Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Travel: Environmental Disasters

Along our road trip we may encounter some of these environmental disasters caused by humans:
1. In Georgia, Providence Canyon State Park's 16 canyons came into existence due to poor farming practices. Gradually as rows were plowed into the hillsides, they became ditches and then gullies as the land eroded. Today this area is home to sixteen impressive canyons, each as deep as 150 feet, ironically named one of Georgia's "Seven Natural Wonders."

2. The Desert of Maine is another impressive environmental disaster. You would never think to find a desert in Maine, but the Desert was born in the 1800s when the Tuttles, a farming family, exposed a patch of sand. The patch began as the size of a plate and has now expanded to into a little desert, complete with dunes and its own hot, arid microclimate.

Under the layer of rich topsoil where the Maine forests grow is a sandy layer of glacial silt (formed when the Ice Age glaciers ground rocks into sand as they slowly moved across Maine). The land was purchased by Willian Tuttle in 1797. Over a number of years the land was overgrazed by sheep and damaged by poor crop rotation, leading to the soil erosion. As the soil eroded, a small patch of the sandy silt layer was exposed. Once exposed, the sandy patch grew and began taking over the farmland. Eventually, the Tuttles abandoned their land because the sand had begun swallowing buildings and trees. In 1919, Henry Goldru purchased the land and transformed it into a tourist attraction. Now it's an oddity visited by 30,000 visitors each year who come to witness the Desert of Maine.

3. California is home to our third environmental disaster: Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. The Fort Bragg beach was used as a public dumping ground starting in 1949. Everything from cars to household waste was dumped over the cliff directly into the ocean. In 1967 the North Coast Water Quality Board closed the dump and now the ocean waves have broken down the waste, leaving behind a beach filled with polished, glittering glass stones. Sacha has been there - he says it's quite lovely, for an environmental disaster. He even has some glass pebbles from the beach down in the basement, somewhere.

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