March 18, 2011

Parque El Torcal de Antequera, Andalucia, Spain

Located in south-central Andalucia, just north of Malaga, is a spectacular karst landscape called El Torcal. This park is filled with spectacular columns, fins, and canyons carved out of 150-million year old Jurassic limestone. You can access Parque El Torcal by taking the A45 autovia north from Malaga to Antequera. Look for signs for the village of Villanueva de la ConcepciĆ³n and then a paved road climbs up to the parking area near the ridgetop.

The layers were laid down during a period when a shallow seaway formed between the Atlantic and Tethys seas during the Jurassic period. During the Tertiary Period, the area was uplifted into a plateau. Millions of years of rain and freeze-thaw wedging (especially during the ice ages) has left a rugged landscape almost devoid of soil. But, because of its harshness, it has been spared intensive human interference. Thus, it is actually home to some rare and endangered species including Spanish Ibex, Griffon vultures, and two endemic snake species.

Because of the intense heat of the Spanish summers, as well as, the exposed rocks that absorb the suns rays, avoid this area in mid-summer. Also, be careful in winter for ice that may cover the trails in shady canyons.

A view across the Andalucian landscape from the edge of El Torcal

There are a number of trails that cross through this beautiful landscape that range from short easy 1.5 km loops to longer more strenuous hikes across the entire area. Check with the visitor center to find the one that fits your needs and activity level.

If you take one of the longer loops, you drop into some shady canyons where the vegetation is suddenly much denser and lusher. The canyons not only provide additional shade and thus maintain more moisture, but also protect dust and soil from being blown away. So, the soils are slightly thicker and there are oaks and other trees ekeing out a living there.

As you work your way from pinnacle to canyon, be careful not to grab the rocks with your hands too much. Some of them are razor sharp, as the dissassociation of the limestone by the slightly acidic rainwater forms sharp fins and edges.

The horizontal layers are clearly evident throughout the areas. Some are thick and others thin. These different layers allow for the formation of columns and hoodoos, some of which collapse, while others form flat-topped toadstools.

So, if you are ever in Andalucia to check out the famous Alhambra in Granada, the great cathedral in Sevilla, or the tiny colony of Gibraltar, you should swing an hour north of Malaga to see the amazing Parque El Torcal.

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