Climatic Regions and Zones

The region can be roughly divided into four separate environments, depending on altitude.  It’s worth mentioning that these regions can change from valley to valley:

  1. The bottom of the valley, which receive humidity from the river,
  2. The arid hills, where temperatures rise up to 40 C° and water availability is very limited,
  3. The subalpine hills, where temperatures are temperate and,
  4. The alpine mountains with long winters and a short growing period.

Detailed Info

The Coruh Basin is one of the most spectacular nature reserves in Turkey. Because the humid air from the Black Sea is blocked by the Kackar Mountains, the Coruh Valley enjoys the benefits of the rain shadow and brilliant sunshine. The Coruh River carves deeply down between the Kackar Mountains to the north and the Mescit Mountains in the south. Between the lively little towns of Ispir and Yusufeli many streams join this fast flowing river and form side valleys where the difference between the lowest and the highest point can reach up to 3,000 metres. The vegetation and plant cover is astonishingly diverse due to extreme variations in climate within a very small area.

Climatic Regions

The Bottom of the Valley

Cultivated Land

Because of its relative humidity, the Coruh Valley is lush and densely vegetated. The land around the towns and villages is intensely cultivated, full of orchards, vines and vegetable gardens. The most important fruits are figs, pomegranates, olives and mulberries. Mulberries are of particular economic value to the region, which is famous for its pekmez (molasses) and paste. In these almost subtropical conditions, even rice can be cultivated around the villages of the Coruh Valley, the brilliant green paddy fields irrigated directly from the river.

Wildflowers of the Coruh Valley

Next to the patches of lush green cultivated land there are delightful wildflowers. One very rare species of flower of outstanding beauty is Neotchichatchevia isatidea. The deep purple bunches of flowers with their green stems and leaves rise out of loose stones on rocky fields beside the road. This region is host to many interesting species like the Sophora Root (Sophora alopecuroides) whose cream-coloured flowers grace the sandbanks of the riverbed. Nearby are the bright pink flowers of the Pelargonium enlicherianum – also known as Geranium – which stand out against the grey rocks. The roadsides are covered with capers. Their delicate pale white-purple flowers open just for a short time in the morning and attract thousands of bees which produce the famous honey of Ispir. The buds are used extensively in cooking.

The Arid Hills above the Valley

The plants that grow above the cultivated land have adapted to the dry conditions of the hills surrounding the narrow valleys of the Coruh basin. Nevertheless, there is a rich diversity of Xerophytic Herbaceous plants which have developed a fascinating mechanism to survive under the penetrating sun and arid conditions. The chirp of the crickets, the scent of aromatic herbs and the torrid heat give these places a special atmosphere. At first glance this scrubland might appear lifeless but on closer inspection you can find many tiny purple flowers of Pink Everlasting (Xeranthemum Annuum L.) or species of Yellow Flax (Linum Mucronatum subsp. Armenum) which are hidden among the stones and junipers. Some scattered pines and oaks offer shade during the hottest hours of the day. In the evening sun the green patches of the vegetation harmonise with the varicoloured terrain and the slopes of the Coruh Valley glow in an amazing variety of different hues.

The Subalpine and Alpine Zone

Following the gushing streams in the side valleys, the grass is scattered with wildflowers and in the shadow of magnificent pine trees. The transition between dry hills and lush meadows is dramatic and varies from valley to valley. Steep slopes, scree and granite rocks alternate with wetlands, lush pastures and forested hills. In addition to the altitude, the number of microclimates, the soil, and the water supply of the terrain play a crucial role in the plant species growing here. With the increasing altitude a growing number of trees form a mixed forest of pine, spruce and firs. Dense forests cover the northern slopes, which receive more precipitation. The majestic Red Poeny (Paeonia Mascula) blooms next to Barberry (Berberis Vulgaris) and Viburnum (Viburnum Orientale). Wild onions (Allium sp) wave in the wind.

Pastures

As you climb higher, coniferous and deciduous trees, florid Rhododendrons and rose bushes alternate with wildflowers. Steep cliffs and stony hills frame pastures which are enchanting in every season. In summer, during the hay harvest, the fields are a mosaic of different colours; in autumn, the meadows are withered by the sun and the leaves turn to orange and gold; in winter, the snow covered trees glisten in the sun, and in spring the fields are covered with wildflowers. Wild poppies glow in orange and red. Besides the Oriental Poppy (Papaver Orientale), the endemic poppy (Papaver Laterium) is scattered in thousands along the banks of mountain streams. Due to its beauty, the poppy was grown as an ornamental plant as early as 5000 BC in Central Anatolia. Climbing up to 2000 metres, you will find rare species of light yellow Oxlip (Primula Elatior subsp. Pallasi) and the bright yellow Cowslip (Primula Veris subsp. Columnae). The pastel purple Auricula (Primula Auriculata), orange Red Avens (Geum Coccineum) and Dragonwort (Polygonum Bistorta) are scattered along the banks of streams. The yellow and deep blue flowers of Marigold and Milkweed Gentian (Gentiana Asclepiadea) star among the dark green grasses. Deep purple Armenian Grape Hyacinths (Muscari Armeniacum) and the magenta pinks mingle in the meadows. Rosebay Willowherb (Epilobium Angustifolium) and the pastel violet of Crown Vetch (Coronilla Varia) adorn the verges of roads and tracks. Aromatic herbs like thyme, mint and sage perfume the grasslands and are used to flavour local dishes and for their medicinal properties.

Rocky Fields and Scree

On the road to Barhal where water bursts from the granite rocks and forms small waterfalls, you will find Sedum Pilosum, commonly known as stonecrops. Blackberry bushes straggle along the roadside and wild Hollyhocks line the paths. Scarps and cliff faces are populated with deep purple clusters of Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) and the tiny pure white flowers of Rock Cress (Arabis Caucasica) stand out against the granite rocks, amid which an endemic species of brilliant blue Speedwell (Veronica Oltensis) grows in profusion.

Alpine Meadows

At higher altitudes conditions get harder. The growth period is shorter, and the land is covered with snow until early summer. In spring, the bells of the mahogany purple Fritillaria Latifolia spring from the earth in the high moist meadows of Moryayla and the Devedagı Pass. Above Kılıckaya wild tulips of the species Tulipa Julia start to bloom in May. In the beautiful Yaylalar valley the Caucasian Anemone (Anemone Albana) with its deep purple petals and bright yellow pistils and the Narcissus Anemone are extremely common.

Zones


The region divides naturally into areas below and above the treeline but there are also lower-level divisions according to climate and geology. Below are the main divisions and some of the attractions at each level:

Above the Treeline (1800 to 4000m)


During the last ice-age, this zone was under an ice-sheet and the granite ridges of the Kackar once stood above several major glaciers. The characteristic scenery is U-shaped valleys divided by the spurs of the main ranges, with hanging valleys abutting the main valleys. The area around Davali, above Sirakonaklar, is an excellent example. Scree sheets cover some slopes and piles of moraine dropped by retreating glaciers often hold back small lakes. Good examples of glacier-formed lakes include those at Yedigoller and cirque lakes at the head of the valleys above Sirakonaklar. Piles of boulders, rounded by the ice, are piled up in some valleys; there is a good example at Olgunlar.
On north-facing slopes, up to about 2200m, there’s low Rhododendron scrub. On south-facing slopes there are dwarf birches and spindly pines. The flatter areas above the treeline, where water is available, are used as summer pastures for grazing cattle, sheep and goats.

Evergreen Forest (900 to 2000m)


Pines (Pinus Sylvestris) grow on drier, mainly south-facing slopes, with firs (Abies Nordmanica) on the north-facing slops; juniper spreads (Juniperus Oxycedrus and Communis) on rocky areas. Scrubby oak (Quercus Petraea) grows on dry slopes.

Meadows, Terraces and Slopes (below 2000m)


In the southern part of the area, tree cover is not general and the hillsides around the villages have often been terraced for crops. Other, drier areas are used for grazing animals. Meadow-side trees include fruit trees such as plums, quince and apples, rowans and maples and dwarf willows along streams. Hazelnuts form copses and olives grow at lower altitudes.
 Around Narman, east of Tortum, is a valley of fairy chimneys, formed 2-3 million years ago by the effects of wind and water. They occupy an area of about 12 sq km, starting 11km along the road from Narman to Pasinler; the most interesting formations are around Yoldere. The chimneys are orange-and-rose-coloured and in spring stand out effectively against new green vegetation. The valley sides between the chimneys can be slippery.
 Also in this area are pillow-shaped lava blocks, which were formed by a subterranean volcanic eruption.

Valley Bottoms


Alluvial soil forms rich, leveled vegetable and fruit gardens, rice paddies and orchards. The land is very valuable and mostly intensively cultivated and irrigated. Boundaries are often marked by rows of poplars and willows. Streams gushing down the valley sides form small wetlands where orchids grow. You will pass Tortum Lake, formed by a landslide a few centuries ago, on the route from Erzurum to Yusufeli. It fills bottom of the Tortum Valley and is now used for hydro-electricity generation. The bare cream and gold strata of the valley sides rise from the green-blue waters. A sign directs you to Tortum Waterfall, from the north of the lake, where the water gushes 48m down sheer rocks to the valley below. There is a staircase from which you can admire the water and an outdoor restaurant above the falls.
 The valley of the Coruh river, especially between Ispir and Yusufeli, is bordered by dramatic, heavily-eroded sandstone rocks. They continue west from Yusufeli for about 30km and look as though they could have come from the American Wild West. The colours are especially bright around Alanbasi Village and were formed by minerals in hot water from volcanic eruptions.
Through this dramatic landscape the Coruh River, which in May through July sparkles with snowmelt from the hills, flows through gorges to the coast, making it a superb white-water challenge.

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