Altyn Emel National Park – Day 2

Well, sorry it took longer than I had hoped to post the rest of my trip.  Why does actual work have to interfere with my leisure time!?  At any rate, it’s a cool and rainy fall Sunday here in Almaty so it was a good excuse to stay in and finish blogging about this trip.

As I mentioned last time, after the singing dune adventure, we loaded up and headed to one of the park lodges to settle in for the night.  Our stay included a lovely dinner where we had the chance to sit back, reflect on the day, and get to know each other a bit better.  The lodge was a small and modest place as well as an actual working farm.  I can attest to this as the roosters and cows provided an early morning soundtrack!  We ended up hitting the road early after a quick breakfast, so the farm animals really did us a favor by rousing us all so early.

Arrival at the lodge

The open range (steppe) surrounding the lodge had a real old American West feel about it

The only other guests at the lodge that night!

After checking out and loading up that morning, we headed further east toward the Aktau Hills.  The name literally means “chalk” but most people refer to them as the “White Mountains.”  Composed primarily of limestone, they definitely have a bleached appearance from a distance, and provide a real contrast to the other colors of the steppe.

The Aktau Hills (White Mountains)

We skirted along the White Mountains and headed to our destination for the day, the Katutau Hills, or Red Mountains.  Along the way, we got lucky and spotted two kulan, or wild horses not far from the road.  They belong to the horse family but are much shorter and smaller than the domesticated horse.  They were brought to the park in the 1970’s from western Kazakhstan in an attempt to help repopulate the species.  While they are small in size, they are very quick and can run at speeds up to 70 km/hour but can sustain speeds of at least 50 km/hour!  The shot below is the only one I could get from the back of the minibus as we were bounding across the steppe.

A quick and blurry shot of a pair of kulan taken through the back window of the minibus

Heading toward the Red Mountains (Katutau Hills)

After a bit of further driving, we arrived at our jumping off point for our day hike.  We planned to hike for a few hours, have a picnic lunch, and then start the long drive back to Almaty.  The weather was perfect for a hike as it was sunny and clear but not too hot.  While the sun was a little too high in the sky for good photography, I did my best to capture the beauty of the place.  We hiked along a dry riverbed that snaked its way through the hills.

Our starting point for the hike

Hiking along the riverbed through the hills

Stark yet beautiful variations of shapes and colors

You can see the various layers of sedimentation in the large hill in the background

One feels so small when surrounded by the towering hills

The hills seemed to be quietly standing guard as we passed below

One interesting feature of this area is the abundance of quartz.  It was everywhere, just lying around like common rocks.  I tried to capture the glimmer that the sun gave all of it but my point-and-shoot camera isn’t quite sophisticated enough to do so.  Here are my meager attempts, however.  If you expand the shot of the hills below, you can see what I mean.  If you happened to view the hills at just the right position relative to the sun, everything shimmered like diamonds.  It was magical and spectacular!

Hard to see from this shot but you can get somewhat of an idea of how abundant quartz was in the area

The hillsides shimmering in the sun as if from a fairy tale

Heading back out of the hills towards our start point

Amazing layers and color variation

After the hike, we had a late picnic lunch before loading up to head back into Almaty.  It was about a five hour drive.  Along the way back, we stopped and took a short break at a roadside market and restaurant.  Here we had the opportunity to sample some traditional Kazakh flat bread and samsas, baked pastries filled with various meats, garlic, and herbs.  It was very similar in concept to an Indian samosa but baked instead of fried.  The interesting thing about the breads and pastries is how they are baked.  Below is a traditional Kazakh oven where you can see the samsas baking along the sides of the oven.  When you place an order, the baker takes a special scoop and plucks your samsas right off the oven wall.  How they keep from falling into the middle of the oven is beyond me.  What I can say with some degree of certainty, though, is how tasty the samsas were!

Traditional Kazakh bread oven full of samsa goodness!

Well, with our bellies full of samsas, we returned to Almaty tired but happy.  The two day trip was pretty short given the huge amount of territory we covered during that time.  It was a great experience, though, and I look forward to the next venture out of town to see some other equally amazing natural beauty.  Till then…

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