One of the coolest places that Swarovski took us to test out their new magnesium scopes was Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan. It's so huge that you can barely see the people in the distance in the above photo. I think the only bird we got here was the alpine swift because we were so overwhelmed by the breathtaking views...and the dangerous winds.
We had been birding other areas and we were fortunate that for the most of our trip we avoided rain. But a storm was coming and our van driver was doing his best to get us to the canyon before the storm hit. The dark clouds swallowed the huge mountains as it caught up to our van.
We made it to the canyon with the storm still at bay. We had to check in at the ranger station...wow, I feel like some of my local parks are neglected when it comes to funding, but all this ranger had was a trailer. That's our guide Sergei entering to make sure our bus could pull through. I think the ranger was just excited to see people.
Our bus took the narrow gravel roads as high as it could and we were let out to take in the view. Above is Dale from Discovering Alpine Birds and Corey Finger of 10,000 Birds (and my buddy Clay Taylor is lurking behind them). I think this was a little prayer sanctuary right above the canyon. Knowing that we had limited time before the storm hit, we left all of our scopes there to take a few moments to explore the trails.
The canyon was like a mini version of the Grand Canyon, but no less spectacular. The locals refer to it as "Dolina Zomkov" which translates to "Valley of Castles" and it's easy to see where that folk name came from. Even with the approaching clouds, the color of the rocks were a lovely palette.
The canyon was formed over over centuries with the Charyn River, a large river that runs through the Tien Shan Mountains. In a short amount of time, we had managed to work our way down the trails and the wind hit and it hit hard. As I took this photo, a fellow traveler who was much taller than me was literally knocked over by the wind. He wisely hightailed it back towards the vehicle. My low center of gravity kept me fairly upright and I explored a bit further down the trails.
I could see Dale off in the distance. His defense to get the perfect photo was to lay flat on the ground, which is close to the position he remained in on his way back up the trail.
Here's Corey and Sergei working their way back up the trail. The wind eventually was so strong that I crouched too. It was simultaneously exhilarating and scary. We would crouch and work our way up, then periodically hold on to one of the larger boulders when the wind would gust harder. If I stood straight up, I could feel my body being moved as my shoes slid over the loose gravel. Getting knocked over by an invisible force larger than myself and plummeting to the canyon below became a real possibility. While we were down the trail, we had left our magnesium scopes up at the top--the wind blew them all over. Fortunately, Swarovski scopes can take a beating, so they all survived, but Clay and some of the others gathered the scopes and loaded them into the van so they would blow over the side of the canyon.
I have to say that up until this point, our guide Sergei had been a very serious man. As soon as the wind hit, he laughed and howled like a wild man, it energized him like a thousand cups of coffee.
This sign wasn't kidding, this canyon is Dangerous for life when the wind hits. Dale put up a YouTube video of his shots that he got when the wind first hit. There's also a bit of me demonstrating what it was like to walk to walk in that wind.
When I walked into our van, Clay snapped a photo:
My hair that morning started out wavy and ended up stick straight after that wind. All in all, one of the highlights of the trip even though we didn't see much in the way of birds.