It's damnably hot and humid in Catonsville, so my thoughts take me to the mountains, to someplace high, dry, and cool. To the Pyrenees, the rugged mountains that define the border between France and Spain. To the French department of Haute Pyrenees, and to the wonderful national park that occupies the highest reaches of the mountains.
We begin in the lower valleys where there are many charming villages, once devoted to wool and sheep's milk cheese but kept lively by 150 years of tourism.
Not that there isn't still plenty of cheese – this is France, after all.
There are a few medieval churches and many houses and mills dating to the 1600s, all built in the local stone.
From whichever village is our starting point we make our way higher up the valley, passing farms and pasture.
The mountains loom up around us.
We enter the high country, one of the wildest parts of Europe, home to brown bears, golden eagles, and the mountain goats called here Isards.
Small lakes abound, more than 200 just in the national park.
And streams, with waterfalls.
Most spectacularly in the Cirque de Gavarnie, one of Europe's most famous hikes, where the Grand Falls plunge more than 420 meters.
Around us now are the Pyrenean peaks, a whole chain of mountains topping 3,000 meters (10,000 ft).
I went bike riding this morning. By 8 AM the sun already had staked its claim on all mortals foolish enough to step out into the fresh air.
I think the spanish side is nicer.
Both sides are sublime. To me, the Pyrenees during the Romanesque is one of the great ages of all humanity.
There is some sun, but it's not so dry, more cool and damp. Think Scottish weather. That said, in Aragon you will find these sudden, weird pockets of utter desert, like the Bardenas and Los Monegros. I don't know what's up with these places ecologically, but they remind me of Big Bend in Texas.
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