Caspar Institute logoitinerary   < 1 October Plitvička Jazera   3 October Skradin, Hrvatska >

Plitvička Jazera 2 October 2011

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The Lakes, the park

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<p>At right, a close-up of the same view, showing the dam between two lakes, and the waterfalls where the water is flowing over the top of the dam.</p>

Overlook above the Cave.

At right, a close-up of the same view, showing the dam between two lakes, and the waterfalls where the water is flowing over the top of the dam.

From above, the park looks like a wonderful collection of lakes in a verdant valley, at least 28 of them, varying in size from three kilometers long to 10 meters across. I have been mentioning that this is karst territory. Karst topography is characterized by lots of sinkholes, bumps, valleys, and caves, but typically not much surface water, because the water has all gone underground. 

In Istria, this was right. Sinkholes a-plenty, and every one being used for a garden or, if big enough, as a field. Few rivers, and no lakes or ponds. Here, in the mountains on the edge of Bosnia, for some reason, there is abundant surface water, and it is busily engaged in building itself a playground.

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From water level, the fall on the left in the close-up above looks like this. It is quite famous for its voice, and so it is named Slap Milka Ternina, after a beloved Hvartskan operatic soprano. (A slap is a waterfall.) There is a bench here where people like to sit and have their pictures taken with the famous waterfall behind them.

The building process is the same as in caves, where the steady dripping of water containing calcium carbonate builds stalactites and stalagmites. Counter-intuitively, the deposition of the calcium carbonate is increased by rapid flow, and so these dams are continuously growing and changing the shape of the waterfalls and the lakes.

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To get from the rim of the canyon down to water level, the trail takes us down a stairway built into a sinkhole that has finally excavated its way out to the river, a hundred plus steps below. Here as elsewhere throughout the park, the trails are spectacularly good, carefully made, even if a little scary from our over-protective US standard. One emerges from the cave onto an elevated walkway above a deep pool. No railings, and plenty of traffic. Suck it up, and walk!

It is worth noting that during peak season in August, 12,000 people visit this park on a typical day. On September 27th, park entries passed one million annual visitors for the first time. A "quiet" day like yesterday only handles about 3,000 visitors. 

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The crowds get really tacky at "photo ops" like Veliki Slap -- Big Waterfall. This fall is much less beautiful than Milka's lovely fall a kilometer upstream, and it attracts a different group of snapshot takers. There's even a stand here where unrealated people climb up together and everybody takes their picture ... why? 

Rochelle and I like people individually but find groups, and group behavior, incomprehensible. Here at Veliki Slap, the part we don't understand becomes unbearably obvious. Here and elsewhere along the trail, we see people talking on their cellphones ("What are you wearing?"), texting, smoking, talking intently, but not really looking. Why did they come? Here's why: to have a picture proving they were here. 

The constant challenge for us here in Europe is to enjoy the places without minding the crowds who are doing the same thing. In Hravatska, we notice that people seem to love to clump up in large groups where they have to shuffle along and watch their feet. We keep looking for ways to escape the clumps, to find a reach of trail that's unpeopled, so we can let the quiet of the place, the natural beauty, overwhelm us. 

It has been said, and it seems right, that National Parks are the US's best idea. Here, an unlikely collection of academics and politicians recognized in time that this place was a treasure that should be protected for all time and all people. UNESCO agreed, and designated this a World Heritage site. Even among the smokers and the parents with children in crispers, there is a reverence for the place.

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<p>For me, the most striking elements...

For me, the most striking elements are the small water features.

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For others ... well, hard to say. On our electric boat ride back from P3 to P2 to continue our Sunday walk of the less populated sections of the park, we keep encountering a two-camera shoot apparently centered around the beauty seen here making pretty for the camera. Who is she? No idea. Mysteriously, despite her Hvarta looks, she and her crew are being addressed by their park minders in English.

We escape her little circus and complete our walk from the bottom to the top of the park. At times, this could be nothing more than a series of sweet little lakes in an unspoiled forest. And then, the water reasserts itself.

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The dams between the upper lakes differ from those below. Instead of tall dams separating large lakes, there are many small lakes, and the fall between lakes is much lower. There is much more various plant life interacting with the water, although clearly it is still the moss and grass that has co-evolved with the karst travertine building that do the serious dam building. In every lake, there are thousands of fish ... and expectant ducks follow people around begging for a handout.

It's fun watching the European visitors get excited about the ducks. Of course they have ducks on ponds in their parks; of course they see ducks at home. But these are free ducks, and their workplace is completely unprecedented in their urban experience. There's an undercurrent of anxiety in the way people come here -- is this the last bit of Nature they will ever see?

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A little foot-sore, we complete our second passage through the park. Autumn is in the air. We have been blessed with amazing, perfect weather, and today is another still, crystaline day. Leaves colored by cold nights flutter down out of the canopy of this age-old forest (and are snapped at by fish). We wonder what this place must be like in Spring, with the watercourses full ... and in winter with the lakes frozen. It is unlikely we'll return, but we will certainly remember this place: a little piece of unspoiled Natural Perfection on a very busy and inexorably human-altered continent.

Time to take a few deep breaths of the clear mountain air, eat a couple of adequate national park meals -- you don't go to a place like this for the food -- and head on to our next destination.


Just back from dinner at the "National Restaurant," a lamentable effort to give the foreign nationals who stay here a little of the flavor of the country. One good thing: Ajvar,  Paprika, egg plant, tomato concentrate, hot peppers, spices, salt, sugar, vegetable oil, vinegar.


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