There is much speculation about the future colonization of Mars. The evidence that water once flowed on the red planet makes it one of the more hospitable planets for sustaining life, and those who are frightened for the future of Earth are chomping at the bit to get there. It’s likely that we will see steps toward a permanent settlement on Mars in our lifetime.

But what is the surface of Mars really like? Besides being freezing cold (-80 degrees Fahrenheit) it’s rocky, dry, and windy – with dust storms so large they can be seen from Earth. The atmosphere is very thin and contains less than 1% oxygen. Despite some of its less favorable attributes, the surface of Mars is somewhat similar to what you’d find in the deserts of the southwestern United States.

Here are 12 of the best photos that show what the surface of Mars looks like. 

This look back at a dune that NASA's Curiosity Mars rover drove across was taken by the rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the 538th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 9, 2014). Wikimedia
Bedrock at this site added to a puzzle about ancient Mars by indicating that a lake was present, but that little carbon dioxide was in the air to help keep a lake unfrozen. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On July 20th, 1976, the Viking 1 took its first picture of Mars and relayed the historic image back to Earth. Flickr/NASA  
Curiosity's Color View of Martian Dune. Wikimedia/NASA 

An erosion resistant outcrop dubbed the 'East Glacier'.  Flickr/Paul Hammond

An iron-nickel meteorite about the size of a golf ball. Flickr/NASA 
An area called "Murray Buttes" on lower Mount Sharp.  Flickr/NASA 

The “Murray Buttes” region of Mount Sharp. Flickr/NASA 

Purple-hued rocks on lower Mount Sharp.  Flickr/NASA 

Panoramic image from the Mars Pathfinder mission. Wikimedia/NASA 

"Marathon Valley," slices through a large crater's rim on Mars. Flickr/NASA 

An 8-image mosaic acquired on Sol 2. Wikimedia/NASA