The Grand Canyon of Crimea is the deepest canyon of Ukraine. Its maximum depth is 320 metres.
This wild mountain range situated in the depth of the Northern slope of the Ay-Petri mountain block of the Crimean ridge 4 km south-east from Sokolinoye village is referred to as a wonder of nature. The Grand Canyon of Crimea was first described by professor I. I. Puzanov in 1925.
The incredible view of a giant ravine opens up next to the Kokkozskaya valley canyon entrance near the left inflow of the Belbeck River. The opposite slopes get closer to each other as you move on. In the narrowest places the space between them does not exceed 3–5 meters.
How did the nature manage to create such a phenomenon? The main sculptor was the water. The turbulent Auzun-Uzen River flows at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. An ancient tectonic split located there, jointing, carstification of the upper Jurassic marmorized limestone that the mountain mass was composed of, had made the work of the water easier. During the thousands of years it made its way through the stone mass and separated the column-like mass Boika from the Ay-Petri mountain pasture by a deep canyon. The immense work made by the river is witnessed by the number of rapids, waterfalls, piled blocks and boulders found in the bottom of the canyon. These natural millstones have been churned by the water during many centuries and had drilled distinctive holes and bathes into the channel of the gorge. There are more than 150 formations of this kind inside the canyon.
Small groups of the Crimean pine-tree stroke roots at the rocky slopes of the canyon covered with the light grey and pinkish limestone. Broad-leaved forest with hornbeam, beech, ash-tree, oak, maple and linden prevail at the lower part of the slopes that is less steep. The underbrush is made out of bushes like hazel, dogwood, barberry, buckthorn, fustic and oriental hornbeam.
The existence of more than one and a half thousand year old trees of common yew scattered around the forest of the Grand Canyon of Crimea should be specially mentioned. Old trees of this relict are recorded into the Red Book of the USSR, and reach 1.5 metres in the diameter of the trunk and 10–12 metres in height here. Of great interest are rare ferns, relict ruckus and evergreen jasmine, saxifrage, utterly rare lady's slipper orchid and other plants.
During the Ice Age the well-isolated canyon was a sanctuary for the thermophilic kinds of flora. Two out of three kinds of orchids found in Crimea grow in this very ravine.
The view of the Grand Canyon from the above that opens from Storozhevoy, Sosnovii, Chetvertii, Pyatii, Trapis and other rocks surrounding it makes a great impression. The shape of the canyon that resembles a mythic dragon catches the eye. The view that opens up from the Pyatii rock is especially picturesque: from that point the entire three kilometres of the canyon's long length can be observed from here.
The Grand Canyon rightfully belongs to the number of the most significant and valuable landscape places of interest of the Crimean peninsula. In 1947 it was declared a monument of nature and since 1974 the state wildlife preserve (300 hectares) of Ukraine.
The Ay-Petri mountain mass with the area of more than 300 sq. km. is situated in the centre of the huge stone arch made by the western part of the main ridge. The Grand Canyon of Crimea is located at it's north-eastern slopes that separate its north-eastern part called Boika and named after one of its peaks, from the massive.
The Grand Canyon is situated 3 kilometres straight away from the Sokolinoye village of the Bakhchisaray region; it is surrounded by the net of the asphalt-paved, country roads and footpaths from all sides.
The Grand Canyon and the nearby land is a part of one of the regions of the Ay-Petri mountain mass, and just like any other part of the earth's crust, the part of the mountain range, has been through a lot of changes during 4.5 billion years. A long time ago there used to be ocean depths, that later were replaced by the warm seas with the ridges of reefs along the coasts. Sharp mountain peaks would aim to the sky, rising from the depths of the sea, just to sink back to the profound depths of the ocean after the millions of years. Complex geological processes were occurring non-stop. They still continue nowadays, although it is quite difficult to notice them.
The way we know it, the mountainous Crimea was formed in a relatively short period of the geological time — approximately in 1.5–2 million of years.
Two main opposite forces — the endogenous or the internal ones and the exogenous or the external ones continue to affect the body of the rocks that make up the mountain range.
The first ones are the result of the complex physical and chemical processes inside the depths of the Earth, that make the parts of the earth's crust lower or, on the contrary, go up centimetre by centimetre. The latter are the result of the impact that the climate and the surface and underground waters have on the mountain layers. It manifests as the destruction of the elevated parts of the dry land and that leads to the shifting of the blasted and attenuated rocks over to the lower parts of the valley. If the impact of the endogenous powers slows down or becomes slower or stops at some area, the exogenous powers strive for making it a plain.
The weather in the mountains is changeable. Sometimes the peaks are hidden in a thick fog, there are thunders and heavy shower, and in the valleys the sun is shining brightly and one may learn about the rain only by the sudden increase of high water that appears, as it may seem for no apparent reason at all. Usually to describe the mountain climate people use the word "very" and its use is appropriate. The mountains experience the largest amount of the atmospheric precipitates (40 % are in the form of rain and 60 % as snow), the highest frequency of the fogs (about 150 days a year), the relative air humidity is higher than at the sea coast (74 %), the wind velocity may reach 50 metres per second, the average annual temperature in the region of the Grand Canyon is +7, +9 degrees with a danger of the rockslides and in the winter time of the snow-slip. A permanent blanket of snow lasts from the mid December till March. However, undesirable caprices of nature here are still the short-term phenomena, so for during the larger part of the year, including winter, it is the perfect place for the tourist trips.
The flora in the mountains is truly rich and various. The beech forest with a touch of the pine-tree grows at the south slopes. At the height of 800–1000 metres above the sea level, begins the Crimean pine area, with the oak in the first tier and with the barbed juniper in the second. The zone of shrubby clusters of junipers, oriental hornbeam and many other bushes with some oaks starts below 400 metres. There it is possible to find a terebinth, a madrone with a peculiar smooth reddish bark and evergreen leaves, whose thin external layer changes every year, a yellow-coloured jasmine, a shrubby type of crown vetch, a bladder fern and many others.
In the forests there are a lot of fruit and berry-like trees and bushes.
The Auzun-Uzen River (the Ustyevaya or Rotovaya River) flows at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the Almanchuk River and Pania, one of the largest karstic springs of Crimea, flow into it. The average annual outflow of this spring is 300 litres per second.
The tourist path leads along the Auzun-Uzen at the mouth of the canyon approaching the river at one moment and moving away from it at another. It starts from the remains of the burnt Pochtovii Oak. Some time ago it was a tradition among tourists to leave here the messages and letters for those who will visit the canyon later. Now only the charred half-burnt trunk and a dead branch awkwardly stretched above the path remained from it. The second path goes to the upper edge of the canyon. Almost immediately after the Pochtovii Oak the path goes down to a relatively big pond which is called Light Blue Lake. After several minutes of walking the path comes to the Apple ford. The Almanchuck River (translated as Apple area), gives the name to the ford and flows into the main riverbed from the left. Further at the right bank of the river there is a karst spring called Pania, that is running along the narrow crevice overgrown with forest from the crater of the vertical karst well, leading to the Pania cave. Then the path will take you to the largest pothole (potholes are the hollows in the bed of the river created in the places of rapids and small waterfalls by the water "jumping" at the relatively plain bottom) of the canyon – the Bath of the Youth (earlier the locals called it Kara-gol or the Black Lake). The water temperature here does not go beyond +9, +11 degrees even during hot midday. I. V. Rukhlov describes this place as "At the height of 256 sazhens (above the sea level), there is a 2,5 sazhens long, 1,5 sazhens wide and 1,2 sazhens deep hollow in the limestone deposits (above the sea level) where the Kara-gol spring starts, but the water from the bed of the canyon falls into this gully also".
Fairly comfortable paths lead to the Bath of the Youth as it is the final stage of the planned excursions. From this point on, it is necessary to have the elementary skills of rock-climbing to go further. In the full water period one must be ready to walk 100–200 metres knee-deep in water, besides that it is necessary to remember about the possibility of rockslides. During the floods and downpours any travelling at this part of the canyon is strongly discouraged. At this time a powerful flow that sweeps everything away on its way rushes between the rocks. Some time ago a gardener at the park of Yusupov Tea House told professor I. I. Puzanov: "Our peasants say that the wild screams, squeals and loud laughter are heard from the Auzun-Uzen rift. Those are the evil spirits celebrating their weddings…".
The ravine seems to be impassable here, but a small path runs further at the right slope, twisting around the channel with the bluish water. It is hard to pick out something particularly attractive at this part of the route: everything here strikes with its greatness. In 1.5 km the ravine, which has become flatter than it was at the beginning of the slope, leads out to the spacious Kuru-Uzenskaya fold, occupied by the branches of the upper reaches of the Kuru-Uzen canyon (the Sukhaya River). It is hard to notice the mouth of the right inflow — the Yokhagan-Su: it twists, coming down into the canyon in the steep buffs, deepened by the huge erosive breakthroughs.
At the outlet to the fold, the rocks of the canyon are covered with the incredible flora: mosses, ferns, ivy and the dark green yews. Among the brushwood of the bushes the path steadily touches the beautiful glades covered with soft green grass. A good footpath leads to the upper reaches of the Ay-Petri plateau.
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