Gorges de Gouleyrous

Useful Information

Location: Autoroute A9 La Catalane, exit Perpignan Nord. D117 to Cases de Pène, then turn right on D9 to Tautavel. From Tautavel D9 towards Vingrau, turn left about 2 km from Tautavel.
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: GorgeGorge
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=850 m, A=107-120 m a.s.l..
Guided tours: self guided, D=45 min.
Photography: Allowed
Accessibility: No, no trail
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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The Gorges de Gouleyrous is a slot canyon or gorge, cut into the hard white limestone by the Verdouble river. The limestone was lifted and slanted by tectonic forces, which created a ridge west of Vingrau, which runs fron the northeast to the southwest. The river Verdouble flows from Paziols to Tautavel, from northwest to southeast. The river crosses the limestone in an almost straight line, an 850 m long cut through the limestone. The ground is full of dolly tubs, but the decline is rather small. Most of the year there is only little water in the river and the groge is a nice site to do some easy canyoning, swimming or riding a rubber boat.

Unfortunately this site, which is freely accesible, is well known to tourists and locals, and there are two campgrounds nearby. The result is a great number of visitors during summer, and all the resulting problems like noise, destruction and pollution. Even the water, which is an important source of drinking water, was polluted by feces. Until now no regulation worked, signs were ignored. The surrounding municipalities have now decided to develop the gorge, to reduce this vandalism. The area is cleaned and equipped with infrastructure like toilets and garbage bins. There will be a trail with plates explaining the landscape and the prehistory discovered in nearby Arago Cave. And then there will be frequent police patrols to make sure the rules are obeyed and massive penaltes are planned. Probaly the most important changes are the prohibition of swimming and the need for a fishing permit.

The drainage across mountain ridges is rather exceptional, it is either the result of massive erosional forces caused by melting glaciers at the end of a cold period, or by the effects caused by karstification. Water always looks for the easiest way down, so it does never cross hills, hills are actually the borders of the catchment areas of rivers. Theory one would by a blockade by a glacier. During the cold periods in the Ice Age of the last 2 Million years, the Pyrenees were glacified, and glaciers could have reached out the 40 kilometers to Tautavel. But current geologic knowledge tells us that this never happened.

The other theory is based on karstification. The limestone became karstified by water which drained to the springs of the valleys, and left the area as rivers. The formation of caves starts below the water table and is intensified at its surface. We guess the drainage on the southern side was more energetic than on the northern side, so the caves grew to the north "eating" the caves which drained to the north, until finally the water from the northern valey was flowing through the mountain underground. The cave continued to grow and finally collapsed. According to ths theory the gorge is actually a roofless cave.