|One of many spectacular trails in Ordesa National Park|
In the spirit of counterbalancing this tendency, I offer you today this photo entry of my recent visit to Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, my first Spanish national park to visit, but most certainly not my last. Located in the Spanish Pyrenees, Ordesa is an incredible natural beauty, and also a cool mountain retreat, to escape the heat in the summer. In 1997 it was even marked a UNESCO World Heritage site, and should be added to the list of places to visit for those of you fortunate to stay in Spain for a year or longer. It is a wonderful place for "senderismo" (hiking).
|On "Gran Recorrido" trails,|
look for this mark
To arrive there you drive to the small town of Torla, to park your car and take a bus up to the Ordesa National Park entry grounds and opening "pradera" (prarie). (In the summer season park officials close this route to individual cars, in order to control the quantity of people who frequent this very popular family vacation destination.) There are many trails in the park (you can find more information at this website, clicking on the "Senderos de Gran y Pequeño Recorrido" link on the right). We chose to do what is the most popular destination: "La Cola de Caballo" (the horse's tail), a three-hour hike to a waterfall and three hours to return, thus one of the "Gran Recorrido" trails or "GR #", marked by red and white stripe paint.
|A panoramic view of Torla, the small Pyrenees town which is the|
launch point for bus rides up to Ordesa National Park
|The view from the Ordesa Park entry "pradera"|
On this trail you are effectively following a river up to its source in the mountains, which means you are nestled in a valley between magnificent mountain peaks and cliffs with periodic spectacular views of waterfalls ("cascadas"). This particular trail is a real treasure because of the varied terrain that you move through…
Early on you enter a series of forests or "hayedos" (forest area, which comes from the word "haya," or beech tree). This part is heavily shaded, which keeps the strong mountain sun off your back!
About an hour in, you arrive to the first series of waterfalls. They make for a great stopping point, to snack, and you can walk down some steps to see the waterfalls up close.
Then you pass along a cliff trail, to arrive a the first raised valley, which has lots of wild flowers and is nestled between striking orange and white cliffs.
Las Gradas de Soaso:
The next destination along the trail, and in my opinion one of the two main contenders for "most incredible sight" along it, are the "gradas" or waterfall steps, a series of waterfalls formed as the river flows down a bunch of terraced drops. They are nice place to stop with the family for a picnic.
El Circo de Soaso:
Continuing up a steep trail, you suddenly arrive in the land of the Wizard of Oz… That is, a brick road appears in place of the dirt and rock path, things level out, and you are in a valley high up in the mountains, with even higher mountains and cliffs surrounding you. Frankly, there is no way to capture with photos the peculiar sensation you feel in this enclosed, elevated valley. It is incredible, beautiful, surreal, and gorgeous. (Don't take my word for it! Come visit it!)
|These two stray cows had the upper valley all to themselves,|
living a perfectly happy life away from the herd.
Confession: I found myself humming songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1965)… such as "Climb every mountain", or "The hills are alive with the sound of music." Cue panoramic shot of protagonist spinning, pull back camera to reveal breathtaking mountain backdrop.
At the very end of the "circo" (geological term, "cirque") and end of our trail is the Cola de Caballo, a waterfall whose dispersed arrangement on the rocks resembles the hairs of a horse's tail. Though not as impressive as the "gradas", it is still a nice final destination for a trail. (Though the more adventurous and travel-tested can continue up a steep trail to the "Refugio de Góriz.") Up above the waterfall is the "Monte Perdido," whose name "lost peak" is ironic given that it is one of the tallest in the Pyrenees (3355 meters high), and hardly easy to loose.
Although it is technically prohibited, it is simply a must to stop at some point along the river and take a foot bath. The water was so cold, I found it impossible to keep my feet under the water for longer than 10 seconds. But, man, were my feet happy to cool off there after heating up along the trail. (Among the other things which are prohibited, but which I saw tons of Spaniards and other park-goers partaking in: taking dogs with you on the trail, bathing or walking in the river…)
And yes, there are animals and plants to enjoy. We saw a chamois on the bus ride up. Though in general we didn't see much wild life beyond birds. There were lots and lots of beautiful butterflies! What our trip lacked in fauna, it more than made up for in flora. Lovely wild flowers… There are edelweiss flowers here, though we didn't see them this trip, since they bloom in the winter. (Cue Sound of Music sentimental scene, lone man with guitar singing, "Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me…").
And lots of interesting trees…
Since the hike takes around 6 hours overall, you also experience a change of light over the course of the day. The shadows on the cliffs shift, the light in the forest changes, and along with it the mood shifts, adding a different texture to sights you've already seen, but don't tire of seeing again...
When we got back to the forest, there was this incredible, magical blue light. I snapped this photo, which only partially captured the surrealness of it.
By the end, my feet were killing me, but my eyes would have kept my body there all day. I knew I would miss these majestic cliffs...