To the rest of the world, Russia has often been cloaked in mystery, with political affairs clouding our sense of what this sprawling nation in northern Eurasia is really like. Putting aside its Soviet past, Russia is now much more accessible to outsiders, but its very size and the remoteness of much of its territory still mean that much of it goes unseen. These 5 natural sights, from Manpupuner rock formations in the Northern Ural Mountains to Lena Rock Pillars in far eastern Siberia, represent just a fraction of the beauty that this nation has to offer.
Manpupuner Rock Formations
Tucked away in the Northern Ural Mountains of Russia, seven massive rock formations inexplicably explode from the flat landscape around them. Jutting up to heights of over 200 feet, the Manpupuner Rock Formations have no obvious origin and command a powerful spiritual presence for visitors.
The Manpupuner Formations, also known as the Seven Strong Men, are more or less unknown outside of Russia. Akin to the Easter Island giants, the seven formations are mysterious, starkly contrasting their plateau environment. Likely some sort of karst formation, the rocks feel like the remnants of some long lost civilization.
Locally, the Seven Strong Men have adopted a legendary status, especially considering their location just a hair below the Arctic Circle. Adding to their legend are reports of a feeling of contentedness when visiting the towers. According to some visitors, all desires seem to float away during a visit to the area and local lore claims that spirits gathered in the area during ancient times.
Aside from trying to understand these bizarre monuments, visitors looking for a greater challenge attempted to climb the Strong Men. But since the Rocks are holy places to the indigenous Mansi people this is not well received.
The Rock Pillars Of Krasnoyarsk Stolby Nature Reserve
Krasnoyarsk Stolby Nature Reserve is located on the southern bank of the Yenisei River, bordering the city of Krasnoyarsk, in Russia. The main attraction of the park is its towering stone pillars that have strange curved forms and reach up to 100 meters in height. These rocks are mostly of sedimentary and volcanic origin, aged from the Cambrian period, more than 600 million years ago, to the Carbon period. They were formed when molten magma penetrated the surface from a depth of 500 to 1500 meters into a layer of peneplain where it formed a system of cracks that spread naturally across the entire layer. Selective weathering along those cracks led to the formation of mattress-like prismatic detachments, which caused unique shapes on the rock outcrops.
The place was discovered in 1624 by Russian kozaks – the explorers of Siberia, who built a small fortress at the influx of the Kacha River into the Yenisei. They wondered at the huge intricately shaped stony blocks rising amid a thick forest and gave them the biblical name “Stolpy”, reduced later to the popular “Stolby”, plural for “stolb” which means “pillar” in Russian. Since then the name came into use for these and any similar rocky features in Siberia and the Russian Far East and was accepted as a geological term.
Stolby is also a major rock climbing location. Many local climbers intentionally do not use any belaying equipment, a skill the Krasnoyarsk rock climbers have mastered over the years. They call their extreme stolbism, known elsewhere as solo climbing.
Sail Rock (Parus Rock)
Sail Rock, also known as Parus Rock, is a natural sandstone monolith located on the shore of the Black Sea, in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, about 17 km from the resort city of Gelendzhik. The rock is absolutely flat and narrow, like the sail of a ship, and hence its name. It is about 30 meters tall and 20 meters long but only a meter thick. Contributing to its image lies the fact that this rock is perpendicular to the coastline. From far away, it looks like a boat with a massive sail has come ashore.
Near the base of the monolith is a peculiar hole of unknown origin. Some believe that the rock was used as defence during the Caucasian War and the hole was created to shoot through at the enemy. However, this is doubtful because although Sail Rock is thin, it is still not easy to puncture. This observation is supported by an incident described by the Russian writer, essayist and journalist S.Vasyukov, where he saw a Russian battleship shoot 4 projectiles at the monolith. “Although the traces of the cannonballs were visible, but the cliff was nowhere to be destroyed,” he wrote.
Why a battleship shot at such a spectacular natural wonder is something one will wonder. Thankfully, Sail Rock was declared a natural monument in 1971 and is now protected, at least, from man’s harm, for the sea continues to erode the stack away. Aerial photographs of Sail Rock show submerged rock extending as much as 90 meters away from the monolith indicating the “sail” was much longer at earlier times.
Lena Stone Pillars
Lena’s Pillars are a natural rock formation which was made a World Heritage site in 2006. Numerous fossils and ancient organisms can be found at these pillars, and the area is important for its fossil record of the explosion of life in the lower Cambrian. It has also been the site of many mega-fauna fossils such as mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius Blum), bison (Bison priscus Boj), woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis Blum), Lena horse (Equus lenensis Russ), and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L). Evidence of ancient human life can be seen from the rock paintings and manuscripts from the area.
Magical ‘Light Pillar’ Phenomenon
A number of Russian cities have been treated to an awe-inspiring sight of so-called light pillars seemingly shooting up from the ground all the way up to the horizon and beyond.
‘Light pillars’ in the central city of Rostov stirred controversy with some people coming up with mystical explanations for the occurrence. Experts were quick enough to dispel those myths though, saying it’s nothing but an atmospheric optical illusion.
Sometimes during very cold weather, vertical columns of light beaming directly upwards are visible. These are called light pillars and are created by the reflection of light from ice crystals with near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. The light can come from the Sun (usually at or low to the horizon) in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It can also come from the Moon or from terrestrial sources such as streetlights. Light pillars are typically seen in polar regions.
Light pillars appear when artificial light or natural light bounces off the facets of flat ice crystals wafting relatively close to the ground. When the light source is close to the ground, the light pillar appears above the floating crystals. When the light comes from the sun or moon, the light pillar can appear beneath them, too, as the light refracts through the crystals.