In A Nutshell
In the darkest recesses of Tanzania, a quiet lake hides a formidable secret. Any animal that dies in its waters is preserved and later washed up on shore, appearing to be turned to stone. This effect is due to the extremely high salt and soda content in the water.
The Whole Bushel
Lake Natron isn’t exactly a pleasant place. With an alkalinity level somewhere between a pH of 9 and 10.5 and a temperature that frequently exceeds 60 °C (140 °F), it could make a good punt for being one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. But Lake Natron isn’t content with just killing off whatever life tries to get a toehold in its ash-encrusted waters. Like a demented cross between Medusa and King Midas, it will turn any visitor that overstays its welcome into a creepy fossil.
See, Lake Natron is absolutely bursting with soda and salt. According to one photographer who visited, the levels of concentration were so high it could strip the ink off Kodak film boxes “in seconds.” They might find it difficult to get out if they’ve stayed in too long, or they might be confused by the lake’s appearance as the locals claim. Either way, the eerie result is a shoreline littered with statue-like bodies—the calcified remains of dozens of birds and bats that foolishly tried to test the waters. In short, Lake Natron may well be the creepiest graveyard in history.
Now, a couple of scientists who have examined the lake suggest it’s misleading to claim the animals turn to stone. For one thing, the levels of calcium in the water probably aren’t high enough to truly calcify the creatures, instead coating them with a layer of sodium carbonate. But for our purposes, it’s safe to say that anything that goes into Lake Natron will come out both dead and looking like Han Solo after losing a battle with Carbonite.