Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hiking in the Pyrenees

We spent three luscious days in the upper Hecho Valley, based at Hotel Uson.

Alan and Wendi at the entrance to Hotel Uson, a rural guesthouse

Lovely view from Hotel Uson of the mountains surrounding the Hecho Valley

The first evening we walk the grounds of Hotel Uson

Our number one effort was a search for the near-mythical Wallcreeper. (Details are on my other blog!) This quest led us through exquisite scenery in the nearby Gabardito Reserve.

The second day, after a successful Wallcreeper foray, we ventured into a side valley and into this spectacular scene. New wildflowers and butterflies abounded.

Our final morning in the Hecho Valley, we drove as high as we could, and then hiked along an old road.

This region is famous for its dolmens, or megalithic tombs. Dolmens are shrouded in mystery. Most were constructed between 3000 and 4000 years ago, although some in western Europe are as old as 7000 years. Big questions remain: who built them and why? They are likely burial chambers, but not even that is certain.

Our very distant maternal ancestors (Mom's, Lisa's, Brandon's, Kelly's, Hollin's and mine) may well have roamed here––or might even be buried beneath one of those dolmens! When we took the mitochondrial DNA test to determine our maternal clan mother, we learned that our deep-time matriarch was Katrina (the K-haplotype, in scientific jargon), who lived in the vicinity of southern France and northern Italy––around the Alps––at the close of the last Ice Age. The frozen man found some years ago in the Pyrenees was also a descendent of Katrina. Katrina's clan flourished in northern Italy, and 6% of Europeans descend from her.

Wendi and Bert's clan mother is Helena, the H-haplotype, who lived in southeastern France, and whose descendants comprise a very high 47% of Europeans. Lots of breeding in that lineage!

Aunt Susie's clan mother (via our grandmother Glenys Snelson) is Xenia. One branch of that clan traveled east across the steppes of Asia and over the Bering Land Bridge. 1% of Native Americans descend from Xenia, and 6% of Europeans.

If you don't know your deep-time maternal lineage, it is easy to find out. We used a kit from Family Tree DNA. Cost is about $160, but can be more if you opt for more detailed testing. This test looks at mitochondrial DNA, the special cellular DNA that is only inherited through the mother.

But I digress!

Leona and Alan linger over tadpoles at a pool.

A tiny salamander is in with the tadpoles.

The big mammal of the day is Alpine Marmot. Several are nipping the forbs and grasses below us. This is Europe's native marmot, but the ones in the Pyrenees were reintroduced in 1948. They had disappeared from the Pyrenees at the end of the Pleistocene. (Now if only we could do the same thing in North America for Mammoths, Steppe Bison, and Giant Sloths!)

Alpine Marmot in the valley below

After the Hecho Valley, we head for Bielsa, another location in the Pyrenees to the east of here. More to come!

Keeping up with grandparents isn't easy!

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