20 Weird And Wonderful Places On Earth That Are Strictly Off-Limits To The Public

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Most people have heard the phrase “harder to get into than Fort Knox.” In fact, it’s the most highly protected place in the world, with what’s rumored to be electric fences, lasers, radar, machine guns and landmines making its gold reserves nigh on impossible to access. But the following places also hold secrets and dangers enough for public access to be prohibited.

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20. Dulce Base, U.S.A.

A restricted underground military base occupies the space below Mount Archuleta, situated on the border of Colorado and New Mexico. In fact, the facility is as shrouded in secrecy as Area 51 and prohibited to the public. Former staff, however, have turned whistleblower on this highly classified premises, with stories emerging from surrounding neighborhoods of extraterrestrial activity.

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For instance, Philip Schneider, a former geological engineer, described a stand-off with gray aliens while excavating the facility’s network of tunnels. He allegedly lost parts of his fingers and leg to lasers blasting out of the extraterrestrials’ chests. Schneider also claimed to have witnessed alien beings perform experiments on human subjects. Conjecture abounds as to whether this activity is real or merely government deception.

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19. Surtsey Island, Iceland

A three-and-a-half-year eruption in the volcanic waters around Iceland was dramatic enough to form a whole new island when it ended 1967. Located roughly 20 miles off country’s south coast, scientists took an early interest in the igneous’ appearance, even as the mass had barely cooled. They knew early on this wouldn’t become a tourist destination.

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Researchers commandeered the island in 1964. Their aim was to study how animals and plants set up home on newly-formed land. The 348-acre rock eventually attracted more than 330 species of invertebrates and various other bird, fungi and lichen species. To preserve the study area, then, the island is accessible to only a handful of scientists and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.

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9. Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, U.S.A.

The apocalypse has been written about and prophesied for more than 2,000 years. Indeed, some of the wealthiest doomsday types are preparing for that exact situation in lavish underground bunkers. But perhaps the safest of bolt holes for the end of the world – however it may occur – is the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center in Virginia.

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Mount Weather is located not far from Washington D.C. The high-security bunker was originally built during the Cold War to withstand a full-on nuclear assault, and was all but consigned to history a few decades later. However, recent world events inspired extensive renovation of the location meant to safeguard the nation’s leaders and treasures in a crisis. All of which means you won’t get in without top-level security clearance.

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17. Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China

In 1974, farmers in China’s Shaanxi region unearthed a sizeable army of terracotta sculptures representing the military personnel of the country’s first serving emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Numbering in their thousands, the detailed figurines date back to around 200B.C. The find, which filled the ruler’s subterranean burial network, is considered among the most significant in history.

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The grounds where the terracotta soldiers stand are among the most notable tourist attractions in China. However, the actual tomb is shrouded in secrecy. There are rumors of extreme security measures protecting the crypt from interlopers, and deadly levels of mercury have been recorded in the compound. Some 2,000 of the incredible sculptures are visible to visitors. But several thousand more, along with other valuables, could still be concealed in the burial chamber.

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16. Robins Island, U.S.A.

The Hamptons in New York are well-known as an affluent area. However, it doesn’t get much more exclusive than Robins Island. The privately-owned idyll is located just off the New Suffolk coast, and, at $11 million, was a steal when bought by its current owner, Louis Moore Bacon, in 1993. Nevertheless, its past is somewhat sketchy.

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The deeds to Robins Island, in fact, have changed hands multiple times, with Bacon himself embroiled in unrelated legal disputes. Even so, the billionaire invested heavily in the island, creating a nature reserve and sanctuary for a sizeable population of turtles. To preserve the ecosystem, though, the businessman banned the public from the 435-acre property.

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15. Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station, U.K.

On 550 acres of farmland outside Harrogate in the U.K. stand more than 30 curious-looking golf ball-style structures. Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station was initiated on the down-low in 1952 by President Truman. Its purpose, at first, was to gather intelligence through the interception of electronic communications. However, as its role grew throughout the Cold War, so did the base.

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Indeed, avid conspiracy theorists often indulge in speculation over Menwith Hill’s real purpose. It’s presumed that it enables the National Security Agency to gather details on all telecommunications sent worldwide. But we may never know, as it’s highly confidential. “You often wonder what goes on there,” an unfazed local told military newspaper Stars And Stripes in August 2013. “If they want to listen to my conversations, it would be a bit boring for them.”

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14. Pluto’s Gate, Turkey

Now, Pamukkale, which translates from Turkish as “cotton castle,” may sound like a slice of heaven on Earth. The city’s tourism industry was founded on its thermal spas thousands of years ago, and today relies on its impressive collection of Roman ruins. But there’s a deadly enigma nestled among the ancient relics, and it’s known as the “Pluto’s Gate.”

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Also known as the Gate to Hell, archaeologists first discovered Pluto’s Gate in 2013, when they followed the path of a thermal spring. However, clouds of natural gases that emanate from the site have rendered the historic spot unsafe for people to visit. You see, the same volcanic activity that formed the hot springs is also responsible for levels of carbon dioxide deadly enough to suffocate a human in under 30 minutes.

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13. Heard Island, Australia

That Heard Island is among the most isolated places on Earth isn’t the only reason visitors aren’t allowed there. Although a territory of Australia, it actually lies somewhere in the Indian Ocean, between Antarctica and Madagascar. Moreover, the ice-covered terrain belies the isle’s dangerous origins, since it’s actually formed by two active volcanoes.

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While the threat of eruptions renders Heard Island forbidden to humans, that hasn’t stopped other forms of life taking up residency there. The land mass is now home to various birds, seals and several species of penguin. And although this particular location is strictly off limits to man, the neighboring McDonald Islands occasionally accepts visitors with “compelling scientific reasons.”

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12. Granite Mountain, U.S.A.

The Mormon Church’s secret vault is so closely guarded that access is strictly forbidden to the public. It’s housed in Granite Mountain – a peak that’s actually made of quartz – located in the Utah town of Little Cottonwood Canyon, not too far from Salt Lake City. The store was created in 1965 to preserve records relating to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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The huge, ironclad archive preserves more than 3.5 billion vital images kept in digital form and on microfilm. Many of the vault’s records are available only to relevant custodians. They are, though, expected to be made available to view on ancestry website FamilySearch.org. However, the store itself is off limits to visitors.

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11. Niihau, U.S.A.

Hawaii is made up of multiple islands, each with inviting names, where visitors can lose themselves. Indeed, some tourists opt to hop from the likes of Maui (the “Valley Isle”) to Oahu (the “Gathering Place”), Kauai (the “Garden Island”) and beyond. But even if they think they’ve taken in all the country’s highlights, they’ll never see its “Forbidden Island,” Niihau.

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The historic Niihau lies 17 miles from Kauai’s coastline, and is only visible when the epic sunsets seen from Kekaha Beach intensifies the Forbidden Island’s silhouette. The 70-square-mile idyll has been privately owned since 1864, and is prohibited for anyone outside of the inhabitants’ direct descendants. You see, it was the Hawaiian king’s wish to preserve the place as he had known it.

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10. North Brother Island, U.S.A.

Another island off the coast of New York is the stunning yet devastating North Brother Island. It’s situated on the East River, adjacent to the prison compound on Riker’s Island and the Bronx. During the 1800s, this now-disused land mass once housed Riverside Hospital, a quarantine unit for patients suffering with small pox, tuberculosis and yellow fever.

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During the 20th century, the hospital was used to shelter World War II veterans and, later, as a rehabilitation center for heroin addicts. The institution ceased operations early in the 1960s and has since been reclaimed by nature. And although North Brother Island is off limits to visitors, it provides a vital breeding spot for black-crowned night herons.

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18. Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City

In March 2020, historians were granted rare access to files stored in the Vatican secret archives. German researchers there found documents dating to World War II indicating that the Catholic Church was aware of the Holocaust some time before they acknowledged it. The damning papers suggesting a cover-up are among centuries of closely-guarded records including letters, state papers and accounts kept in the vault.

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Some say the archives contain proof of aliens and demons. It’s also alleged that documents show the Church was involved in fascist activities in the mid-1900s. However, only the most learned of educators and scholars are granted access to the Vatican’s files after a rigorous vetting process. Casual visitors will never know what secrets live there.

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8. Poveglia, Italy

Islands have apparently been used as a repository for the undesirable across the world for centuries. In addition to the aforementioned North Brother Island, Italy’s Poveglia Island once served as a dumping ground for dead bodies. At first it was used to quarantine those infected by the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s, then to house the mentally ill in the 1800s.

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Locals believe that, during the 19th century, a barbaric doctor carried out experiments on mentally ill patients on the island. Which may add fuel to the idea that today, it’s only rinhabitants are the ghostly remains of the tormented former residents. The land mass remains off limits to anyone wishing to visit. But given its status as Italy’s most haunted place, who would want to?

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7. Ilha da Queimada Grande, Brazil

A small, secluded island featuring every terrain, from verdant rainforests to bare rock, might seem like the perfect destination for an idyllic getaway. Indeed, the 110-acre Ilha da Queimada Grande fits the bill, and lies off the shores of São Paulo in Brazil. But despite it’s heavenly-sounding location, the place is sometimes also called Snake Island.

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So the island has a few snakes, how much of a big deal can it be? Well, the Ilha da Queimada Grande’s alternative epithet becomes clear from studying its slithery residents. Scientists found that every ten square feet of terrain contained up to five snakes. What’s more, they include the highly poisonous golden lancehead, whose venom can disintegrate the flesh surrounding a bite.

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6. U.N. Buffer Zone, Cyprus

Hostilities between Greece and Turkey have existed since the former won independence from Ottoman Empire rule in 1830. One particularly contentious issue between the warring factions was the island of Cyprus. Located off the southern coast of Turkey, its population was 82 per cent Greek, ruled under the British flag.

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After a Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, a ceasefire resulted in the United Nations overseeing a “Buffer Zone” between the island’s two communities. Today, the area looks like a crumbling time capsule. Deserted homes, offices, shops and an airport occupy this 112-mile no-man’s land running the length of the territory. It’s off limits to everyone, including the population of Cyprus.

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5. Pravcicka Brana, Czech Republic

Bohemian Switzerland is a stunning area of the Czech Republic, sitting on the northwest border with Germany. It stretches across the Elbe River, from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in the north to the Lusatian Mountains in the east and Ore Mountains in the west. And the protected area contains a feature unlike anything else on the planet: a huge, naturally-formed rock configurations.

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Among the area’s stunning natural sculptures is the Pravcicka Gate, an impressive 52-foot tall bridge spanning 85 feet. The monolith has attracted visitors for hundreds of years, sometimes as a source of artistic inspiration. Although tourists are welcome to the area, the bridge itself has been inaccessible since 1982. You see, the rock has been subjected to so much erosion over the years that it’s close to collapse.

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4. Diego Garcia Island, Indian Ocean

The island of Diego Garcia was first put on the map by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s. A dependent of Mauritius until 1965, the British then re-purposed the land as part of its Indian Ocean Territory. But soon after that, in order to make way for U.S. military operations, the inhabitants were displaced.

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Today Diego Garcia is populated by up to 5,000 U.S. military personnel. In fact, part of the island resembles a typical American town, featuring burger joints and a bowling alley. Outsiders, including soldiers’ partners, however, are not welcome there, due its classified status. The base coordinated operations during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and rumors abound that it also houses a secret military prison.

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3. Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

Japan is a nation with a rich culture of temples and shrines. Indeed, it is thought there are more than 80,000 of the latter alone sprinkled across its islands. Perhaps most notable, however, is the Ise Grand Shrine. It’s a complex building, believed to be the most expensive in the country due to its intricate architecture.

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The Ise Grand Shrine is renovated every two decades – an undertaking that costs around one million dollars. The process represents death and rebirth, a pillar of the Shinto religion. However, only members of Japan’s imperial family are allowed to enter this sacred building. Tourists may only admire its beauty from afar.

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2. Morgan Island, U.S.A.

Along the Atlantic coast of the southern states lie the Sea Islands. Among them is Morgan Island, situated in the seas of Beaufort County, South Carolina. Although the territory has always remained uninhabited due to its position relative to the mainland, visitors have been strictly prohibited since 1979. You see, its nickname is Monkey Island.

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Morgan Island is home to around 3,500 wild Rhesus monkeys. The primates were moved to the 2,000 acre plot from Puerto Rico when an outbreak of herpes B among the troop started to infect the locals. Visitors, then, must observe them from the surrounding waters. However, inhabitants are occasionally removed from the island for research purposes, never to return.

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1. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway

We know that the nation’s leaders will be safe during the apocalypse. Maybe they even have a plan to repopulate the Earth if necessary. But have you ever thought what might happen if a catastrophic event wiped out the world’s food supply? Well, someone did, and it led to the establishment of the Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a storage facility carved 400 feet into a mountain. The repository contains 840,000 specimens of 4,000 of the world’s seed varieties and operates in a similar fashion to a bank’s safety deposit box. Indeed governments secure plant samples there in the event of catastrophic incident that destroys food supplies. Designated “depositors” are the only people allowed to enter the location known as “the final back up.”

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