By Ferdi Burger on 05 September 2013

The words barren and beautiful don’t immediately seem to make very comfortable bedfellows, but when it comes to landscapes they fit like hand in glove. There are great expanses of landscape all over the world that at first glance appear to be just barren wilderness, but move in closer and there is a beauty about them that is unequivocally unique. Beauty comes in all shapes and forms, and the following landscapes prove this.

The Outback (The Bush)

Miles and miles of nothing is how the Australian outback is usually described. Located in 
Queensland, this has to be the most famous landscape that can be described as both barren and beautiful. Nobody actually knows the exact size of the outback due to on-going arguments over its boundaries, suffice to say is stretches for many miles, from the centre of the country right down to the southern coast. There are thousands of species of wildlife that call the outback home, as well as rare trees and flora.  Tourist wise, many think the outback only exists around Ayers Rock but its beauty is everywhere. The sun setting behind Ayers Rock and the red glow lighting the entire landscape remains one of the most spectacular images of the country and well worth a visit.

Tabernas Desert

Only a few miles inside from the holiday towns of the Costa Almeria is one of Europe’s only true semi-deserts. The 110sq miles that make up the Tabernas Desert are protected as a wilderness area, and with an annual rainfall of less than 200mm a year, this is a barren landscape that doesn’t fit in with the sun, sea and sand associated with the busy Spanish resorts. This area found fame when it doubled as Mexico for the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns of the 1960’s, and has since made an appearance in numerous other films and TV shows. There is something about a desert, despite being bereft of aesthetic qualities, that is both romantic and beautiful, and if you visit the closest thing to a real desert without a long haul flight, the Tabernas Desert is exceptional.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Set in the north west of Utah, the Bonneville Salt Flats looks to all intents and purposes like a desert created from salt instead of sand. It is actually a densely packed pan of salt that is all that remains of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, and is the largest of the many salt flats that lie west of the Great Salt Lake. The sheer size and eerie glow of the salt in the Utah sun is where it gets it beauty from, and with it being accessible to everyone you have to actually be in it to appreciate it. It is widely used by motor sport enthusiasts who want to push their cars, and their nerve, to the limit. The unique location of these races have the crowds flocking, especially in September when the  Mike Cook ShootOut is held and many land speed records are attempted.


Dramatic is the only word that really sums up the volcanic landscape of the 4th largest island of the Canary Islands. Vast sweeping areas of, well, nothing, really give you a landscape as far removed from the UK as you can get. Lunar is a word often used to describe the vista created by the landscape and travel writers who experience this raw and volcanic terrain have frequently empathised with those inside Apollo 11 when they crunched into the Sea of Tranquillity. There is a huge assault on both the visual and audio senses when you leave a crowded lively resort and within a very short space of time stand a barren wilderness.

Mount Thor

Mount Thor sits on Canada’s Baffin Island, and is the highest vertical cliff in the world. In fact, it is one of the very few that is actually steeper than vertical, having a 105º overhang. Belonging to Auyuittuq National Park, it remains one of great unexplored wildernesses in the world. While many have tried to climb its daunting 4000ft sheer cliff face, few have conquered it. It is a hugely popular place for BASE jumpers and hang gliders seeking to jump off the world’s tallest cliff, despite the strict jumping ban in force in Auyuittuq Park. Those who do make a semi ascent and come down to earth by the most direct route are promptly prosecuted.

These are just a selection of landscapes around the world that ticks the boxes of being both barren and beautiful. These are the kind of attractions that, if you are in the locale, are definite must sees. With changing climates and human damage, extraordinary acts of nature such as these may not be around that much longer, so if you want to see some of the most amazing sights on earth, it should maybe be sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: Flickr - @Doug88888

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