Yangykala – Turkmenistan
One of the travel highlights of Turkmenistan is the stunning geological formation called Yangykala. Today, visitors to the Yangykala Canyon can walk along the rim of the canyon, marvel at the unique rock formations, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.
How was the Yangykala Canyon formed?
Yangykala is a series of striking red and orange rock formations sculpted over millions of years by wind and water erosion. This natural wonder is situated in in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan, an area that was once covered by the Paratethys Ocean/Sea. The Paratethys was a large, shallow sea that existed approximately 30 to 12 million years ago. It was a remnant of the Tethys Ocean, which had begun to shrink as the African and Eurasian plates collided and formed the Alpine mountain range. The Paratethys was a complex system of interconnected basins and seas, including the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Aral Sea. It was a vast body of water that covered an area of over 5 million square kilometers and had a maximum depth of approximately 1,000 meters. The Paratethys was home to a diverse range of marine and terrestrial organisms, including sharks, dolphins, whales and mollusks. Over time, the Paratethys began to shrink as a result of tectonic movements and changing climate conditions. As the sea levels dropped, the shallow waters became increasingly saline, leading to the formation of large salt deposits in the basin.
The rock formations at Yangykala are primarily composed of sandstone and shale, with some layers of limestone, gypsum, other salts and conglomerate. The sandstone formations are the most prominent, and they are responsible for the canyon’s distinctive red and orange hues due to the presence of iron oxide minerals. The resulting contrast in colors creates a stunning visual display that attracts tourists and geologists alike.
The surrounding desert landscape is host to a variety of animals adapted to the harsh conditions of the Karakum Desert. Visitors to Yangykala are advised to respect the local wildlife and observe from a safe distance to avoid disturbing the animals or damaging their habitat.
Gozli Ata Shrine
Near the Canyons there is Gozli Ata Shrine, named after a revered Sufi saint and spiritual leader who lived in the area during the 12th century. Local pilgers often come to seek blessings, offer prayers, and make offerings of food, flowers, or money.
Kalpak Travel offers a day trip to Yangykala as part of its Best of Turkmenistan tour. Instead of camping, which is also possible, we drive from Avaza for approximately 4 hours one way.
Upon reaching Yangykala, we will be greeted by a stunning panoramic view of the canyons and cliffs that make up this natural wonder. The word “Yangykala” translates to “fire fortresses” in the local Turkmen language, and it is not hard to see why. Afterward, we continue further north (30 km/1 hr) to discover the sparkling Yangysuw canyons, diving into the precipice of the Kara-Bogaz gulf. From the fiery red of Mars to the blinding snow-white of the moon, the canyons offer a unique range of colors to behold. Finally, we take a farewell glance at the canyons before setting back off towards the Caspian shore, crossing the boundless empty steppes of the region.