms moves along the earth’s magnetic field and becomes concentrated at the poles. As this celestial debris interacts with elements from our own atmosphere, visible light is discharged.

Image from:

As scientific as this explanation may sound, the end result is nothing short of magical.

When a strong aurora occurs, streaks and beams of light dance across the night sky in colors ranging from blue and purple to red and green.

These mystical, ever-changing light shows have captured the imagination of those lucky enough to see them for thousands of years. Many native legends exist to explain the lights, including that they were departed friends’ dancing spirits, or (more frighteningly) the cooking fires of cannibalistic enemy tribes.

Fire Rainbows

Although I lived in Northern Alaska for several months, I was never lucky enough to see a really great aurora (they were summer months, and it didn’t help that the sun never went down). Still, there are some truly stellar sights available to those of us in the lower latitudes.

Image from:

Above is a “fire rainbow”—a brilliant display where the sky appears to burn with vivid rainbow colors.

Image from:

Technically known as a “circumhorizontal arc,” this brief and beautiful phenomenon is neither fire nor a rainbow. It occurs when the sun has risen at least 58 degrees into the sky. Since the sun doesn’t get up that high for much of the year in the far north, Alaskans are less likely to spot one of these puppies.

The other key ingredient for a fire rainbow is cirrus clouds.  These form at high enough altitudes that much of their water vapor may freeze into tiny ice crystals.  The crystals have a prismatic effect, scattering light into the colors of the rainbow, and the wispy shape of the clouds creates the fiery look that gives this celestial marvel its name.

Arcs, Pillars, Halos and Dogs

Fire rainbows are spectacular, but they are only one of the many effects airborne ice can have.

Other solar phenomena you might witness on a chilly day include sun dogs…

Image from: YouTube.

…sun pillars…

Image from: Wikimedia Commons.

…and parry arcs.

In rare moments like the picture heading this section, a whole multitude of celestial phenomena occur at once!

Tatooine may have had two suns, but take one look at the incredible pictures above and I’m pretty sure Luke Skywalker would get ice envy.


This list only scratches the surface of the incredible natural wonders I have discovered while crafting my epic cosplay photos. If I included them all in one post I think you’d get tired of reading, so instead I’ve decided to break up my real-life fantasy landscapes into a three-part series.

The next time you see a gorgeous sunset or an incredible ice formation, I invite you to stop and enjoy it, and maybe take a picture for later use! There’s no cosplay picture more realistic than one that’s real.

If you happen upon a natural wonder that just blows your mind, share it with me in the comments section, and maybe it’ll show up in my next post!

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