Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Travertine Terraces of Pamukkale

Talking about tufa (calcium carbonate) is a constant at Mono Lake. It was a pleasure to learn that western Turkey has a spectacular feature made out of calcium carbonate--the travertine terraces of Pamukkale (37°55'). Overlooking the Lycos Valley and the Buyuk Menderes River (which twists so much it gave us the word "meander"), brilliant white terraces and aquamarine water draw tourists from around the world. The lukewarm spring water is loaded with calcium carbonate which precipitates out to form travertine when exposed to air, in a process similar to cave stalactite formation. Yet another example of how calcium, carbonate and water combine to form beautiful features around the world.

The white terraces need to dry out to really gleam, so the spring water is moved around throughout the day, providing changeable bathing experiences. One of the water management workers told us that this is a constant process throughout the year. The low-tech system includes ditches, sheets of metal and plastic bags. Pamukkale has a very interesting management challenge: dealing with thousands of bikini-clad tourists that want to frolic in the pools, while at the same time protecting the terraces. Artificial pools have been constructed along an old road route where people are allowed to swim near the natural terraces. A crew armed with brooms was cleaning dirt and algae from the lower terraces.

Adding to the scene are spectacular Roman ruins of Heiropolis above the travertine hillside (founded in the second century BC.) Multiple earthquakes forced eventual abandonment. The well-preserved theater overlooks ancient baths filled with visitors floating above broken columns!

The staff at the bookstore, Burak, Alper, and Nihan, showed us pictures of other limestone features in this part of Turkey, many in caves made beautiful by pools and limestone features.

Our day in Pamukkale was an interesting mix of wading, people-watching, and ancient ruins, punctuated by the shrill whistles of the "rangers" when people ventured too far up the terraces or neglected to take their shoes off...bare feet are required for everyone, including the cops.

The hillside is lit up at after dark, but it was the chorus from frogs in the lake below that delighted us that evening, especially when we spotted some and could watch their membranes inflate as they croaked and warbled (we'd never heard frogs sing like these).

Today we head even further east toward the volcanic tuff landscape of Cappadocia.

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