A miracle of Nature: Pink Sandstone in the Northern Vosges

Bizarrely shaped sandstone cliffs illuminated by the sun in pink and orange: This is something which you usually expect in the US in national parks in Arizona or Colorado. However, in the middle of Europe located on the Franco-German border, there is a unique landscape with low mountain range forests, rivers, 100 castles and impressive sandstone cliffs. A landscape which was formed by wind and weather and 200 million years old: The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Palatinate Forest (Pfälzerwald) and Northern Vosges.

weathered sandstone, chateau du Falkenstein

The Northern Vosges area is located west of the Rhine in northeastern France. It is not the same as the Vosges mountains or the Haute Vosges. It is the foothills just north of them in Alsace. The regional nature park of the Northern Vosges exists since 1976. It is an extraordinary region with an incredible variety of wildlife. 65% of the area is covered by forest.

A big attraction is the castles which are often located on view-points. These are hills where you have an impressing look and here you often find this intense red-brown coloured sandstone in the French Vosges. It is a mid-grained and pebble bound sandstone which was also important for many buildings as chateaus and cathedrals. The material was formed by wind and weather. The interesting thing is that it looks always different depending on the sun and the conditions of light. It makes a great motive for any photographer. It is also of great interest for anybody interested in geology and history of the Earth. The park was winner 2009 of the Eden competition.

Chateau du Falkenstein: Medieval heritage and a great viewpoint

The chateau du Falkenstein is a great location: It is a ruined castle on top of a hill in the commune of Philippsborg in the Mosélle department. After a walk of 20 minutes from the parking spot, there is great view, the ruins of a once huge medieval castle and very impressing sandstone formations.

The sandstone was indeed part of the castle: The builders carved some caves and rooms in the sandstone rock. The castle was built in 1127 and destroyed in the Thirty Year’s War. However, there is still a lot to see there.

A room carved in the sandstone riff




In the Northern Vosges, there is also a place they call “Little Colorado”: This is the Altschloßfelsen in Poppeviller in the Pays de Bitche, a long sandstone Riff. The German pendant of the Northern Vosges is the “Dahner Felsenland” in the Rhineland Palatinate. Tourists visiting France and this region can get information in the “Maison du Parc” in Little Pierre, a cosy village with an impressing chateau. Tourism is important here: Both the communities and other institutions like the Club Vosgien did a lot of work to inform and guide interested visitors:

Train stops are in Sarrebourg and Saverne (TGV Paris-Strasbourg). Important centres are Bitche and Sarreguemines. The Northern Vosges area is also not far from Saarbrücken. The area is great for hiking and offers long-distance trails. It is also a popular region for cycling.

The climate is semi-continental with dry and hot summers and cold winters with a lot of snow. Like many other areas, the region suffered from the heatwaves and drought 2018 and 2019.

The Magic Pools Of Oberstaufen: Buchenegger Wasserfälle

In the South-West of Bavaria is one of the most spectacular places of the Northern Alps located: The Buchenegger Wasserfälle with two huge turquoise pools of water and a strong waterfall of crystal clear water. It is really an impressing sight and an unforgettable experience.

The Buchenegger Waterfall is a wonderful motive for any photographer. Of course, on weekends during summer there are a lot of people around. This is because it’s not only something to watch but there is a five-meters deep pool where people can swim. Most of them, however, leave quickly since even in July and August the water is pretty cold. Furthermore, there are courageous young people who do a 30metre high jump from above the waterfall. It is a bit like Acapulco.

The Buchenegger Wasserfälle is part of an impressing canyon of the river Weissach. The Weissach river is coming from the Hochgrat-Mountain and cascades between two villages Buchenegg and Steibis. Further down the river reaches Oberstaufen, which is a famous and excellent tourist location. There are many hotels and attractions there. The landscape isn’t usually as dramatic as in other parts of the Bavarian Alps. Therefore the canyon of the Weissach and the Buchenegger Wasserfälle is an extreme contrast adding to an unforgettable experience.

Oberstaufen can be reached by train or by car. The trains commute frequently. Oberstaufen is located in the West of the Allgäu not far from Kempten and the Bodensee. It is also close to the Austrian border.




There are two paths leading to the Buchenegger Wasserfälle. One path begins near the parking-space in Buchenegg (a very narrow mountain road is leading there and it is crowded on some days – thus it is not recommended particularly for drivers who are not experienced to drive in mountain areas. Better use the parking spots in Steibis on the other side). There is another reason for this particularly for people who are not experienced hikers. The path is in very good shape but it is very steep. If you are afraid of heights or don’t feel safe walking in such rocky areas use the path coming from Steibis. This is much shorter and is most of the time an easy walk.

You can also use the bus from Oberstaufen to Steibis. The path begins near the stop “Berggaststätte Hirsch”. Before the path enters the canyon, there are two lovely farmed alps. One of them is the Alm Neugreuth, the other is the Alpe Neugschwend. These are very good places to rest and grab some tasty food before hiking down the canyon.

 


Entering the canyon is deeply impressing from the first moment. It is not only the white waters, the cliffs and the waterfall: There is a primaeval forest growing inside the canyon with a huge variety of trees and plants. This adds to the scenery and offers much more attractive motives.

The best time for catching the fantastic atmosphere is during summer even there are a lot of people around. The morning hours are a convenient time to do pictures because it isn’t so much crowded early in the day.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you want to do pictures of the waterfall and the pool: Your camera will often pointing southwards. Thus, in the middle of the day there is backlighting and strong contrast. Furthermore if you get closer to the waterfall or the wind gets stronger there is a misty spray of the waterfall. It happens easily that there are tiny droplets on the lens. Therefore it is good to always check the camera and clean the lens. Of course be careful because the terrain can be slippery.

Die zauberhaften Gumpen von Oberstaufen: Buchenegger Wasserfälle

Im Südwesten von Bayern findet sich einer der spektakulärsten Plätze in den nördlichen Alpen: Die Buchenegger Wasserfälle mit zwei großen türkisfarbenen Gebirgswasserbecken (Gumpen) und einem mächtigen Wasserfall mit kristallklarem Wasser. Sie sind ein imponierender Anblick und ein unvergessliches Erlebnis.

Die Buchenegger Wasserfälle sind ein hervorragendes Fotomotiv. Selbstverständlich ist man dort am Wochenende nicht allein. Das liegt nicht nur daran, dass es etwas zu sehen gibt, sondern an einem fünf Meter tiefen Wasserbecken, in dem man auch schwimmen kann. Allerdings verlassen die meisten diesen Naturpool schnell wieder, denn auch im Juli und August ist das reine Gebirgswasser ziemlich frisch. Dazu kommen noch einige mutige junge Leute, die die Tradition des Gumpenjuckens pflegen: Sie springen aus Höhen von bis zu 30 Meter in den Pool. Es liegt ein Gefühl von Acapulco in der Luft.

Die Buchenegger Wasserfälle sind Teil eines beeindruckenden Tals, das der Fluß Weißach in den Fels geschnitten hat. Die Weißach kommt aus der Gegend des Hochgrats und fließt zwischen den Orten Buchenegg und Steibis den Berg hinunter. Weiter unten erreicht der Fluß Oberstaufen, einen hervorragenden und sehr bekannten Tourismus-Ort. Es gibt dort zahlreiche Hotels und Attraktionen. Die Landschaft ist hier eigentlich nicht so dramatisch wie in manchen anderen Teilen der Bayerischen Alpen. Deshalb ist der steile Canyon, in dem die Weißach fließt, ein überraschender Kontrast und trägt so zu einem unvergesslichen Bergerlebnis bei.

Oberstaufen kann man mit dem Zug oder mit dem Auto erreichen. Die Züge verkehren häufig. Es liegt im westlichen Allgäu nicht weit von Kempten und vom Bodensee. Auch die österreichische Grenze ist in direkter Nähe.



Es gibt zwei Wege, die zu den Buchenegger Wasserfällen führen. Ein Pfad beginnt am Parkplatz oberhalb von Buchenegg (eine sehr enge Bergstraße führt dort hinauf, wo es zudem oft schnell voll ist – deshalb kann diese Route insbesondere für bergunerfahrene Autofahrer nicht empfohlen werden. Besser man sucht sich einen Parkplatz im gegenüberliegenden Ort Steibis). Es gibt einen weiteren Grund dafür, besonders für wenig erfahrene Wanderer: Der Pfad von Buchenegg ist zwar in einem hervorragenden Zustand, aber sehr steil. Wenn man nicht trittsicher in abschüssigem Gelände oder nicht schwindelfrei ist, sollte man unbedingt den Wanderweg nehmen, der von Steibis kommt. Dieser ist kürzer und die meiste Zeit leicht zu gehen.

Man kann von Oberstaufen auch den Bus nach Steibis nehmen und bei der Haltestelle “Berggaststätte Hirsch” aussteigen. Bevor dieser schöne Wanderweg die Schlucht erreicht, kommt man an zwei sehr idyllischen Almen vorbei. Eine von ihnen ist die Neugreuth Alm, die andere ist die Neugschwend Alpe. Sie eignen sich hervorragend als Rastplatz vor dem Abstieg und man bekommt dort sehr gutes Essen.

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Der Weg in die Schlucht ist vom ersten Augenblick an sehr beeindruckend. Es ist nicht nur der wilde Fluß, die felsigen Abhänge und der Wasserfall, die dieses Erlebnis prägen. Im Tal existiert bis heute ein urwaldähnlicher Bergwald mit einer Vielzahl von Baumarten und Pflanzen. Dieser Wald trägt zur unvergleichlichen Szenerie bei und bietet weitere attraktive Motive.

Die beste Zeit, diese fantastische Atmosphäre einzufangen, ist im Sommer, auch wenn da viele Leute unterwegs sind. Die Morgenstunden sind dabei immer noch eine günstige Zeit, da es dann noch nicht so voll dort ist.

Wer dort fotografieren will, sollte ein paar Sachen beachten: Steht man vor der großen Gumpe mit dem Wasserfall ist die Kamera nach Süden gerichtet. Man hat also harte Kontraste und Gegenlicht. Außerdem geht vom großen Wasserfall ein feiner Sprühfilm aus, besonders wenn es windig ist. Man hat schnell feine Wassertropfen auf dem Objektiv. Daher empfiehlt es sich, intensiv die Linse zu checken und zu reinigen. Schließlich ist wichtig, auf den Untergrund zu achten, da es hier und dort rutschig sein kann.

June 2019: Dramatic Hailstorm put sailors in danger and a monster Heatwave.

May 2019 was the first month in Middle Europe for a long time which wasn’t too hot. There were some rainy days. It seemed that weather might turn in a more “normal” mode compared to 2018. This was before June. In the larger Munich area people experienced a freak hail storm on Whit Monday. There was also severe weather in other parts of Germany in the first half of June. Later the month, large parts of Europe suffered from one of the most extreme heatwaves ever recorded.

Aftermath of severe Hailstorm in Munich region

Thunderstorms and severe weather didn’t came unexpected on pentecost. Weather models showed a highly likelyhood for thunderstorms in the Alps and the Upper Bavaria region. However the events on June 10 proved again how tricky severe weather developments can be and how difficult it is to set precicely the right weather alert in motion.

Sunday, June 9, was more or less a qiet day. It was getting warmer in Upper Bavaria and other regions. There were already weather warnings issued. On Monday, June 10, the alert system of the huge lake Ammersee south-west of Munich was activated in the morning hours, but then it was quiet for most of the day. A lot of tourists enjoyed the holiday in Germany. People were swimming and sailing. Weather forecasters and and the lifeguard service were still expecting something to happen.




The weather radar showed signals getting stronger in the Allgäu and the Upland before the Alps around Kempten after noon. Here an incredibly strong cell was building up. When I checked the radar a couple of times in the early afternoon however, I couldn’t figure out which path that storm would take. I also didn’t figured out how fast this monsterstorm would move eastwards, so I was also surprised when it suddenly became really dark on this summer afternoon.

It was around 16.23pm when the orange alarm lights at the Bavarian lakes were activated again. There were still a lot of sailors out there. At one lake the lifeguard service warned people who were still swimming in the “Wörthsee” and closed the shore. 50 minutes later all hell brake loose on lake Ammersee. The Starnberger Merkur Newspaper later published a very interesting coverage.

Alex Beck, a sailor, told later the Merkur-reporters that the storm-cell was “racing”. Very soon the lifeguard service had to solve hands full over the next hours.

The same applied to firestarters and police: The thunderstorm left a path of destruction beginning in the Allgäu, hit several communities around the North side of the lake Ammersee region and also hit the west and the north of the Munich area.

Hailstorms in Upper Bavaria are not unusual. There is particularly a history for severe weather in May and around Pentecoste. What’s so unusual was the path, which was hard to predict. Big hail is often more seen in the South-East were there is even a special cloudseeding flyer unit for this problem. I didn’t find any report from a professional weather researcher, but I am sure this was a strong super-cell. Super-cells are more likely to take unusual paths.

The intensity was the other unusual fact. I experienced also strong wind gusts and smaller hail but 10 km to the north it was raining hailstones with the size of tennis balls.

Within minutes roofs very destroyed, nameless cars damaged, a motorway tunnel was set under water, greenhouses were completely destroyed and also a grocery store. It ended up in estimated damage cost of 30 Mio. Euros.

The same time people on the lake Ammersee were struggling for their lives. A couple hung on their capsized sailing boat, others were stranded and another sailor couple were only safed by their “persenning”, a cover, from the hail bombardement. They had reached a buoy but couldn’t leave their ship. Then they had to wait out the storm. At this time they experienced waves like never before according the their account in the “Starnberger Merkur” newspaper.

Another thunderstorm in June

The following weeks people began to recover from the hailstorm, settling insurance matters and repairing windows, cars and houses. There were more thunderstorms but nothing like the cell on June 10. However another extreme weather situation was already throwing a shadow.

Weather models predicted an enormorous heatwave for the second half of June. Weather services were astonished by themselves about the numbers. And the models were mostly right. Germany saw new temperature records but not the 40 degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, there were set many new records. It didn’t took long and the bushfires, which were a problem in May started, again.

France saw the worst with some over 40 degree Celsius records. The authorities had to issue a state of emergency in some areas. Particularly Southern France was affected.

The situation calmed by the end of month. On July 1, 2019, a cold front with thunderstorms reached Southern Germany. There are still wildfires raging. The heatwave is only part of a problem which has the potential to become the real big threat for the near future: In wide parts of Germany there is still a drought. The government published recently a study about the effects of a drought lasting several years.

cold front and thunderstorms July 1, 2019