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  • Jerome Kocher

61. Natural Wonders

Travel outside of Almaty and you leave the urban center for the steppes, a flat grassland that is more suitable for grazing than agriculture. The repetitive landscape was broken up with runs of red poppies and wild lavender. Our destination are Kazakhstan’s alpine lakes and mini version of the Grand Canyon, two stark contrasts all found in the same region. These are National Parks. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt for creating the concept. One of America’s better exports of an “idea."

Our first destination is Kaindy Lake, a reminder that tragedy can birth beauty. Why? In 1911 the Almaty region was hit with a devastating earthquake of 9-10 magnitude. It destroyed much of the city, but in Kolsay Lakes National Park it reconfigured the mountain landscape with a limestone avalanche that created a natural dam that blocked the gorge. Kaindy means "birch forest," and this one was submerged and disappeared under water, sometimes referred to as the “sunken forest.” A century later trunks of spruce trees still rise out of the water as the lake is fed by cold mountain streams that help preserve them with algae and various water plant growth under the water. Rising out of the lake surface they give the appearance of living tombstones, a reminder of the past.

The fun part of the trip was taking a Russian AUZ, an off road four wheel drive vehicle originally designed for the Soviet military. It was needed to navigate the steep mountain roads with one foot deep ruts as well as forging rushing streams. It was better than any theme park ride. The driver used no key for the ignition, but instead sparked two hot wires at the base of the gear shift shaft everytime we needed to move. Practical ingenuity at its best.

The last steep climb afforded no road so we went by horseback. The only problem was my horse kept biting the horse in front of us which made for a contentious maneuvering down a steep rocky descent. Fortunately I changed horses on the way back because that same horse bit someone else in the leg on our return to the Russian rollercoaster. All this made it that much more memorable. But Kaindy Lake has become one of Almaty's most popular getaways.

Further into the National Park are the much larger Kolsay Lakes in an idyllic alpine setting without the reminder of past destruction. Instead it has a lovely legend that makes the lake even more wonderful. . . Once upon a time there were two families in this mountain valley. Even though one was wealthy, and the other poor, they were close neighbors and fond of each other. The first had a son; while the latter had three daughters. As they grew and matured it came about that all three daughters fell in love with the neighboring son, and he with them. The two fathers were distraught with this dilemma since it posed serious problems in an isolated mountain community. They prayed to God for a solution and God responded with a perfect answer. God transformed the girls into three gorgeous lakes and the son into a river that flows through them. The two families would forever be united and enjoy a multitude of visitors every year. The lower Kolsay Lake we visited was the eldest daughter, as beautiful as ever.

Our next natural wonder was the opposite of mountain lakes. It was Charyn Canyon National Park. First was Black Canyon, a dark rift in the earth imbued with color by stratas of iron and basalt. At first I thought it was obviously the result of the 1911 earthquake. But no. This area was once an ancient sea which as it receded resulted in deep patterns of erosion that carved out the canyons. It was as if over this flat horizon one had drawn a jagged line with a black marker pen that actually gouged into the surface.

Miles later we came to Charyn Canyon itself where sedimentary rock has been sculpted into a mini Grand Canyon. Some of the landscape features are called the Castles. Like spires or minarets they rise above the eroded spaces in the canyon. One feature actually looked like the profile of a face. Our hike into the canyon floor allowed one's imagination to fill in the blanks. Like watching clouds you see the images you are familiar with. 

It was a sixteen hour day to cover all this terrain and the 120 mile return trip back to Almaty. But finally we returned to the City of Apples where streams of human activity were carving out the night with rivers of traffic and the lights flowed like water. 

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May 20

Love the natural wonders


May 18

This beautiful Earth... thank you for sharing.

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