Close your eyes and imagine the Earth’s most exotic sites—lush tropics, massive icebergs, spectacular waterfalls, unusual animals, mammoth sand dunes. These are some of the scenes awaiting viewers in the film The Greatest Places.
This is not your average travelogue. It’s a journey that combines beautiful scenery with geography, biology and geology. Once the Science Museum of Minnesota decided to produce such a film, the staff embarked upon an extensive research mission to determine what viewers would consider the world’s most riveting geographical locations. Six months of scouting potential locations and lots of focus group research yielded seven sites around the globe, and the film shows them off with astounding beauty.
Amazon River—Vast landscapes of river and
forest are punctuated by visits with the people who depend on these resources
for their subsistence. The Amazon is the world’s largest, longest and wildest
river, and more species of fish live there than in the entire Atlantic
Ocean. Also, more than half the world’s bird species live in the Amazon
Greenland—Contrary to the pastoral scenes its name evokes, Greenland is nearly all ice. The Greenland Ice Cap covers 85 percent of this island—the world’s largest—and contains 10 percent of the world’s fresh water. The temperature never goes above freezing here, except at the cap’s extreme margins, but a few people manage to live in this brutal climate. The surrounding ocean is barely above freezing, yet it sustains a rich abundance of sea life.
Iguazu Falls—Starting in the highlands near the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil, the Iguazu River flows west for more than 800 miles. Near the boundary of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, the river drops some 250 feet over a cliff composed of 275 visually distinct falls. The Iguazu Falls’ total width is nearly two miles—that’s four times wider than Niagara Falls. Surrounded by tropical forests featuring wild orchids, ferns, bamboo and colorful wildlife, the falls is a premier tourist destination.
Madagascar—This island off the southeastern coast of Africa is just a little smaller than Texas, but it’s a study in contrasts, featuring rain forests, grasslands, deserts, scrublands, dry forests, savannas, deciduous forests, mountains, swamps, beaches and coral reefs. Living in its environs are more than 400 species of amphibians and reptiles, including two-thirds of the world’s chameleons. Madagascar’s trees are home to 23 species of lemurs, small nocturnal primates found nowhere else in the world.
Namib Desert—Stretching 1,200 miles along the southwest coast of Africa, the Namib is a narrow desert featuring pink and red sand dunes that tower nearly 1,000 feet in the air. They’re fed by sand that comes down from the Kalahari Desert. Temperatures on the dunes can reach more than 158°F, but a few highly adapted insects survive there. Down below, the beaches near the ocean are a cool 86°F, and support a greater diversity of life including penguins, seals and flamingos.
Okavango Delta—Also in Africa, the Okavango Delta of Botswana is a rich, isolated oasis in the middle of the vast Kalahari Desert. Known as “Africa’s Last Eden,” the delta exists because the Okavango River flowing out of the distant Angolan Highlands pours into a shallow basin of rock filled with sand. Its flow blocked, the river spreads out into this basin to form an inland delta, a maze of islands, lakes and river channels that constantly change and reform with the pulse of the river.
Tibet—The world’s largest uplifted area, the Tibetan
Plateau accounts for two-thirds of Tibet’s landmass. This desolate place
has one of the world’s most severe climates, with temperatures that can
drop as much as 80°F in one day. The plateau is surrounded by the Earth’s
tallest and youngest mountains, where many of Asia’s great rivers begin.
The only people living on the plateau are nomadic yak herders, one of the
last of Earth’s peoples to live the nomadic pastoral life.