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Known as Turkey's great salt lake, Lake Tuz is a sight every visitor to the Anatolia region (Asian Turkey) must see. Second-largest lake in the country, Lake Tuz is very salty, with the waters consisting of over 32% salt. And, as is common with large salt lakes, Lake Tuz is also home to a large population of flamingos. Located along the main highway between the capital city of Ankara and the sightseeing favorite of Cappadocia, Lake Tuz has none of the usual tourist accommodations and few amenities created for visitors. The spectacle of the marvelous expanse of water and salt flats brings people just to gaze on the unusual sight.
There are no settlements along the shore of Lake Tuz. The salt marshes caused by overflowing water in heavy rainfall years makes the soil south of the lake unable to support crops. Crops are grown near the northern part of the shore, watered by irrigation wells. Where that shoreline is located changes year-to-year and with the seasons. Lake Tuz occupies a depression where two inflowing, freshwater rivers, Pecenek Cayn and Melendiz Cayn, deposit their waters. With no outflow channel, the water forms a shallow lake. The water is only about a foot deep much of the year and seldom reaches over 5 feet in depth. By late summer, much of the water has evaporated, sometimes to the point of being nearly all dry. This seasonal evaporation leads to one of the lake's most startling features: the lake turns blood red on occasion.
Lake Tuz reaches its red phase through the evaporation of water needed by brine shrimp and plankton which feed on the dunaliella salina, a type of red algae. The red algae is the reason flamingos turn pink. The annual loss of the brine shrimp and plankton due to evaporation allows the red algae to 'bloom', or proliferate wildly, staining the water red. Later on during the summer, the water loss leads to the majority of the former lake becoming gleaming white salt flats. Local people harvest the salt. The resulting salt provides over 60% of Turkey's salt production. Twenty-two different minerals are deposited by evaporation, many of which are used by local cottage industries to produce skin creams and cosmetics.
Home to the Mediterranean Basin's largest flock of flamingos, the Lake Tuz flamingos nest and rear their young on a series of small islands in the southern part of the lake. Aerial surveys each year estimate the numbers of chicks hatched and raised. Sometimes those chicks number well over 10,000. Recent reductions in the amount of water flowing in to fill the lake have led to serious concerns over whether the flock will be able to survive in the future. A dam built in 1996 along one of the inflowing rivers had already reduced the amount of water needed to replenish the lake. Lake Tuz was reduced to 60% of its former size between 1987 and 2005.
Although Lake Tuz was declared a Special Environmental Protection Area in 2000, little action has been taken to actually protect the lake's water. The former freshwater Esmekaya Marshes have already dried up, disrupting the local economy which relied upon them. Additionally, illegal deep wells for the irrigation of sugar beet fields have lowered the water table, reducing the amount of ground water entering the lake basin. Further water disruptions endanger the salt water marshes that still exist. Another concern is that plans by a Chinese firm to use the area as an underground natural gas storage location will further degrade the lake's ecology. The process of building the storage chambers is also water-intensive.
Most tours of the Central Anatolia region include a short stop at Lake Tuz. Travelers often stop to wade in the shallow water, anticipating the white expanse to be similar to sand. Unexpectedly, they find that the 'sand' is really hard and rather sharp salt crystals, both along the shore and under the water. Wading is usually far more pleasant for those wearing flip-flops or water shoes. Restrooms are available, and vendors offer cosmetic concoctions and novelty souvenirs. Serious bird watchers will want to get off the main highway and travel to the southern parts of the lake where the flamingos can be seen. Although the large birds nest on the islands, they often feed on nearby ponds. Other waterfowl can be observed in the marshes near the lake. There are no lodgings available at the lake, but the nearby town of Sereflikochisar, six miles away, does have a couple of hotels.
Visiting Lake Tuz is usually a temporary stop on a trip from Ankara to breathtaking Cappadocia. The Cappadocia area is noted for its famous 'fairy chimneys' at nearby Goreme. The unusual geological features were created by soft volcanic rock weathering away to leave towers of rock. One of the 'chimneys' contains a church, and several were previously used as houses. The multiplicity of cave houses and hotels in the Cappadocia region allows visitors to experience the unusual geology of the area and learn of its storied history dating back to around 5000 BC. One of the most spectacular adventures is a guided tour of the Underground City at Derinkuyu. Several underground complexes in the area encourage visitors; a guided tour is the safest way to see the most spectacular sights. Hot air balloon tours and horseback tours are also available.
For more historically enlightening stops, tourists can visit the Guray Museum in Cappadocia where ceramics are displayed dating as far back as 5000 years. The Cappadocia Art & History Museum is another location where the past comes alive. Both of these facilities are located in caves, as are most of the hotels and many of the local attractions. Nearly all attractions involve some climbing, so they may not be appropriate for those with mobility issues. Still, Lake Tuz and its environs are a bucket-list destination with sights found nowhere else in the world.
*Estimates of the lake's size are not current and are continually changing.
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