Friday, September 21, 2012

Demoiselles Coiffees

Yes, "demoiselles coiffees" is a bit of a tongue twister.  Perhaps you've heard of hoodoos, or earth pyramids, or fairy chimneys.  They're all pretty much the same thing, but the demoiselles are the French version.  Translation?  "Ladies with hairdos."

Some of the ladies

There are some more well-known examples closer to Embrun, but we were wandering around up in the hills one day and came upon these.  These are not totally undocumented, or even well-hidden, but they're certainly not publicized either.  They're also pretty easy to get a view of, albeit devilishly difficult to get close to.  Of course, I wanted to get close to them.  So predictable in my old age...

Up close

I actually scared the shit out of myself getting to them.  Well, not literally.  They were perched along a 50+ degree slope with curious footing...grippy right up until it was weighted, at which point it evaporated into a gleeful frictionless cascade.  Even with good shoes, I was clinging to frail bits of vegetation, half-accepting that at some point, I'd tumble backwards and go head over heels into the rock pungee pit below.


Another group

Quick geology lesson:  these are erosion-formed oddities.  As ground erodes away, and if conditions are right, harder rock protects softer rock (or earth) beneath it, and the whole column eventually becomes freestanding.  There can be several flavors of the topper rock and the supporting material, but that's the basic premise.  Over time, the column will collapse, depending on the hardiness of its material.  Plug for a friend: for some excellent examples of some North American hoodoos, check out Chris' description here, or search results here.

You can see the factory in the left side of the frame...many of these will not survive

The French demoiselles are far different than, say, the ones Chris shows off.  Instead of homogenous sandstone underneath, these are made of something that resembles natural concrete; a fortunate mix of dirt and smaller rocks that stay bonded enough to support the sometimes huge topper rock.

Dusky skyline

It started to get dark, which was great for photo opportunities, but my difficulties ascending this terrain were looming large in my mind, even though I had a headlamp.  So while the potential was there to make a night of it, a safe-ish retreat while there was still a little light in the sky seemed like a far healthier choice.


Most of the main group

And...this next one seemed well worth the extra effort afterwards.

Lights on!

This definitely was a fun mission to occupy an evening; unique formations in nearly inaccessible terrain.  All the makings of "you wouldn't believe the great photos I had on my camera before it tumbled off a cliff!"  Fortunately escaped that fate...


No comments:

Past Detritus