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.

Wild Tyrolean Valley After Severe Winter


Musau, Austria, May 19, 2019

In April 2019 there were many fears in Central Europe that 2019 would repeat its extreme weather patterns with a drought in many parts of Germany. Luckily, in May 2019 weather turned back to normal patterns with rain and colder temperatures. Unlike other areas, there had been a lot of precipitation in the Alps during winter 2018/2019. In some places, there were tons of snow. Devastating avalanches threatened some alpine valleys. There had also been some storms which did severe damage in the mountain forest.

A trip into the Alps in May is a fascinating thing. Particularly after a period with the above-mentioned weather extremes. In the higher regions, a hike can begin in “summer” with green meadows and warm temperatures but winter isn’t very far. It is also a chance to see the power of nature. It is the time of devastating thaws when the huge mass of snow melts quickly. And there are many traces of this last winter: Nature is recovering from avalanches and in the mountain forest we see the destructive force of severe storms.

Spring happens late in the mountains. It is a short time span when life returns to the frozen world. It is time to experience both the destructive power of the elements and its incredible beauty.

The Rein valley near Musau in Tyrol offers it all. It is perfect for a trip and is easily accessible. It is one of the most impressive valleys in the Northern Alps. Steep Rock faces, a raging river, a very natural forest and high peaks of the “Allgäuer Berge” makes it an unparalleled experience.

In Musau there is both a train station but also a parking spot, “Bärenfalle” at the beginning of the hike. The first half hour of the walk is in the forest and a steep ascent. After a while, the trail reaches the first vantage points. The peaks of the mountains become visible.

Sunday, May 19, started as a sunny and slightly cloudy day. However, there was a severe weather warning in place. It was said that thunderstorms would already occur before noon. The good weather lasted longer as expected.

Majestic Mountains in the background.
Mountain Forest In The Rein Valley

The trail is also a forest road which connects the village with the Musauer Alm and the Cabins, the Otto Mayr Hütte and the Füssener Hütte.

Road In The Rein Valley
Spring Flowers

After approximately one and a half hour of walking the cosy Musauer Alm comes into sight. It is the perfect opportunity for a stop and getting some good food in a very friendly atmosphere. After the stop which was in the middle of the day, the weather still looked fine. It seemed that the weather forecast wasn’t right. But in the mountains, you need to be very attentive and conditions can change very quickly.

Musauer Alm

Behind the Musauer Alm, the trail leads higher up into the valley. Here the image changed completely. Instead of the romantic green valley, it looked more and more like a battlefield of the forces of nature. Overturned trees, the remains of an avalanche and huge fields of snow left a deep impression. One could see what the severe winter in the alps did. In some places, it changed the face of the landscape.

After the severe winter
Avalanche
There is still a lot of snow.

Then it happened. It wasn’t too long and early afternoon when the weather changed completely. Rain and thunderstorm clouds appeared quickly from the east. It was time to turn around and head back down into the valley.

Arrival Of A Thunderstorm In The Mountains.

Faster than expected the sun appeared again after a heavy rain shower and some thunder in the clouds. It was then when there was a special magic in the landscape.

Winter And Summer At The Same Time

It was also an opportunity to study the work of erosion near the river. Rain and tough conditions led to mudslides and other destruction.

Massive Destruction

Erosion near the “Saba Bach”

Later in the afternoon, the sky was overcast. After the rain mist ascended from the forest. It was a completely different, more mystical air. It proved again that rainy weather is often the most interesting weather condition for dramatic pictures in the mountains.

Rain Clouds and The Green Trees

The wet weather attracted also a special animal, which is rare to see. The black salamander.

Salamander

The spectacular valley and the Musauer Alm is not far from the famous town of Füssen (with the prominent Neuschwanstein castle). On the Austrian side, Reutte and the “Lechtal-Region isn’t far. The Lechtal with the river Lech is one of Europe’s last river wilderness regions. It contains different types of forest, rich animal life and more spectacular mountain sceneries.

In some places, there was indeed severe weather on May 19. In East-Germany flooding was reported and there were heavy thunderstorms. It was also the beginning of a long rainy period with some flooding in Southern Germany. This is not unusual for May. In 1999 and 2005 there were floods which led to a lot of destruction. The events of 1999 gave reason to improve precautions against flooding for example in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Upper Bavaria.

RED MOON JULY 27, 2018

A mostly clear sky in Upper Bavaria offered really good opportunities to watch the epochal astronomy event of the year: the total eclipse of the moon announced as the “Blood-Moon”. The eclipse would last longer than any other in this century. Furthermore, a bright planet Mars was close to the eclipsed moon. In the evening hours also Venus and Jupiter were visible. Around 10.30pm the International Space Station happened to fly over Germany.

I chose a meadow with a good view of the Eastern and Southern horizon as a viewpoint. It proved to be a good choice and I got company by several other watchers coming from the Ammersee-Lake-region.

It was a hot day and there were some higher clouds in the South-East. There was also a layer of dust close to the horizon. Therefore the moon could not be seen when it rose. It was around 09.20pm when a small sickle appeared between the clouds. This was because the moon wasn’t totally eclipsed.

Shortly before the total eclipse of the moon. A sickle appears between a layer of clouds.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at AlamyStock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

Soon later it became an orange-red disk, the so-called “Blood Moon”. For some time it wasn’t really dark and the moon wasn’t as prominent as it would be normally. It was more like a barely visible shape in the blue sky.

But then it became more and more impressive minute by minute as night was falling.

I detected some thunderstorm clouds in the distance before and later sheet lightning in the far distance added to the upcoming spectacle.

Finally, Mars appeared above the dust in the South. It was a tremendous sight: Mars was much brighter as the eclipsed moon but both objects shared these orange-red shining light. It was a strange sky.

Red Moon And Mars. The Mars in direct opposition to the sun from our view from Earth.

Around 10.00 pm I regretted not having brought a jacket since it became distinctively colder. This is normally a big advantage during the heat-wave this year that it is cooling down in the countryside close to the mountains and it is not like the tropical nights in the big cities. The fantastic event made me forget the colder temperatures during the later evening. The appearance of the ISS was also a great sight.

As the sky became really dark the spectacle unfolded completely as a big unforgettable experience: It was after the passage of the ISS which was flying over us very high above the horizon when the Milky-Way became visible.

Normally the Milky-Way can’t be seen when there is bright moonshine. This night it was a fantastic sight.

Obviously, there were longer lasting thunderstorms somewhere in the Alps, since there was sheet-lightning in the South.

Red Moon, Mars And Sheet Lighting Over The Alps





A lot of people had gathered and looked at the sky with awe. It indeed was an awesome event. As long as the moon was fully eclipsed there was a palpable otherworldliness. After 11.00 pm the total eclipse ended and the moon became soon brighter and brighter. The milky way couldn’t be seen any longer but the extraordinary sight will always last in my memory.

Red Moon, Mars, Milky Way

Photography can capture the atmosphere only in parts. It is also a bit challenging due to constantly changing conditions of light. Using longer exposure times lead of course to visible movement of the moon in the picture and the object is not any longer sharp.

But even with an equipment which is normally not supposed to do astrophotography, it is possible to get some impressive shots when using a tripod and a timer. The best idea is to take a lot of pictures with different exposure times.

I used ISO 400 when the eclipse began, then 640, 1000 and some shots with ISO 3200. Noise then can become a problem, therefore I did some noise-reduction with photoshop.