Saturday, July 3, 2010

On the road (Europe 2010): Lac du Salagou

Yesterday was mostly occupied with a short trip to the Lac du Salagou, a fairly large man-made lake about 30 minutes north of Pouzolles. According to my friend the Internet, it was created in 1968 and it's the largest lake in the Languedoc area. I wish I better understood the geology, but, from what I could see, it sits in a very large basin of decomposing red shale-like rock or mudstone (probably this was once a much larger natural lake). This may not be shale, but I will call it that as I don't know what else to call it. The hills and soil are the color of brick. There appear to be harder seams at intervals that erode more slowly than the softer areas, which results in a terraced effect on the hillsides, and the whole of this is tilted about 30 degrees. Here and there there are large intrusions of columnar basalt, which must be the result of volcanic activity at some time long ago.

[Update: A little more checking on the Internet suggests that this entire area was once volcanically active. There is an extinct volcanic vent right at the edge of the lake, apparently. I will look for it if we go back. The red rocks are known locally as "les ruffes." Geologically speaking, they are sedimentary (as I suspected) pelites made red by the presence of iron oxide. "Pelite" appears to be a general term for any sedimentary or metamorphosed sedimentary rock such as slate or mudstone or shale made from deposits of very small grain size--clay essentially.]

There are vineyards virtually everywhere you go in this area, and the area around the lake was no exception. I saw large plantings right in the ruffe, especially in the area around the town of Salasc. I wonder what these wines taste like? I wonder if the red soil gives them a particular flavor? I wish my French were good enough to ask these things....

The lake itself offers fishing, sailing, windsurfing, swimming, and other recreation, but we went mostly for the scenery. Having gotten a rather bad sunburn on my feet at Sète the other day, I stayed in the shade and slept a little. Had a fair lunch at the one restaurant that was open. It at least had a good view of the lake.

On the way to the lake, we stopped at a village called Les Crozes. It was nothing more than a gathering of about ten or twelve stone houses. I think we met the entire population--they came out to look at us as we parked the car. But it has a central square, and a very old-looking stone church. The houses were mostly built of a flat, layered stone that appeared to be what was under our feet as well--schist perhaps. There was an attractive sundial on one of the buildings in the "square." Nearly all the houses had their own outdoor stone "barbecues." One man was feeding a fairly alarmingly vigorous fire of grape prunings in his, preparing to roast a rack of sausages over it (despite the heat). A child in the plaza appeared from nowhere and began squirting me with a squirt gun as big as he was. The tiny dirt road out of the far side of the village proved impassable, so we backtracked.

Stopped also at Mourèze, which has some striking dolomite formations, which seem to be the village's main attraction. They reminded me of the Meteora, in Greece again, but here there are no pillars big enough to build a church on. One web site I consulted called these formations limestone, but they were labeled dolomite in the French. (Another website called it "dolomitic limestone.") A short climb gave access to an observation area with a view of the rocks and the village.

On the way up I saw a new bird. It turned out to be a Black Redstart. It was carrying food and appeared to be feeding babies somewhere, but I couldn't see the nest. I did get a photograph of him, though, with what looks like a piece of grasshopper in his mouth. When he flies, most of his tail and undertail area is as red as the red soil.

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