geologic oddity

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Fall colors year-round: the high desert in Technicolor

Story and photos by Greg Shine, BLM Oregon/Washington Tumblr blogger

Fall is known as the season for nature’s colors, but what if you could see magnificent oranges, bright yellows and fluorescent greens year round? One place you can is on public lands in central and eastern Oregon.

Far from the black and white of old cowboy movies filmed in the area decades ago, a multitude of colors – including autumn’s reds, oranges and yellows – abounds perennially in Oregon’s high desert, compliments of unlikely hosts.

At closer glance, those monstrous, jagged, fault scarps and rocky remnants from ancient volcanoes and shifts of tectonic plates – the outcroppings and rims that give the area its rugged, desolate look – are far from barren of bright color. Same with the dead limbs and decaying trunks of evergreen juniper and pine trees. Even the wooden fence posts studding the range harbor flamboyant life.

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Hvitserkur, which translates to “white shirt” and derives its name from being covered in Shag and Cormorant guano, rises 15 metres, or nearly 50 feet from the sea. It was once the plug of a volcano, but over the years the craters surrounding the rock plug gave way to the pounding Atlantic Ocean leaving only the unusual outcropping Hvítserkur behind. Curiously, Hvítserkur itself would have given way to the ocean as well, had its foundations not been shored up with concrete some years ago. Icelandic legend has it that the rock was a troll who forgot to retreat from the light and was turned to stone in the sunrise, though from some angles it is said to look like a dragon drinking from the water. The geological oddity was commemorated on an Icelandic stamp in 1990.

The three lakes of Kelimutu, in addition to sounding like the title of a fantasy novel, are a geological oddity found snuggled up against the base of a dormant volcano in Indonesia. They’ve become a popular tourist attraction, but not for swimming, unless you’re looking to re-create the most accidentally hilarious sequence from Dante’s Peak – the acid-saline pools are too caustic for taking a dip. No, these lakes are famous for their ability to change color like three giant bowls of melted chameleons.

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