Thursday, October 14, 2010

Art, Rocks, and Fossils

The morning found us saying farewell to Sisteron and driving towards Digne-les-Bains, with an important stop first at the Rochers des Mourres, or the Penitent Monks. Legend has it that these strange rock formations are monks turned to stone when they ogled some women prisoners of war. Bet that taught them to mind their manners!

Penitent Monks
In Digne-les-Bains, we first found a hotel room and second the Musée Gassendi. This region has various works by the artist Andy Goldsworthy called Refuges d’Art, and the museum holds the key that you can check out to get in the little houses that protect the art from the elements. Alan had hoped to get a key as we were going to hike right past one of them later in the day. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t open until 1:30pm, and it was currently around 11am. We had a long driving loop with various hikes planned, and so had to leave the museum and key behind.

Our first real stop was at the dale á ammonites gégantes, a big black limestone slab that has 1,553 ammonites in it! From there we went to the start of our first hike, and after making pb&j sandwiches to take with us for lunch we started out to see l’ichtyosaure. Left in the rock, the fossilized dinosaur is protected under glass for those willing to hike out and find him. The trail was very nice, alternating between the very hot, dry, sunny side of a valley and the cool, damp, shady side that had tons of mushrooms all along it! We ate lunch next to our buddy the dino, watching other lizards scurry around in the warm sun (Alan said they were on a cultural history tour... ha ha).

Alan and the ammonites

Isn't this a crazy mushroom?

Me and the ichtyosaure
After a small stop to see some fossilized bird tracks, we began our long hike of the day up to the Vélodrome (and passing by the Andy Goldsworthy artwork). A geology class bunched on the trail ahead of us, talking in French with a little English, some of them drawing and others leaving a trail of chipped rocks in their path.

We first reached the house protecting the Andy Goldsworthy’s Vieil Esclangou, a vertical winding clay piece meant to mimic the trail we’d walked to reach that point. Windows into the house allowed us to see the art even though we couldn’t go inside.

At the top of the trail, a panoramic view of a fine piece of geology – a huge fan-shaped curve of mountain, made of layers of sandstone. The geology students we busy studying the view, and soon we left them to it to being the long hike down. Alan ran on ahead at one point to explore the ruins of an old town and was very excited to find a rust old pot lid. He wanted to take it to a museum, but decided to leave it for another exploratory hiker to enjoy.

Alan and the Velodrome

Alan and his great discovery

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