Ornbau - Dollnstein: Jurassic Country - Spring Tour in Bavaria 2009 - CycleBlaze

April 7, 2009

Ornbau - Dollnstein: Jurassic Country

Ready to start the day: In front of Gasthaus Goldene Krone
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A last glance at Ornbau as we continue on our way
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The Altmühl Valley is hazy in the early morning sun. The bike path follows the river and the banks of the Altmühlsee, an artificial lake created by damming the river. It is 13 kilometers to Gunzenhausen where we had planned to turn south and head for Munich. But we are enjoying the pretty Altmühl Valley and its bike path so much, we feel it would be foolish not to follow it to the finish. The Altmühl Valley is one of Bavaria's largest nature reserves. Typical for the area are juniper heathland and spectacular rock formations of Jurassic limestone.

Following the Altmühl and, here, its reservoir
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I don't know if this is having any effect on Germany's birthrate but the stork population is again increasing, and this is a good sign in itself. The white stork is on the list of endangered species. One reason is that building canals and changing the course of rivers destroys the stork's natural habitat, the marshlands. Now the first storks are returning after spending the winter in Africa. Every stork we see is a slight sensation.

Our first stork sighting
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Storks like to build their lofty nests on brewery chimneys. Franconia has a long tradition in beer brewing and thus has contributed considerably to the chances of the stork's survival in these parts I would think. I don't know how they (the birds I mean) manage in Africa.

Gunzenhausen: Brewery chimney topped by a stork's nest
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We had to wait quite a while for him to peer over the edge of his nest
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I am sure we weren't the first to make silly jokes about the town named Aha. Actually the name is derived from the Latin word aqua, water, and could also mean water course or on the water, a logical name since the Altmühl frequently overflowed its banks.

Definition: aha (ä hä′, ə hä′), interjection, used to express triumph, surprise, pleasure, satisfaction, etc., often mixed with irony or mockery (Webster's New World College Dictionary)
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Fields flooded from winter snow and rains
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We continue on quiet bike paths, often hard packed dirt and almost as good as asphalt. Janos suggests a slight detour to visit the town of Graben. He recalls that is the site of the Fossa Carolina, a channel project planned in 793 by Charlemagne, which would connect the Main and the Danube rivers across the European Watershed. A project of no small consequence since it would link the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea. On the part of Charlemagne, it was a strategic move to supply his troops in the war against tribes which had attacked Bavaria.

Construction on the Fossa Carolina as depicted in "History of the Bishops of Würzburg", 1546
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The Fossa Carolina, or Karlsgraben: today only 500 meters of the original channel is preserved
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This idea again found favor in a similar form some 1000 years later when in the 19th century, King Ludwig I of Bavaria had a 173-kilometer-long canal built from Kehlheim to Bamberg. However, it was rather narrow and difficult to negotiate because of its 100 locks. The canal was finally closed in 1945 as a result of war damage.

The present Rhein-Main-Donau Kanal was completed in 1992. The last section to be built, between Nuremberg and Kelheim, became politically controversial, mainly, and I believe rightly so, because of the 34 km long section through the Altmühl valley. It would seem the ecological damage outweighs the economic advantages gained from the construction of the canal. But for the moment we are still riding along the Altmühl River, the Canal comes later.

Following the Altmühl
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Later in the day we cycle past the scenic limestone formations which make the Altmühl Valley so popular. They are part of the Jura Mountains, a small mountain range located north of the Alps, extending through France, Switzerland and Germany. It is this mountain range which has given its name to the Jurassic geologic period and dynosaur movies.

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Faster, Janos, faster!
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Today's ride: 69 km (43 miles)
Total: 209 km (130 miles)

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