Spanish Field Trip:

This is now being rearranged for May 2005: exact dates not yet finalised.

The rocks and scenery
The geology ranges from a Palaeozoic uplift with Triassic grabens through fold and thrust belt of Jurassic-Cretaceous clastics and marine carbonates to Tertiary, clastic-lacustrine pull-apart basins. There will be some problems to think about at the outcrop.

The sierra de la Demanda to the north exposes Palaeozoic quartzites and slates, Carboniferous sandstones and coals and Triassic red beds. The land there ascends to over two and half thousand metres and consists of exposed peaks, lakes and dense forests of oak, beech and pine. Cattle graze the pastures; deer and wild boar roam the forests. To the west and south the Duero Basin is a lowland plain above a succession of Tertiary, continental conglomerates, sandstones, clays, gypsiferous marls and lacustrine limestones. The latter cap mesetas between which rivers meander, cutting deeper into the red beds. This forms part of central Spain’s breadbasket. Wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

Covarrubias lies within a NW trending zone, about 40 km wide, between the Demanda and the Duero. Folded Jurassic continental sandstones and shallow marine limestones, Cretaceous continental sandstones, marine marls and limestones and Tertiary continental conglomerates sandstones and clays are exposed here. The folds plunge west and dip south below the Duero Basin. Anticlinal crests are eroded away, exposing cores of Jurassic lower Cretaceous in valleys. Upper Cretaceous limestones, preserved in perched synclines, form mountain tops bounded by steep cliffs.

Ploughable land is put to wheat, barley and sunflower. Hillsides support cherry, apple, almond and pear orchards and vineyards (as good as Rioja!). Steeper hills and mountain tops are for sheep and goat grazing. The forests are full of deer and boar. The occasional wolf appears. Europe’s largest colony of vultures breeds here and eagles are common.

The culture
The geology supports a variety of beautiful landforms, scenery and architecture, in an area rich in history. Atapuerca, a site of million-year old hominid remains, is just east of Burgos. Clunia and Tiermes are remains of Roman cities (Clunia estimated population 30,000!). There is an abundance of ancient fortifications, castles, towers, monasteries and hermitages, dating back a thousand years and more. This mainly rural area provides great home cooking (comida casera) and very good red wines. Roast baby lamb and goat are excellent, but fresh seafood is also available.

Benedictine monks chant latin vespers (Cantos Gregorianos) each evening at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, 18 km from Covarrubias. A museum in Burgos presents the finds of Atapuerca and other archaeological treasures. Museums in Salas de los Infantes demonstrate the archaeology and palaeontology of the area (rich in dinosaur and ammonite fossils).

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