9/03/2006

Laingsburg - Geologic Jewel of the Little Karoo

Oh boy, where to start. I left my camera cable locked in my office so I just have to brain dump now, post pictures in the morning. OK. Highlights. Friday morning, Bruce and Nikki picked me up. Bruce basically runs the scientific/technical support for the department and Nikki is his wife - a botanist and artist. And they have a cute puppy. Score!

Background: the Little Karoo is described by World Wildlife Foundation as an intermontaine basin entiredly surrounded by Cape Fold Belt Mountains. It is part of the "Succulent Karoo" ecoregion which has the highest succulent diversity IN THE WORLD. Some 1700 species of succulents, 700 of which are "stone plants" (same source). In two days with Nikki I saw literally hundreds of these. And the timing was perfect - the desert is in full bloom this week. It's spring down here. there are also at least 390 species of flowering annuals, which were also GOING OFF.

The route out of CT took us through the Afrikaans-speaking northern suburbs, the wine country, big rocky mountains full of baboons and protea trees, and then eastward, parallel to the ridges and valleys of the Klein (Little) Karoo, to Laingsburg. The field station is an amazing old thick-walled brick farmhouse with plank floors and a huge Dutch fireplace in the kitchen. The walls are one or two layers of mortared brick (or hand-shaped flagstone) with a layer of mortar over the outside, and whitewashed. The ceilings are high to keep cool. A "river" bed runs by the field station - it had a bit of water running in it and we heard frogs at night. A spring runs in the riverbed all year, this gets pumped by generator each night up to a cistern on the hill, water gravity feeds to the house. The place is full of geckos (and their droppings). This = desert charm.

We arrived at the field station mid-day and got a big of exploring in. The field station is in a big fold, the hinge region is slates and siltstones which are CRAZY parasitic folded - 2 scales? 3 scales? within this big syncline of stiff, blocky lower-Permian tillites. The tillites have dolomitic concretions which roll all over the place. Even weirder, the white quartzite which UNDERLIES the tillites is all over the place - in boulders - I can only guess that they were eratics which have eroded out of the tillites but they are so pervasive that the "quartz gravel" creates one of the unique soil types of the region, and there are little stone plants that mimic it. There are also little stone plants that mimic springbok crap! There is also a little beetle that mimics one little springbok turd! This is hilariously funny when you're sitting on a rock and all of a sudden, one turd gets up from the pile and runs to another springbok turd pile. You'll have to take my word for it.

Other fauna I saw but did not photograph (click links for better pictures anyway): springbok, antelope of some kind (I thought they were klipspringer but they were too big), baboons (big family), some very large hares, girdled lizards, bat-eared foxes, and a parrot that has a 250-wd vocabulary - in Afrikaans. Nikki has an amazing knowledge of the plants and sadly I don't remember any of their names but I'll show you some beautiful pictures of springtime in the desert.

In favor of living like an Afrikaaner farmer (Boer) for the weekend, we stayed up late drinking South African wine (awesome) and Namibian beer (marginal) to watch Orion rise upside down (disorienting!) and see the Southern Cross. Then we got up early to watch the sun rise. The color was incredible. Then, we ate boerewors for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. and mutton kabobs. and pork kabobs. and we fried them. and we ate dried boerewors for a snack. And thick Dutch-oven bread - the traditional Klein Karoo Dutch oven is a hollowed-out ant hill. But our bread wasn't baked in an ant hill. Anyway, I'm in meat de-tox at the moment. I just ate a bowl of raw broccoli. I don't think it was organic. I don't have the mobility to be picky. But Bruce offered to help find a bakkie for us. When we come back together.

2 comments:

amber said...

Sounds perfect. Everytime I read your blog I can't freaking wait to be there again.

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