Friday, June 06, 2008

Interior Alaska's Granite Tors

Tors are spires of metamorphic rock at the top of hills, bluffs and mountains, often in stark contrast to rolling hills on which they sit. In most cases, tors are the residual volcanic rock from old mountains that has not eroded like its surrounding substrate. They often appear as old and weathered spires. Remember the hilltop ruins where Frodo Baggins was stabbed by the witch king in The Fellowship of the Ring? That's what tors look like. Over the years, humans have associated tors with sacred places. The celts thought them to be hilltop sanctuaries of the gods. I think some of them look like chickens.

And yes, my mind's eye does often employ MSPaint highlights in the field. Maybe the spruce grouse we saw on the way up to the ridge put poultry on my mind. Perhaps I was a little hungry 10 miles into our journey. Or maybe I was thinking about my friend Atis. It was the first weekend we had off since his wedding!

These chickens - I mean tors - are important clues to interior Alaska's natural history. As a nice little article from the University of Alaska Fairbanks points out,
they have a special significance, for they are monumental proof that Pleistocene glaciers did not cover the areas where the tors are found. If glaciers had covered the areas, the tors would have been scraped away by the ice. Thus, the tors demonstrate that central Alaska was open to the migration of plants and animals even during the height of the last glaciation.
Interior Alaska has been a really nice place to see a surprisingly diverse collection of flora and fauna. Not being frozen for thousands of years is a good reason. Another (much more recent) cause is that the area around Chena Hot Springs was recently scorched by a sizable forest fire so the areas we hiked through were in various stages of recovery. GoogleMaps actually caught the fire with its satellite! It wasn't the exact location of the hike, but it's close enough...

What the satellite could not capture was this cute hoary marmot. If the rodent had known the satellite was taking pictures, however, I'm pretty sure she would have posed just as much as she did for me.

This hike was unique in that its primary goal was to explore a geologic formation. It was a mammoth walk to see some mammoth rocks. We did the entire 15 miles in one medium to long day. Stopping for lots of scenery and snack breaks, we finished in about 8 hours. The granite tors trail is one of a quite nice collection of trails in the Chena River valley. Trailheads are along Chena Hot Springs Road as you drive from Fairbanks to, well Chena Hot Springs. If you're okay with walking though some burnt forests, this hike will reward you!

All photos may be enlarged for better viewing...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If no one else is gonna say it, I must say these are some lovely photos. And the chicken formation made me smile.

--Lisa S.