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IThe park's crown jewels are a necklace of 16 lakes connected by gushing springs, sparkling rivers, and soaring waterfalls.

In the mountains of Croatia, a kind of alchemy is forging a magical landscape where water literally turns to stone. NATURE's LAND OF THE FALLING LAKES gives viewers a first-hand look at this remarkable process, which has helped make Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park one of southeastern Europe's natural wonders.

The park's crown jewels are a necklace of 16 lakes connected by gushing springs, sparkling rivers, and soaring waterfalls. The water streams over porous limestone that underlies the region. But the landscape is far from rock solid. It is constantly changing its shape, as erosion and an unusual chemical process continually form new dams and riverbeds that steer the water in new directions.

Here is how it works:

As water travels through the limestone, it dissolves the surrounding stone and bubbles to the surface heavily laden with suspended lime (calcium carbonate). The water then flows through a natural filter of moss and plants that grow in a luxurious carpet along stream banks. Under the right conditions -- water and air temperatures play a key role -- the suspended lime is deposited on the plants, entombing them in a hard glaze. Eventually, the lime-encrusted plants petrify, and the entire mass turns to a rock that geologists call travertine. Even small animals can become entrapped in the "living" stone. Then, new mosses grow atop the travertine and the process begins again.

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Currently, travertine is
growing at a rate of up
to an inch a year in Plitvice.
Over thousands of years, the waters of Plitvice have built everything from sturdy dams to weird and wonderful natural sculptures. But researchers have discovered that the conditions have not always been right to create travertine. Several times over the last 30,000 years the region has lacked the right combination of temperature and humidity to form travertine.

These days, however, the travertine-forming process is going strong, forming new layers at rates of up to an inch a year. But the process depends on clean water, and pollution from farm fertilizers and other sources threatens to slow or stop the process in some parts of Plitvice. Local groups are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

In the meantime, visitors throng to the valley, eager to see for themselves the magical water that can turn to stone. One visitor says that even Medusa -- the mythical snake-haired creature who could turn onlookers to stone -- would be amazed by the waters of Plitvice.

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