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.

Cliffs In The Harz Mountains

The Harz Mountains in the middle of Germany are one of the oldest mountains regions in Europe. Unlike the Alps, these mountains had been their best times a long time ago. Today we see mostly the remnants of the mountains. Constant weathering has taken its toll.

Visitors can see impressing results of weathering and how nature is constantly changing over the years.

In the Harz Mountains, there are steep valleys but no peaks. The highest mountain, the Brocken, is a plateau rather than a typical mountain peak.

The most prominent thing among the endless forests and the alpine valleys like the Bode valley are the rock formations:

In the higher regions of the Harz Mountains, there are cliffs. The cliffs are famous rock formations. Some of them are hidden in the forest. Others are visible landmarks.

 

In some places, they indeed create an alpine character of the landscape like the cliffs near the Bodetal and the Okertal.

The cliffs are often popular among climbers. They offer challenges and should not be underestimated. Often there is a trail or ladders leading to the top of some of the cliffs.

For safety reasons, there is often a railing. However, its good to be better, not afraid of heights. The view from the top of the cliffs is often fantastic but sometimes it is a surprise if you see look down since the Harz Mountains are often more gentle mountains.

Mountain Warehouse

I remember a trip to the “Ottofelsen” which is absolutely great but looking down was suddenly a challenge. The “Ottofelsen” is a prominent cliff not far from Wernigerode on the North-East-Side of the Brocken Mountain.

Spectacular cliffs are both on the west-side and on the east-side of the Harz Mountains.

They inspired romantic painters as writers like Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who spent a lot of time in the Harz Mountains. He was very interested in science and studied the rock formations.

The rock formations always triggered the imagination a lot. In former times they were also ritual sites and places where the witches met. A popular place above the “Okertal” is the “Hexenküche” (Witches Kitchen).

Stories and old legends made the rock formations famous. Sometimes they are intimidating, sometimes it is awesome or bizarre. The rock formations often look like the work of a giant sculptor.

“The Hexenküche” is not far from the “Kästeklippe”, one of the most prominent view-points where you can find also a restaurant.

Some rock formation can be only reached by foot, where others like the “Rabenklippe” are easily accessible with the bus. The “Rabenklippe” is not far from Bad Harzburg and very frequented during summer time.

I remember the “Scharfenstein Klippe” as an extraordinary and very impressing place. The “Scharfensteinklippe” is not far from the former inner-german border. On top the cliff there is an impressing view. You look down in an endless green forest, see the huge Brocken-Mountain-massive on one side and the “Eckertal-Stausee”, a reservoir, on the other side.

The “Feuersteinklippen” near Schierke is another prominent rock-formation. They rise majestically in the forest and look very mysterious. There are always interesting geological discoveries to be made. Near Schierke there are also the so-called “Schnarcherklippen”. This is a cliff where sometimes the wind makes a special noise, and it sounds like somebody is snoring. Here there is also the “Wollsack-Verwitterung”, a special phenomenon called concentric weathering.




The cliffs in the Harz Mountains are interesting at any time of the year. They are a good opportunity for a rest during hiking trips. It is important to have appropriate shoes since the cliffs can be slippery particularly after rain. They should be avoided during a thunderstorm.

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