WHERE TO STAY
Trimouns: the largest talc quarry in the world
Established in 1905, this vast talc quarry is situated at 1800m altitude above the Ax valley in the commune of Luzenac in the high Ariège. It produces 400,000 tons of talc per year, employing 310 permanent workers and 110 seasonal workers. Because of its high elevation the activity at the quarry is restricted to the period from April to November but the factory functions year round using the talc extracted during the warm months.
There is one guided tour per day from mid-May to mid-October — enquire at the tourist office in Ax-les-Thermes.
The mines of the Biros valley
Located in the western corner of Ariège, the Biros valley has a rich mining history.
"When God came here it was night then, and he carved the land with blows of a hatchet. But as he left, he was seized with remorse and threw over his shoulder a handful of ore" -- so says the shepherd of the Biros."
With that, he set down the contours of this land:
A mountain with deep, steep valleys, shaken during the geologic eras, which rise up to jagged ridges as high as 2880 metres elevation. Man has lived there for a long time and generation after generation of farmers and peasants advanced on the forests in order to survive on these slopes. The discovery of a seam of argentiferous lead in 1830 brought an unhoped for wealth to this mountain land.
The rare and unusual lherzolite in the Ariège Pyrenees
Geologists have a field day at the l'étang de Lherz, where this magmatic rock was pushed out of the earth's crust during the formation of the Pyrenees.
The étang (lake) de Lers, in the canton of Massat, draws many visitors by virtue of its beautiful setting, as the point of departure of numerous walks in the high mountains, for its cross-country ski domain and the mountain grazing pastures surrounding it where cows, horses and sheep spend the summer months. It is also a little paradise for geologists and mineraologists who come from far away to see the famous Lherzolite, a magmatic rock belonging to the family of peridotites.
The Valier glacier (or Arcouzan )
The little white patch visible in summer on the northeast slope of the Mont Valier is the lone glacier in
the Ariège Pyrenees.
This small glacier is singular in many ways :
- the easternmost in the Pyrenees -- that is, the last one before the Mediterranean
- the most isolated of the chain (the nearest one is the Aneto glacier, 40 km away)
- the most difficult and dangerous to access in the Pyrenees
- the only one below 3000 m altitude
- the only glacier in the department of Ariège
- one of the smallest glaciers in the Pyreneen chain but it doesn't seem to be shrinking, at any rate not as rapidly as the other ones (to be confirmed with the results of the 2012 expedition)
The tufa waterfall of Roquefort-les-Cascades
In the Cathar Pyrenees, just off the D1 road between Foix and Laroque d'Olmes, lies a tiny village named for the unusual 30 metre waterfall just above it. The water from the spring that feeds these falls is very calcareous, and calcium deposits form on the rocks and moss over which it flows. When the vegetation underneath the deposits dies, it ferments, and the beige crust left behind has a porous texture resembling a sponge. This type of cascade, called a Tufa waterfall, is fragile and rare.