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Stilfserjoch National Park
The Stilfserjoch National Park is one of the largest protected regions in the Alps. As an Alpine natural habitat, it embraces all the fundamental geological, botanical, and cultural forms. High glacial mountains, hanging terraces, deep valley floors coexist with an unspoiled natural landscape, a local culture that has been carefully cultivated over centuries, and an economy based on what the mountains and forests provide - these qualities mark the overall character of the National Park.
Geographically, the Stilfserjoch National Park extends over an area of 135,000ha, embracing the entire Ortler-Cevedale mountain-massif with its neighboring valleys. To the North, it touches the Swiss National Park, to the South, the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park in Trentino as well as the Adamello Regional Park in Lombardy; the Texelgruppe Nature Park lies to the East.
The National Park serves as the natural habitat for an abundance of animals, with the exception bears and wolves, which have been wiped out. Red deer, deer, red foxes, badgers, pine martens, squirrels, and other wild animals live in the mountain forests. The high Alpine meadows and cliffs are home to chamois, ibexes, and marmosets. With a little patience, you may even glimpse a snow rabbit or snow grouse, which change the coloring of their camouflage when summer passes to winter. Species of birds especially worth protecting rule the air: golden eagles, eagle owls, black woodpeckers, wood grouse, black cocks, white-throated dippers, Alpine jackdaws, rufous-tailed rock-thrushes, and nutcrackers. One should not neglect the assortment of butterflies - the Alpine Apollo - for example, as well as moths. They are unusually plentiful around Franzenshöhe. The opportunity to marvel once again at the bearded vulture in the wild, which had been on the verge of extinction, is something we can thank an initiative of the Stilfserjoch National Park. The Alpine salamander is perfectly well adapted to the short summers in the high mountains.
The Stilfserjoch National Park is a paradise for people who love flowers. The diversity of flowers, grasses, lichens, and mosses is great. At various altitudes, one will encounter different plant species. The conifer forest produces spruce, larches, and stone pine. Heaths of dwarf-shrub follow, as well as the Alpine meadow communities of "Kohlröschen" ( Nigritella rhellicani ), Arnica, and Edelweiß - an exceptional jewel. In the rockier regions, the survival artists such as Alpine moss campion (growing in a ball), Alpine toad flax crawling along the stony rubble, and the glacier buttercup with its succulent leaves, stake their claim. Spore forming mosses and lichens advance well into the glacial region.
Mountains and stones
Mountain peaks, cliffs, glaciers, and water are the characteristic geological features of the Park. The Alps formed out of the African and European tectonic plates, which folded over each other in primeval times. Metamorphic rock formations of the most diverse origin, created by enormous heat and pressure and brought to the surface, can be found throughout the park. These are, to name only a few, the schist in Vinschgau, the gneiss phyllites of Bormio, and the marble of Laas. In addition, we find cliffs that are overwhelmingly composed of lime and dolomite; they lie atop the schist layers, and form the summit structure of the Ortler, for example.
Roughly 1.5 million years ago, the earth experienced five successive ice ages, which contributed substantially to shaping the landscape. The resulting giant glacial ice fields expanded in the form of large valley tongues, and formed u-shaped valleys. As they retreated, they left behind moraines and talus that, among other things, created the Garda and Como lakes. The most spectacular glacial regions in the national park are found on the Stilfserjoch in the immediate vicinity of Berghotel Franzenshöhe. The enormous quantities of snow and ice represent valuable reserves of water that feed the hundreds of springs, babbling brooks, tranquil lakes, and churning waterfalls.
(Please note: portions of this text have been borrowed in altered form from the relevant web pages of the Stilfserjoch National Park.)