Helene and John picked me up on a beautiful Saturday morning for a two hour hike. We drove past Atri to the nature reserve. The calanchi or Badlands are a “geomorphological phenomenon”. The clayey rocks have little vegetation to protect them from water runoff. The deep furrows in the Atri calanchi have points that reminded me of dragon backs and Chinese brush drawings. There is a brush stroke called dragon back used for such jagged edges. There are many areas of calanchi near Atri, but the area where we hiked is a protected nature reserve established in 1995. John said the area was once part of the Adriatic Sea. We looked for sea fossils in the rock wall near the nature center, but they were well picked over. There are other calanchi in Italy and I saw some when I hiked in the Val d’Orcia area of Toscana on the Via Francigena in September.
It is believed that the Badlands formed during the Holocene when the clayey soils were exposed due to deforestation of evergreen oak forests. The presence of the right combination of ingredients was necessary for forces to mold the landscape into these rows of dragon back peaks and furrows. The ingredients included clay soil with the right amount of sand, a Mediteranean climate with long dry summers and a concentrated season of intense rains, slopes with a southern exposure with a slope between 40° and 60° and a less erodible area near the top of the slope.
I googled Holocene to continue this posting and the first entries were the song by Bon Iver. So I was briefly reminded of Eau Claire. It is good to have a touch of home on this trip. Holocene, however, is the current geological epoch which began approximately 11,700 years ago. It is marked by human impacts such as the development of major civilizations and the transition to urban living.
Our hike went downhill and then up in a steep loop about 5 miles long. It started on a paved road which turned to gravel and then to clay. In addition to the calanchi, there were wonderful views of the Maiella and Grand Sasso Mountains, farmland, olive groves and blossoming almond trees. The hike was a good challenge and not overly long. I felt a profound sense of gratitude for meeting John and Helene who took me to this amazing site.