There's a crazy landform in Madagascar called a tsingy, which, euphemistically translated from Malagasy, means "where one cannot walk barefoot." It's basically a treacherous forest of limestone spires that could impale anything, and cut straight through ropes and harnesses. It's one of the few places on Earth that, because of its remote location and dangerous landscape, has remained relatively unexplored. And it took National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez five days to reach it to shoot the story "Stone Forest" in November's magazine.
Alvarez, like many other National Geographic photographers, is known for photographing extreme, remote places. Much of his time is spent beneath the Earth's surface, exploring some of the most majestic cave systems on the planet. For this story, though, he spent his time above the ground. Way above the ground.
At a recent National Geographic event, Alvarez described the process of moving around this tsingy. He compared it to walking through New York City — but instead of using the sidewalks, it's like climbing up one side of a building, then back down the other side, over and over again. "We were lucky to cover half a mile a day," Neil Shea writes in the magazine article.
This stone labyrinth, Shea describes, is a type of karst system, formed by porous limestone dissolved by water over time. "The exact processes that carved such an otherworldly stonescape," he writes, "are complex and rare." Only a few landforms like this exist in the world. And, surprisingly, this seemingly inhospitable place is home to rare plants and wildlife still being discovered — such as the white-furred Decken's sifaka lemur. Fortunately, photographers like Alvarez can do the legwork to bring these surreal, remote landscapes to us with beautiful pictures.
To learn more, check out the article and photos on ngm.com, and view more work by Alvarez on his Web site.
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