Geology of Charyn Canyon
Dolina Zamkov area, Kazakhstan

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Autor: Stefan Lang (Germany)

The Charyn Canyon / Dolina Zamkov area is situated in southeast Kazakhstan about 200 km east of Almaty on the north edge of Torajgir Mountains. Charyn River is running in a deep canyon with bizarre rock monuments in shapes of castles and towers on top of steep rocky walls. Dolina Zamkov and other dry side canyons run down to Charyn Canyon. The Torajgir Mountain have got elevations of more than 2000 m and are one of several southeast Kazakh mountain ranges north of Tjan Shan.

Geologic Map of Charyn Canyon / Dolina Zamkov area.

Rocks

The walls of Charyn Canyon in Dolina Zamkov area show rock storeys of different ages and different origin. Dark rocks at the bottom of Charyn Canyon and in the lower part of Dolina Zamkov are volcanic lava rocks. These are the oldest rocks in this area. On top of these rocks are layers of much younger rocks. These red cliffs (i.e. the walls of Dolina Zamkov), consist of solid gravel which was deposited by debris flows. The plains around Charyn Canyon are covered with grey gravel which was deposited by rivers, and dust which was deposited by wind. Sand and gravel on the bottom of Charyn Canyon was deposited by Charyn River. Some gravel on terraces above Charyn River is evidence of Charyn's former river bed.

The rocks of Torajgir Mountains are of about the same age as the old volcanic lava rocks and also of volcanic origin. They consist of solid lava and depositions of material thrown out by volcanos eruptions. These rocks were later lifted up along a fault plane (as geologists call it).

In western Dolina Zamkov are volcanic rocks of different colours which have about the same age as the other rocks of volcanic origin. They consist (like the rocks of Torajgir Mountains) of ashes and stones thrown out by volcanos. Later these rocks were bended up so that they are at the surface today.


Geologic 
sketch of Charyn Canyon
Geologic sketch of Charyn Canyon / Dolina Zamkov area.

Charyn Canyon

History
1. About 280 million years ago volcanos erupted in Southeast Kazakhstan. Lava flows flooded the area. Volcanic particles like "bombs" and ashes were thrown out of the craters and deposited. Sometimes hot clouds of gas and dust came down the slopes of the volcanos and were deposited.

2. Millions of years later, the Tjan Shan Mountains were built by the force of the collision of India with Asia. Erosion began in the mountains. Debris flows came down the valleys and were deposited in the plains of Southeast Kazakhstan.

3. Later braided rivers crossed the plain and deposited gravel. Dust was blown there from the deserts by the wind.

4. Some 1000 years ago the Torajgir Mountains were (like the other mountain ranges in Southeast Kazakhstan) lifted up North of the Tjan Shan still by the force of India-Asia convergence.

Charyn river started to erode its Canyon as a result of lifting of the whole area. Gravel deposits on terraces are remainings of former river beds. Dolina Zamkov and the other valleys were eroded by episodic rivers after rainstorms. Rock Monuments and Castles are remainings left by the erosion.

More about geology of Charyn Canyon (about geologic mapping in this area).

Map of Central Asia about 280 million yearsago
Map of Central Asia about 280 million yearsago redrawn from Zonenshain et al., 1990: Geology of the USSR: A Plate-Tectonic Synthesis. In B. M. Page [Ed.], 1990. Geodynamic Series 21.).
Square: Charyn Canyon / Dolina Zamkov area.
Sketch about geologic history of Charyn Canyon
Sketch about geologic history of Charyn Canyon
Dolina Zamkov area.

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