The Zambezi River

The magnificent Zambezi River has yet to be completely explored.

To the communities around it and the people who visit, this spectacle of nature is majestic and spiritual.

Why the Zambezi Is Famous

About 32 million people inhabit the Zambezi River basin. The population in the river’s upper course practice agriculture extensively, and many sport and commercial fisheries operate on the Zambezi River. Besides fishing, the Zambezi tourism industry continues to thrive as the river attracts many people who come for, among other things, the numerous exotic fish species in the river.

The Zambezi River Valley has rich reserves of fossil fuels and minerals, as well as coal mines. The river is also home to the Cahora Bassa and Kariba Dams, two of the largest hydroelectric power projects on the continent. Still, these feats of human engineering pale in comparison to the grandeur of the captivating Victoria Falls. Even though the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi’s numerous rapids make extensive navigation impossible, there’s still some water traffic along the river’s short, uninterrupted stretches.

Geographical Details of the Zambezi

Over head view of the Victoria falls on Zambezi river

The Zambezi, along with its tributaries, is the fourth-largest river in Africa and is the longest river flowing east. It drains a vast area (more than 500,000 square miles or 1.3 million square kilometers) of south-central Africa.

The distance from the Zambezi’s source on the Central African Plateau to the Indian Ocean, into which the river empties, is roughly 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers), and the river spans six countries: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The upper course of the Zambezi starts from a marshy bog 4,800 feet above sea level in Zambia and ends at the Victoria Falls. Here, it starts its middle course, extending 600 miles (965 kilometers) from Victoria Falls to Lake Cahora Bassa in Mozambique. The Zambezi’s lower course descends the Central African Plateau down to the coastal plain, where it empties up to 247,000 cubic feet (7,000 cubic meters) per second into the Indian Ocean via two channels.

The Zambezi River Basin has a tropical climate. Savannah vegetation prevails in the basin’s upper and middle portion, whereas mangrove swamps and evergreen forests dominate the river’s lower course. The Zambezi River Basin is home to a wide variety of terrestrial (mammalian predators, game species and other mammals), aerial ( such as herons, wattled cranes and African fish eagles) and aquatic (crocodiles and hippopotami) animal species.

Historical Significance of the Zambezi

From the 10th century, Arab traders were the first non-Africans to traverse the Zambezi using its lower reaches. The Portuguese followed in the 16th century hoping to use the river to enhance trade in slaves, gold and ivory.

Until the 19th century, little was known about the river, then called the Zanbere. Accurate mapping of the river began with David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer, who charted a large portion of the Zambezi’s course in the 1850s. Until further surveys in the 20th century traced the source of the Zambezi, his map of the river was the most accurate.

How to Get to the Zambezi

You can access the Zambezi River from multiple points in Zambia or the other countries through which the river flows. Major airports near the Zambezi in Zambia include Solwezi Airport and Lubumbashi International Airport. Once in the country, you can reach the access points to the Zambezi via bus services, car rentals or trains.

The Zambezi is one of the few remaining rivers in the world with unexplored reaches, evoking excitement and mystery.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

Along the south edge of the Colorado Plateau’s deep canyons, volcanic mountains and vast buttes lies the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, a massive meteorite impact site that formed 50,000 years ago.

For centuries, the site was the subject of great debate among geologists.

Quick Facts About Meteor Crater

While the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark may not be the largest crater on earth, it’s certainly sizable, and thanks to the arid desert climate in Arizona, the crater is one of the best-preserved in North America.

  • The meteor that formed the crater had a diameter of approximately 150 feet
  • The original size of the crater was more than 4,000 feet across and 700 feet deep
  • Meteor Crater has reduced in size due to natural erosion; it’s now approximately 3,900 feet across and 560 feet deep

Historical Significance of Meteor Crater

Before Meteor Crater was proven to be a meteorite impact site, the area was known by the name Coon Butte. The name Meteor Crater, or Barringer Crater, as it’s sometimes called, was earned in the early 1900s when geologist Daniel Barringer theorized that it was formed by a meteorite. He claimed that iron from the meteorite would be found beneath the crater’s surface. In 1903, Barringer and a team of miners dug beneath the crater’s surface in search of that iron to prove his theory. His mining efforts failed when all that was discovered was rock and water. Regardless, Barringer was persistent in touting his hypothesis, and although some scientists stood behind him, the science community, in general, was skeptical.

Before Barringer’s theories about the crater were mainstream, Grove Karl Gilbert, another geologist, tested the theory that the crater could have been formed by a meteorite colliding with Earth, as well as the theory that it could have been the result of volcanic activity below Earth’s surface. The result of his tests incorrectly found the latter to be true.

Proving Barringer’s Theory

overhead view of the Barringer crater

Ultimately, proving Barringer’s theory came down to the presence of certain rocks and minerals in and around the crater. Although iron wasn’t present below the surface, as Baringer had hypothesized, what was later found in and around the crater provided conclusive evidence that his theory was, in fact, correct.

In 1960, Eugene Merle Shoemaker, a Ph.D student, discovered the presence of coesite and stishovite in the area, which are rare forms of silica formed when quartz is under high pressure and moderate to high temperatures, such as when struck by a meteorite. This finding proved Barringer’s theory right.

Further evidence of a meteorite impact has been discovered in geologic samples of the area in the years since. These samples included pulverized rock, along with sandstone and limestone, that was littered throughout the surrounding area. Additionally, fragments of the meteorite itself along with metallic spherules and shock-melted sandstone and limestone have been discovered in the crater’s ejecta blanket. These discoveries have aided advances in science and helped geologists to recognize other meteorite impact sites on earth and throughout the solar system.

Meteor Crater in the Movies

America’s fascination with outer space and meteors crashing into our planet have lead Hollywood to Meteor Crater a couple of times. In the film Damnation Alley (1977), which portrays a group of nuclear assault survivors searching for civilization, several scenes are filmed at the site. In the 1985 film Star Man, the plot focuses on an alien who’s trying to return to his home planet. In the film, he has to go to Meteor Crater to board his spaceship.

Visiting Meteor Crater

International travelers can fly into the area via the Flagstaff Airport, which offers connecting flights with international airports in several surrounding cities.

Meteor Crater is a magnificent geological site. It’s the first crater proven to be caused by a meteorite impact, and it’s one of the most well-preserved craters in the world.

Indus River: Cradle of Civilizations

With a murmur and a roar, the Indus River makes its way through areas as turbulent as its shimmering waters.

One of the longest rivers in the world, its waters brought life and industry to many civilizations along its long and winding banks. Even great conquerors were both driven and shaken by its might and majesty.

The Fine Details

From the northern slopes of the Kailash Mountain Range in the Tibetan plateau of China at roughly 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) of elevation to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, the Indus River and its many tributaries fed numerous civilizations throughout Pakistan and India. The approximately 2,000-mile-long river traditionally has double the flow of the larger Nile River in Africa and nearly three times that of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers combined.

Near Tatta Pani in Azad Kashmir, the Indus branches out into a multitude of distributaries that form its fertile delta. Covering more than 3,000 square miles with 130 miles of coastline along the Bay of Bengal, this delta is one of the most significant habitats in the world.

The People of the Indus River

Millions of people have lived and thrived along the Indus River. They were as separated by faith, race and language as they were by the wild waters of the river.

In the Pothohar Plateau of Punjab, explorers found Paleolithic sites with stone tools. In ancient Gandhara, evidence of cave-dwelling people from 15,000 years in the past turned up. However, the best known and largest group of people to grow from the Indus River is undoubtedly the civilization that bears its name.

The Indus River Valley & Its Civilization

 a vibrant look at the Indus river and valley

The fertile waters of the Indus River touched the lives of many people and even gave birth to a civilization all of its own. The Indus River Valley Civilization (IRVC) — or simply Indus Valley Civilization depending upon who you ask — thrived along the lower Indus River in what is now northeast Pakistan and northwestern India. Their civilization lasted roughly from 3300 BC to 1300 BC and has also been known as the Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley due to the earliest artifacts being found in the ancient city of Harappa. This city was one of the first archeological excavation sites in the area.

This highly agricultural society is often considered to be one of the great early civilizations, alongside Sumer and Egypt. Archeological evidence shows that they were an urban culture, meaning that they organized into large cities, with an advanced culture involving sculpture, music and religion. Many of the roots of Hinduism and Indian culture can be traced back to this civilization.

Legacy of the IRVC

The IRVC is known to have experimented with metallurgy. Examples involving tin, lead, bronze and copper were found among the relics. A standardized system of weights and measures is another innovation that this ancient society left behind.

They also invented a system of writing. Many linguists believe that this language may have developed into Vedic Sanskrit, often referred to as the mother of all languages. However, there are near as many who disagree with this assertion.

Many theories abound as to why this once great nation abandoned its cities and moved away from the river that gave it life. One of the most prevalent themes is that the people migrated elsewhere when the Indus River changed its course. While it’s a historic fact that the course change occurred, the reason for the Indus River Valley Civilization’s downfall is still a matter of debate.

Agricultural Powerhouse

Indus river in the Himalayas
The turquoise Indus river near Saspul in the Indian Himalaya in autumn. Ladakh, India

The Indus River system — the river, its many tributaries and the delta — feed the agricultural needs of the entire Indus River Valley that surrounds it. This includes large parts of Pakistan and India, two areas with booming populations and rapidly growing food and water shortages. The rich waters of the river feed flora and fauna in the plateaus, temperate forests and dry rural areas of Pakistan almost exclusively.

The Indus River system is vital to the Pakistani economy and agricultural industry in particular as it is the country’s major freshwater resource. This is especially true in the Punjab province, where the majority of Pakistan’s agricultural production occurs. Approximately 90% of the country’s agriculture depends on the Indus River.

Recent years have seen an increase in the rate of deforestation and the human destruction of the ecosystem has caused a noticeable decline in the quality and production rate of farmland and foliage in general along the Indus River. This has led to the majority of cultivation requiring irrigation.

Nearly 30% of the world’s cotton comes from India and Pakistan, with the vast majority coming directly from the Indus River regions. This level of production requires that an average of 137 billion gallons of water be taken out of the Indus River.

Hydroelectric projects and irrigation are rapidly draining the flow of the Indus River while the glaciers that feed it in Kashmir are melting away faster than they can reform. The Indus is a critical source of drinking water, hydroelectric power, and much more throughout both Pakistan and India. The fragile balance needed for the growingly limited water resources in the area is igniting barely dormant political tensions in an area that has a long history of unrest.

Popular Culture

While the Indus River has not made a splash in the worlds of movies, television, music or art, it’s undoubtedly in the background of many Bollywood films. Bollywood is the colloquial term for the Indian film industry, which sets nearly every movie in the subcontinent.

The 2016 action-adventure film Mohenjo Daro is set in the Indus River Valley. The river itself figures prominently in this film set amid the ancient Indus River Valley Civilization. It has drawn many critics for what is seen as a highly sensationalized and inaccurate representation of that civilization.

The Indus River helped to build civilizations and is one of the catalysts in the war between two others. It has long been the seat of unrest with conquerors crossing its waters to reach their next battle. Today, it continues to play a vital role in Pakistani and Indian society as well as the ecological future of the planet as a whole.

Tigris River: Cradle of Civilization

Without the Tigris River, civilization as we know it might never have existed.

The Tigris, along with its neighbor the Euphrates River, helped to form the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, Greek for between the rivers. Because the two rivers provided water to the region, future inventions, such as aqueducts, were unnecessary for irrigation, allowing civilization to thrive.

These days, the Tigris River flows through modern-day Iraq, passing through part of Syria and Turkey as well. However, the river isn’t nearly as strong as it once was, and this reality has a region fearing for what is to come in the future.

What Civilizations Used the Tigris River?

The Tigris River formed the basis for several civilizations, starting around 4500 B.C. with the Sumerians, who were the first real civilization to establish a long-term presence in human history

The reason the Sumerians succeeded where others failed was irrigation from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Irrigation proved vital to the region because the land nearest the rivers was quite fertile, but the land farthest was initially inhospitable to the crops necessary for a thriving civilization.

Other civilizations to use the Tigris included the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who constructed several canals to take further advantage of the river’s resources.

Where Does the Tigris River’s Water Come From?

Due to its arid location, the Tigris receives most of its waters not from rain in Iraq, as would be expected, but from snow in the mountains of Turkey. Long before the presence of dams in Turkey and Syria, the waters of the Tigris would regularly exceed sea level in the spring because of melting snow coming from the Turkish mountains and sending the Tigris over its river banks.

The dams of the Tigris have changed its path over time. Geological evidence suggests that the Tigris has followed three different courses during its history, with most of them dated between 4000 B.C. and 1258 A.D., when the modern course of the river was formed. Both irrigation and dams have played a large role in the Tigris’ route changing, with the latter playing a large role in its modern problems.

Why is the Tigris River in Trouble?

The problems for the Tigris can be traced to the problems of the country that hosts most of its territory: Iraq. The Middle Eastern nation has been one of the most war-torn places in the world over the past 50 years, and war has sapped the Tigris of much of the water that helped the Sumerians and the Babylonians flourish.

The Tigris also faces problems because of the region’s oil. As the world became more modern and cars became the dominant form of transportation, oil commanded high dollars for the Middle East, but its sale included a high price of its own: pollution of the waters that had long sustained life in the area and dwindling waters to the region.

The countries where the Tigris flows have seen escalated tensions over their ability to get water from the Tigris. Iraq itself gets more than 70% of its water from rivers that it shares with other nations, including the Tigris and Euphrates.

What Does the Future Hold?

The Tigris faces some of the same problems that many of the world’s great rivers have faced since the Industrial Revolution, and whether it can be saved depends on how well its nations work together to clean up the river. If they can put aside their differences and cut back on pollution from plastic and other sources, the Tigris River could easily become great again.

The Euphrates: Once Fruitful

Go back to ancient times, and the original name of the Euphrates River makes complete sense.

In the original Greek and Hebrew, Euphrates means that which makes fruitful. Along with the Tigris River, the Euphrates did exactly that for ancient Mesopotamia, as irrigation from the river allowed the first city-states in history to form.

Unfortunately, the Euphrates isn’t what it once was. Issues between the three countries it flows through, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, have sapped it of its former greatness and left the river in peril in the 21st century.

How Long and Deep is The Euphrates?

When all is well, the Euphrates flows for 1,740 miles, starting in Turkey before flowing through Syria and Iraq on its way toward the Persian Gulf. The river can be as wide as about one-third of a mile and 30 to 147 feet deep in some areas. It’s formed by the joining of two rivers, the Karasu and Murat, which exist in the Armenian Highlands.

Why Is the Euphrates Important?

What made the Euphrates such a vital river was the fact that its waters made the land known as Mesopotamia fruitful. The Mesopotamians developed irrigation and brought the water from the Euphrates toward the land, allowing civilization to develop around the region’s farmland. Further success in the area came when the Assyrians and the Babylonians settled the land.

How Far is the Euphrates From the Tigris River?

It’s virtually impossible to discuss the Euphrates without bringing up its partner, the Tigris River. The two rivers are a mere 30 miles apart in some spots.

Why is the Euphrates Drying Up?

River Euphrates in Kemaliye location with the Recep Yazicioglu bridge

Three nations using the river as their main source of water has led to the Euphrates losing a great deal of its volume. Both Turkey and Syria have constructed dams to take water out of the Euphrates, which has left far less in the remainder of the river for Iraq.

The Middle East is also a drought-prone region, and its arid climate has prevented the Euphrates from receiving enough rain water to replenish what the area’s population takes out of it. With a mere 24 inches of rain falling per year in some spots, the river has had little chance to recover from human usage.

Mining also hurt the Euphrates in the past, as the site was once mined for minerals such as silver, lead and zinc. However, mining was abandoned in the late 1980’s, shortly before the Gulf War plunged the region into complete instability.

How Has Pollution Hurt the Euphrates?

The Middle East has been drilled for oil extensively in the past half-century as cars have become the dominant mode of transportation throughout the world. Unfortunately for the Euphrates, the oil-rich area means that the Middle East often ends up quite poor in terms of water. Not only has oil meant an increase in pollution, but the area is one of the most war-torn in the world, which has lead to the health of the river falling by the wayside.

How Many People Rely on the Euphrates?

The Euphrates River basin serves 23 million people, which has made the pollution problems and lack of water in the river a serious issue for the Middle East.

While the Euphrates was once one of the world’s great rivers that helped create civilization as we know it, the sad fact is that the river is in grave peril unless its nations can come together for a solution. The Euphrates might have given birth to civilization, but without serious action in the immediate future, civilization might be what causes its downfall.

Tibetan Plateau

Towering at an average elevation of 4,500 feet, the Tibetan Plateau’s expansive landscape is the highest flatland in the world.

The geological marvel is often referred to as the roof of the world for its vast and sky-high countryside. The plateau is in good high-elevation company, bordered by mountain ranges that are home to Mount Everest and Mount Godwin-Austen (K2), the two highest peaks in the world.

Where to Find the Tibetan Plateau

Located to the southwest of China, the Plateau of Tibet stretches to connect the Kunlun Mountains to the north, the Himalayas to the south and the Karakoram mountain range to the southwest. The Tibetan Plateau is also a bridge to diverse ecosystems, including the deserts of the Tarim and Qaidam basins, lowlands and thickly forested valleys. Overall, the landmass is approximately half the size of the contiguous United States.

A Landscape of Glacial Importance

The Tibetan Plateau is a landscape of contrasts — from flat valleys to craggy mountains and lush forests to arid desert. The flatland is also distinct for its glaciers. Tibet’s monumental glaciers account for the largest concentration of ice outside of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. These icy giants produce waters that flow into Asia’s largest waterways, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong and Ganges rivers. The water that rolls from these massive glaciers sustains more than 2 billion people. 

Life on the Tibetan Plateau

Yak with blankets on its back standing in front of a lake with snow covered mountains in the background, Tibet

Such sky-high elevations have isolated the Tibetan population from surrounding communities. For centuries, many Tibetans lived as nomads, traversing the land and raising livestock such as yaks to sustain their way of life. The vast majority of Tibetan nomads follow the religious practices of Tibetan Buddhism, under the leadership of the Dalai Lama. A study of the genetic descendants of Tibetan nomads found that Tibetans living at high altitudes had a different genome than people living closer to sea level. The EPAS1 gene found in Tibetans regulates hemoglobin levels in the blood to make high-elevation life possible without sickness.

The Collision That Formed the Tibetan Plateau

The Tibetan Plateau is the result of the buckling of the Earth’s crust. Specifically, the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate made contact 50 million years ago, and compressional forces elevated the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding mountain ranges. The Indian Continental Plate continues to push northward into the Eurasian Plate, resulting in earthquakes and changes in elevation for the Tibetan Plateau. Tectonic models developed by geologists show that the Tibetan Plateau’s elevation has risen nearly 2 miles in the past 10 million years.

Culture Clash: China Invades the Tibetan Plateau

Despite Tibet’s established independence from China in 1913, numerous clashes, military uprisings and invasions have taken place on the Tibetan Plateau. Beijing and the Chinese government continue to lay claim to the land and aspects of Tibet’s cultural government. In 1960, a report by the International Commission of Jurists accused China of crimes of genocide in Tibet and violation of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today, as the Dalai Lama lives into his 80s, China claims to have the right to appoint the next Tibetan spiritual leader, while the Dalai Lama maintains that he will choose his Buddhist reincarnate.

The remote flatlands of the Tibetan Plateau are complicated. Beneath the plateau, the Earth’s crust quakes from colliding tectonic plates. Above ground, an invading government imposes control over the people. While roiling in conflict, the Tibetan Plateau remains one of the most geologically astounding landscapes on the planet.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro calls to climbers who dream of scaling Africa’s tallest point.

Not only is Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa but, at 19,341 feet high, it’s also the tallest free-standing volcanic mass in the world. Unlike other famous tall peaks, Kilimanjaro isn’t part of a mountain range, which is typical of mountains formed by volcanic activity.

The Extremes of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is protected inside the Kilimanjaro National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country of Tanzania. Its height is so extreme that the mountain features five distinct ecological zones that climbers pass through as they travel up its trails.

Mount Kilimanjaro sits only about 205 miles away from the equator, and the average temperatures at its base are 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The base of the mountain starts as bushland and develops into lush rain forest that’s home to diverse wildlife, including colobus and diademed monkeys and the wide-eyed nocturnal primates known as bush babies.

As climbers ascend the mountain and pass through the heath ecological zone, the vegetation becomes sparse and the air gets colder and drier as the landscape transitions into alpine desert. Trekkers who reach the top of the mountain enter an arctic zone with a summit that’s capped by 10,000-year-old glaciers.

History of Mount Kilimanjaro

congratulations sign verifying the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro was formed millions of years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. The summit of the mountain is at Kibo, a dormant volcano. While Kibo’s last major eruption was 360,000 years ago, it’s capable of erupting again. The Mawenzi peak is an extinct volcano, and Shira is a volcano that is extinct and collapsed; it now forms the Shira Plateau.

Mount Kilimanjaro and parts of the surrounding area were designated as a forest reserve in 1921. In 1973, that classification changed to National Park. UNESCO declared Kilimanjaro National Park a World Heritage Site in 1987.

The first known group to climb Mount Kilimanjaro ascended its peak in 1889. Today, nearly 40,000 people climb the mountain each year. Many of them do it to mark an accomplishment or change in their lives, like NFL Super Bowl champion Haloti Ngata, who announced his retirement while he was at the summit. He shared a photo of himself holding a flag that said he was “retiring from the NFL on top.”

Only about 50% of people who attempt to climb the mountain succeed at reaching the highest point, usually due to difficulties acclimating to the altitude. The mountain has several routes for climbing, and the trails that get people to the top the fastest are the most difficult. The oldest successful climber of Kilimanjaro is Dr. Fred Distelhorst, a retired orthodontist who reached the summit at the age of 88 in 2017. The youngest person to reach the top to date is Coaltan Tanner, who made it to the summit in late 2018 when he was 6 years old.

How to Get to Mount Kilimanjaro

The closest airport to Mount Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is reachable by direct flight from several international airports in Europe. Most climbs depart from the towns of Moshi or Arusha, both about 40 miles from Kilimanjaro airport.

Climbing the natural wonder that is Mount Kilimanjaro has been likened to walking from the equator to the North Pole in one week. Visiting its national park is a transformative experience that lets people see the world in a new way.

London’s Waterway: the Thames

Perhaps no body of water has been witness to more events that shaped modern history than the Thames River, which has been the backdrop for many of the major instances of English history that made the United Kingdom and much of the Western world what it is today.

It was the Thames that William the Conqueror crossed when he first conquered England at Hastings in 1066, and the river provided the backdrop of John signing the Magna Carta in 1215, dramatically expanding the rights of the English and forming the basis for many constitutional monarchies of western Europe.

Even the Glorious Revolution, which led to the English Constitution, was planned on the Thames.

Why Else is the Thames Important?

It’s believed that the Thames had a major role in shaping the United Kingdom because it was where the Romans chose to construct what is now modern-day London. The Romans, learning from past successful civilizations, prized their ability to send water throughout the land using aqueducts, which require a consistent source of water to work. Much like their own capital of Rome, situated on the Tiber River, the Romans saw value in this area on the Thames.

What is the Thames like?

That depends on where you are in England (the only one of the four Home Nations of the United Kingdom where the Thames exists). The Thames flows entirely through southern England, beginning roughly 40 miles east of the English border with Wales. The river then follows a path from west to east for 215 miles and gradually expands as it heads toward London. At Oxford, the Thames’ width is a mere 250 feet wide; it expands to 870 feet at London Bridge and eventually reaches 18 miles wide when it empties into the North Sea.

As for the condition of the river itself, the Thames has traditionally had dark waters, which is believed to have led to its name, as it’s thought (albeit unconfirmed) that the name comes from the Sanskrit tamasa, meaning dark water.

A History of Darkness

The darkness of the Thames hasn’t always been due to its nature. The Thames was once perhaps the dirtiest river in the world, as there was no way for the British to dispose of much of the pollution created by the Industrial Revolution. In the 1950s, the Thames was so toxic from pollution that it was declared biologically dead and described as an open sewer. So polluted were the waters that in 1878, when the Princess Alice pleasure ship sank in a collision, the majority of the the passengers who succumbed to the Thames’ waters did so not because of drowning, but because they were overcome by pollution.

Times have changed since then, and the Thames is now one of the cleaner rivers in a major city. Not only is the Thames used as a traditional trade route as it always has been, but a stronger emphasis on keeping the river clean has allowed marine life, such as seals, to return to the Thames.

While the Thames has changed greatly over the centuries, one thing that hasn’t changed is the Thames’ importance to the history of the world. As John Burns once said of London’s vital waterway, the Thames is “liquid history,” and it’s likely to remain so as London’s influence in the world remains strong.

Matterhorn

Situated on the Pennine Alps bordering Italy, the Matterhorn is among the most well-known mountains in the world, as well as Switzerland’s most famous landmark.

At nearly three miles high, the Matterhorn is the sixth tallest mountain in the Alps and renowned for its clear-cut pyramid shape. A natural wonder and a bucket-list item for climbers, the Matterhorn is at once a terrifying summit and a breathtaking display of nature’s might.

How Did the Matterhorn Come Into Being?

The Matterhorn formed about 50 to 60 million years ago when Eurasian tectonic plates collided with African plates, thrusting sedimentary rock above sea level. These rocks, which came from the Tethys Ocean, would form the bottom two thirds of the mountain. The top third of the Matterhorn, however, has a different origin.

Soon after the bottom portion formed, a massive fragment of rock from Africa collided with the Alps. A metamorphic rock, or gneiss, was created from the pressure, and this new rock would become the Matterhorn’s top portion. Over time, natural erosion wore away the originally rounded mountain, causing it to take on its pyramidal shape. Interestingly, each of these four worn sides or faces aligns with a different cardinal direction.

The name Matterhorn comes from the German word matte, meaning meadow or valley, and horn, meaning peak. However, Italian locals prefer the name Monte Cervino, which likely stems from the Italian word for forest.

Famous Summits

the Matterhorn with its reflection in the water and Milky Way above in the night sky

The first noteworthy attempt at climbing the Matterhorn was undertaken by Edward Whymper and a team of six climbers on July 14, 1865. They successfully reached the top, but tragically, four of the seven climbers plummeted to their deaths on the descent. That same week, Jean-Antoine Carrel triumphantly scaled the Lion Ridge on the Italian side of the mountain, and just six years later, Lucy Walker took the Hörnli route and became the first woman to successfully summit. At 90 years old, mountain guide Ulrich Inderbinen became the oldest person to summit.

Since that first brave climb, over 500 additional people have died attempting to reach the Matterhorn’s summit, which is roughly three to four people per year. Due to constantly changing temperatures and weather patterns — including screaming winds and heavy fog — it’s difficult to adequately prepare or predict the mountain’s safest routes. However, about 3,000 people successfully finish the climb each year, with many more attempting, failing and descending unharmed.

In 2015, several guides retraced the first climbers’ steps, commemorating their climb with a line of dazzling lights. A single red light was used to mark the spot where the climbers fell, and a moment of silence was held for the 500 others who have since perished.

Transportation to the Matterhorn

Several airports are located near Zermatt, the mountain resort at the foot of the Matterhorn. The closest airport is Sion, and the second closest is Geneva, which tends to offer more flights. Zurich and Milan are also relatively close by. A drive from Geneva offers the quickest route, and train trips from Zurich or Milan are also fast options.

The Matterhorn continues to entrance climbers with its mysterious shape and history. Though many have failed to summit, many more have emerged victorious, prompting others to make their own attempt. The Matterhorn is among the most famous and photographed mountains in the world, serving as a challenge to climbers and a marvel to the world at large.