Alania National Park
Republic of North Ossetia-Alania
Imagine: a misty night, a slowly lightening sky. The outlines of huge snowy giants and impassable rocky peaks become clearer. Illuminated by the rays of the rising sun, the mountaintops—at first faint, barely visible—gradually reveal their majesty and immutability. The colours of the mountain are incredible; they seem like decoration, painted by an artist with a wild imagination… Surrounding the mountain ridges is the territory of the magnificent Alania National Park. The park was created in 1998 for the preservation and study of unique natural phenomena, as well as for environmental education and ecotourism.
Alania National Park is situated on the northern slopes of the Central Caucasus, in the Urukh river basin, at an altitude of between 800m and 4646m (Uilpata Mountain). Cliffs, scree and glaciers dominate the majority of the park’s territory, and modern glaciation covers more than 80km2.
The park’s main river—the Urukh—begins at the confluence of the rivers Karaugomdon and Kharesidon. In total there are more than 70 rivers and large streams.
Alania National Park has a temperate continental climate with high precipitation in the spring and summer. The mountain ridges and spurs, and the valleys, gorges and basins between them make air circulation difficult, and so there are many microclimates and climatic variation. There are two distinct climates within the park’s territory: the Zadalesk basin with a drought climate and a high-altitude mountain zone with a harsher climate. In the park’s Kharess Gorge, at an altitude of 1700m, the coldest month is February (-9ºC) and the warmest is July (+13ºC).
Flora and fauna
The park’s plant life is very varied. You’ll find swathes of mountain pine forest, pine-birch forest, juniper woodland, small groves of broadleaf beech and hornbeam forest, subalpine and alpine meadows, carpets of moss and flowers, and heathland. Forests cover nearly one fifth of the park.
In the foothills and lower slopes of the Bokovoy and Vodorazdel’niy ridges, areas of mountain steppe meet alpine xerophytes. Beyond the tree line, large patches of land are taken up by colourful, subalpine meadows. Festuca varia, a type of flowering grass, orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata), reed grass (Calamagrostis arundinacea), Erysimum aureum, Candle larkspur (Delphinium speciosum) and others may all be found in these meadows.
The park is rich in medicinal, edible, melliferous and decorative plants, including the Caucasian lily (Lilium monadelphum), Delphinium bracteosum, narrow-leaved snowdrop (Galanthus angustifolius), Crocus vallicola, Columbine (Aquilegia olympica), Caucasian pincushion flower (Scabiosa caucasica), big betony (Betonica macrantha) and others.
Characteristic inhabitants of the broadleaf forests are the pygmy field mouse, pine marten, wildcat, wild boar, and roe deer. High-mountain altitudes are home to the long-clawed mole vole, Dagestan pine vole, Caucasian snow vole, stoat, Beech marten, East Caucasian aurochs, and the chamois.
15 species of birds living in the park have been entered into Russia’s Red List, including the Caucasian grouse, bearded vulture, Golden eagle, Egyptian vulture, and the peregrine falcon.
The only fish found in the park is the brook trout.
Many historical monuments have been preserved within the park and its protected zone. Since ancient times, humans have used the caves, mountain grottos, and overhangs, of which there are many on the Skalistiy ridge, as shelters. Several caves were reinforced with stone walls, such as those that can be found in the settlements of Lesgor. There are also a few famous Alan catacomb burial sites in the villages of Donifars and Kumbulta. Medieval towers and shrines may be found in the park’s protected zone and surrounding territories, as well as crypts in some of the settlements.
What to see
The park is home to a plethora of magnificent objects and interesting sites to visit, both natural and cultural.
Excursions are possible to Tana Glacier, during which you’ll get acquainted with the high-mountain zone and the flora & fauna of the Central Caucasus. There are also hiking tours to the Chifandzar peatland marsh—the largest mountain wetland in the Central Caucasus—passing through pine and broadleaf forests. Along the way you’ll see an ancient shepherd path enclosed by stone walls, giant glacial boulders, and remnants of landslides and avalanches.
The waterfalls of Galdoridon are particularly impressive, as well as the monuments of ancient stone architecture—shrines, crypts and medieval towers.
In the period between April and June, you are very likely to see Dagestani (East Caucasian) aurochs and snowcocks, which are endemic to the East and Central Caucasus.
Adapted from oopt.info and zapoved.ru