Coral Castles in the Sky

Published: May 16th 2016
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Following the Dakar Rally Part 4...Coral Castles in the Sky.

The most vivid colours I have ever seen were in St Crispin's Reef...part of the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef...about 24 miles off the coast of northern Queensland.

Snorkeling while hovering over a giant clam...flashes of the brightest richest purple fringed with red as it concertinaed it's serrated shell while blowing bursts of bubbles at me...corals in vivid oranges, reds, whites and yellows...seaweed in flashing spectrums darting in and about.

That was at sea level...or a tad below.

Some years later we are driving through the Altiplano of Bolivia ...about 3,600 or more metres above sea level...about to climb a coral castle in the sky.

We were in a fossilized coral reef...uplifted by the Andes mountains...coral everywhere.

Blew my mind I gotta say.

Still blows my mind.

How on earth has Bolivia got corals? gives a bit of history as follows:

"As Bolivia has no sea coast, only fossilized coral reefs are found in the country. According to the Aerospace Exploration Agency of Japan, the Bolivian Andes were once a seabed. After the creation of the mountains, the sea closed becoming lakes. Over time these dried leaving behind vast salt flats and fossilized coral. The Salar de Uyuni, with 4,086 square miles (10,562 square kilometers), is about 11,811 feet (3,600 m) above sea level and is a prime location to observe the fossilized corals of Bolivia. According to the Journal of Paleontology, published in JSTOR, fossilized corals are also in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca."

We found evidence of fossilized coral reefs in the most unlikely places... sides of mountains like scree or among cacti spires, blocks used in llama pens, by the side of the Salar...even found a dry coral reef next to a meteorite crater.

I also found a small piece of coral on Volcan Thunupa at about 5,000 metres. Wondered how it got there.

Bulk really old

Some of the coral species have been dated as from the Permian Period of the geological history of the planet. The Permian was between 251 million and 299 million years ago. It was the last period of the Paleozoic Era. The Permian preceded by the Carboniferous Period and was followed by the Triassic.

The Permian is known as the birth of seed bearing plants, the amphibians of the Carboniferous being replaced by fish with skeletal bones, insects developing mouths, cicadas and beetles, and dimetrodons those lizards with sails.

A period of marine life, insects, plants and land animals, of large areas of corals and sponges.

It is said in the Permian the two continents of Gondwana and Euramerica collided to form one land mass known as Pangaea.

Later Pangaea separated into Africa, North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The Permian Period ended with "the great extinction."

An extinction when about 95%!o(MISSING)f living things were wiped out in some cataclysmic events possibly volcanic, resulting in massive heating then cooling of the planet's surface, fluctuations of sea levels and temperatures. Suggestions of a massive meteorite also hitting the southern tip of Pangaea what is now Australia.

Up to 95%!o(MISSING)f marine animals and 70%!o(MISSING)f land animals becoming extinct in the Permian...the largest mass extinction in history.

Whatever the reason, the Paleozoic Era came to an end.

Ologists...geniuses or what?

As some may know I'm just a humble dancer...Denise says I dance to my own ectopic beat.

So I do not claim to be a geologist, ornithologist, animalothologist, morphologist, scienceologist or any other 'ologist.

But that does not mean I am not fascinated by what 'ologists come up with or how they spend their waking hours...or what inhabits their dreams for that matter.

And fortunately some 'ologists have spent their waking hours contemplating the uplift of the Andes mountains.

And I'm grateful 'cause it casts some light on why we are traveling through reefs of fossilized coral in the altitude of Bolivia when the sea bed and coast is far, far away and down, down, down.


Some may say these 'ologists are geniuses...'cause they come up with detailed research and theories of creation and other weird stuff.

I do not.

I have always thought...watching my own children develop...that when they are born, babies have the same brains and intelligence as adults...they just don't have the education.

Thus I submit...just 'cause these 'ologists spend all their time learning and postulating this and that doesn't make them more intelligent than the rest of us.


Unless you are born like that...Nah.

Educated yes...but geniuses?


I say not.

The uplift of the Andes

Sometime the Andes Mountains were uplifted to run north to south...and form the only climatic barrier for atmospheric circulation in the Southern hemisphere...the Andean Cordillera which affects wind and rain from east to west.

It has the highest altitude plateau areas (the Altiplano), other than Tibet.

This uplift is believed not to be sudden or dramatic around the altiplano areas of Peru, Bolivia and Northern Chile...but 2,300 to 3,400 metres at about 0.2 to 0.3 mm per year since the Miocene Era (5 to 24 million years ago)...which makes it bulk old...but relatively young in geological time.

And sitting on top of some of this uplift of the Andes were inland seas that have long since subsided.

Leaving corals from the Permian or later Periods.

Coral formations still evident and identifiable way up here.

Considering crust levels are affected by volcanic and tectonic activity and the area is ringed and dotted with volcanoes the histories suggest the uplift from volcanic activity is more recent in the Altiplano than the east coast volcanic areas.

Yet evidence of corals are present now. Maybe during those periods of heavy volcanic uplift in the altiplano the area still had inland seas with living corals which dried out post volcanic uplift activity. That is my guess, not based on research, but makes sense to me that would explain why coral deposits today are not obscured by lava.

And I find the concept of corals in the altiplano (3,600 meters above sea level or more) fascinating.


We drove east along dusty tracks along the northern edge of the Salar de Uyuni through areas once inland sea...giant rocky outcrops and mountain rock walls covered in corals frozen in time...islands hovering like flying saucers reflected in the flooded Salar...a stillness and quiet that only the lone traveler can understand.

'Cause we saw no vehicles, no tourists, only domesticated llamas their ears decorated with ribbons and every now and then timid wild vicunas, wary of humans as their soft furs are widely prized.

The air was crisp and clear, clouds occasionally scooting across the sky...our spirits soaring and dancing with delight.

One coral castle had signs of habitation and ceremonial sites...walls of coral slabs stacked as walls...overlooking the vivid blue water reflecting the even bluer sky.

A cave with black algae curtains hanging in shawls...entry provided by three kids with their baby brother then the teenager and toddler riding away on a motorbike with waves and cheers.

So busy waving that when the bike took off the toddler on the front, flew off and landed on his face in the dust...only whimpering when picked up...sad eyes flashing his distress but no bellows or cries. They breed them tough out here.

Turning south at the Llica Dakar Rally sign celebrating the race route taken only a couple of weeks following the eastern shore.

Lunch as usual to us was heaps of fun. Today with the Salar and hovering islands in front...a rocky slope with coral crust icing behind...cacti candles...coral everywhere. No picnic umbrella today...just the plastic table and four chairs...llama meat and salad with juices or coke to wash it down. We get hungry out a little family of four...couldn't be better...couldn't wish for more.


We head into the mountains...ridiculously rough rocky road. Geneth says there is a canyon she wants to try as an option for further travellers. So Valerio leaves us at the top and says he'll meet us at the end in a couple of hours...points way down there on the red flat plain.

Geneth a tad nervous as storm clouds gathering. Nervous 'cause pretty obvious from the flow tracks on the canyon floor that it is a dry flash flood riverbed. Wouldn't want her sole turistos washed away would she?

The photos do not do it justice...makes it look small when it is not. The canyon had high rock walls of jumbled giant boulders...shapes in the rocks of primordial past. A rock here and there with a water resting in a hollow otherwise dry...storm clouds hovering...a lot cooler than on the plain below.

We climb down smooth boulders as the canyon drops here and there. Then at a higher drop Geneth looking concerned. There is a narrow squeeze about a metre wide with a drop of about 5 metres.

"There are usually rocks here to climb down", Geneth says. "They must have washed away. It's much steeper up ahead. If there are sections washed away ahead we may not be able to get out."

"I'm going to climb the cliff and see if I can find a way out," she says. "You will have to go back to the beginning and wait for us on the road where Valerio dropped us off. I'll try and get to Valerio to come and collect you."

Shortly after she is waving to us from the top of a cliff...gotta be a mountain goat in an earlier life!

Denise and I could have climbed the cliffs without hesitation when we were younger...but when "been there done that" and Geneth says "don't"...well if something went wrong she'd probably be at more risk than we reluctantly walk back.

Denise starts climbing the rocky road trying to find a spot wide enough for Valerio to turn around. But I can't help myself...wanting that photo of the canyon I go cross country.

And it is steep...and slippery. Giant ball and candle cacti clinging...wicked thorns like sabres...protecting the canyon sides.

I see a Landcruiser heading up so I scamper up a dry creek...amazed how slippery it is on the channeled scree.

Geneth had followed the cliff tops down and managed to signal Valerio who then drove up. Both smiling and relieved our spirits were up.

I guess some tourists would be pissed off the canyoning had to be abandoned. Not us.

We were impressed and safe...pretty chuffed actually.

Relax and Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 79, Displayed: 29


17th May 2016

Few comments here, Dave: 1) I didn't know the geological history of the uplift of the Andes. Very interesting. I will run it across some of my geologist colleagues...a great coffee time discussion 2) Did you feel any oxygen deprivation at such a high altitude of >3900m/ I heard many does? 3) This time is it your camera or Denise's? Photos are amazing 4) Is it you in 'Heading for Help'? 5) It's hard to absorb that a place could be that dry 6) Last, but not least,- the lamas are cute...I always thought so...and chicky too!!
17th May 2016

I knew very little about the uplift of the Andes until I researched for this blog Tab. However, there was so much coral at altitude I had to enquire why. That some species dated as! Enjoy discussion with your mates...fascinating. We had no issue with altitude and on occasion were above 5,000 metres. As Denise had had issues in Tibet, we acclimatised in Peru and had no issues with altitude as a result...phew! My 18-200mm lens packed it in at Olantaytambo in Peru and I used Denise's 50mm Sony camera for the rest of the trip...fabulous little lens...saved the day! 'Twas Geneth at the top of the cliff to get help. Amazing to watch her climbing up...on a mission you might say!
17th May 2016

The Danceologist
You are a danceologist. And Wow! That is quite a place with the corals in the sky. Kinda lucky in the sky with diamonds. I think I must go see this Bolivia.
17th May 2016

The Danceologist
Me an 'ologist Andrea? Really? Just a humble genius here! As one of the admirers of your blogs I reckon Bolivia would blow your mind. We rate it in the Top 3 most beautiful countries of the World.If my Bolivia blogs so far don't prove the equation, I will submit Q.E.D. in the blogs to come!
17th May 2016
Coral icing, Cacti candles

You seem to like geology
When I read this blog entry I get the feeling that you are fascinated by geology. So am I. I don't deliberately hunt geological oddities but I try to look them up when I happen to be near them. Some of the geological highlights I have seen includes ice cave in Romania last summer, I once hiked through saw the deepest valley in the world in Nepal (6,000 meters deep; the river runs at 2,000 meter height and there is one Eight-thousander towering on each side), I have spent a night on Krakatau and I have visited the mud volcanoes in Gobustan. I'll think about this blog entry when I one day get to visit the highlands in Bolivia/Ake
17th May 2016
Coral icing, Cacti candles

You seem to like geology
If one isn't fascinated by geology then one's eyes are wide shut I reckon Ake. The Rift Valley in Africa, hundreds of volcanoes in Chile, ancient Australia, Danxia formations in China, striated extravaganza in SW USA, coral castles in the sky in Bolivia. I'm still on the floor with head bowed to you Ake...overnight on Krakatau...that's a wow from me!!!
18th May 2016

Llama family
Why are they so cute?
18th May 2016

Why are they so cute?
Watch this space!
18th May 2016

Off the beaten path
Once again you've traveled the dirt road and found some wonderful rock stories to tell. Glad they sang you a song even if you didn't get to climb all of them. Better to be safe and climb another day. Never enough llama photos in my opinion. So many stones so little time. Bolivia sound magnificent.
18th May 2016

Off the beaten path
Rock n Roll I often say...when oft I hear Blues talkin'. Rock n Roll I often say...when off the beaten path I'm walking. (Ancient Llama saying)!
25th May 2016

She stole the show
Every place in this glorious planet of ours has a story to tell & Bolivia is one big tome. Bolivia was a destination tacked on to the end of a long trip & she truly stole the show.

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