Who told that there is no mountains or canyons in Lithuania? Well, technically, it is true. Lithuania is located in Eastern European plain where most of the biggest countries in the world without mountains are located. But if you are not into idealistic viewpoint too much and enjoy things more in a pragmatic manner, pits around Naujoji Akmenė (lit. New stone), will give you the feels and visuals of those which can find in actual mountains. While this place might seem super uninteresting for someone who lives in a mountainous area, but currently it attracts more and more Lithuanian tourists.
The crown jewel of the pits in this region is so called Mars canyons, or simply Menciai limestone pits. It is an abandoned pit from the Soviet era, with empty machines still left there as it was used just yesterday. I’m not sure what is the reasoning behind leaving the place like this, but it looks like the company just moved to a nearby place and left this one for the nature to consume it.
I’ve seen many photos of the place, but I didn’t expect it to be so big. The path on foot starts near a big barrier which is obviously unpassable by a car. From the very beginning, I’ve noticed big naked limestone cliffs peeping out of hills covered by a forest. This alone creates a landscape which one can hardly find anywhere else in Lithuania. Give it more time for the nature to take the ugly roads connecting the site, and this place will be a true haven from the industrious cities. But, currently, part of the flora around is still covered by a dust, which during a dry hot day like today seem to suffocate me as well.
It looks like that after some digging water starts to pour from everywhere. Big spaces are covered by unnatural swamps filled with various flora and fauna. As I walked I heard how frogs are jumping into the water to hide from the upcoming predator. Big birds are plenty nearby, though I can see, but it hard to believe that the place used to be a limestone pit not too far from now.
The true gem of the pit hides in a corner of it, where it must have been the last place where limestone was excavated from a huge wall. One can find the place walking towards a giant crane which seems to be observable from any point in the site. I couldn’t wait to see how big the thing is, but while we were walking there, the road started to get wet. A small stream runs through the place and it looked like a new one because the water seemed to be clean opposite to everything else around, completely overgrown with flora. It led us to a narrow passage surrounded by cliffs, the Mars canyons.
I’ve seen so many pictures that the place felt familiar. I was even looking for angles to photograph the pit, which I knew, from the photos I saw, was possible to make. Looking like tall solid rock walls standing there for ages, these cliffs might trick you. They are very fragile and one can take out pieces of it by bare hands. I would not recommend getting to the edges of it, the pit is closed for a reason, it is a dangerous place if you are not careful.
What looks like a useless fragile stone, limestone is used as a building material in the making of cement. It is a sedimentary rock, which means it was formed basically due to constant pressure and takes around 10% of all sedimentary rocks. Even though I don’t know any karst formations nearby, limestone due to Its solubility is an often reason for it. Limestone is formed mainly from skeletons of ancient sea organisms such as mollusks or corals.
This abandoned industrial area looks to have formed Its own micro-ecosystem. With every step I took, in this rarely-walked place, someone seemed to move to another place. Who exactly is moving, it is impossible to notice. They are hiding within water grasses which are growing in a pool filled with water flowing from God knows where on a land which still looks like a dusty road. A bizarre environment looks like been for ages here, but still feels something like nature in a sandbox.
The wetlands end as we came to the end of the canyon and the road rapidly turned upward to the levels which are supposed to be naturally normal in the surrounding area. It might sound like all the fun ends here, but we are yet to walk to the crane we saw from the moment we entered the pits. And it was even further than I thought walking in the canyon, the machine is so bizarrely big, that except for ships and planes, I haven’t seen anything even remotely as big. It appears like the canyon, at least partly, was dug with this giant apparatus, to the point when smaller machines were able to come in to continue the work.
It is also a huge viewpoint tower as there is a passage to the top of Its crane. Sadly, we were excited for a short time only because soon we have noticed the alarm systems installed. Nevertheless, as we were walking back, one of us decided to try his luck and triggered it. Annoyed by what might come next we increased the pace to leave the scene of the crime faster. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were struck by a rain, which was a real refreshment in such a hot day. We got back to our car without any other major happenings.
While I saw quite a lot of pictures of an abandoned Menciai limestone pit, I didn’t know much about the working ones. First, we went to the clay pits in Naujoji Akmenė. At this point, I really lacked enthusiasm as I didn’t expect much and didn’t think that anyone is going to let us in. Even though it was Saturday, we were met by a train transporting clay from the pits. The proof that the place is definitely working made it look like a waste of time to me. I was expecting that once we get to the area, a guard will meet us and show us the way out.
A good thing that I was with a way more optimistic company because we got in without any problems and what I saw there strongly surprised me.
Clay, obviously, has a reddish tone and the whole area was colored red, this alone gave an unusual view, as this color is rarely met in nature.
At some points, even in a working area, we found a lot of green plants growing out of clay. The contrast between the two colors was amazing to observe.
Though there are no canyons here, the vast area of pits gave me the same feeling I get in mountains. The space is so big that I don’t get an idea how big are the objects I see.
In front of us was a few machines similar to the ones we saw in Menciai limestone pit.
On the right, there was plenty of gigantic sand piles, which with some imagination could be easily perceived as mountains.
The crown jewel of the site was on the left, an enormous open space to a valley filled with water which looked like an actual lake, with the hilly landscape behind it, which was obviously a part of the pit in the past because of Its unusual appearance.
What might look like an average place to a person living outside of this region, the panorama like this is really unique and beautiful to someone like me. Even though I travel and see a lot, finding something like this in my own country warms my heart.
Despite the fact that walking through clay was not the best thing for our shoes, we walked quite a big circle. We even saw a worker in one of those machines, letting other opportunistic adventurers climb to the top of the crane. We were attracted by the idea as well, but we didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t want to spam the worker with similar wishes. After all, it is not an amusement park and he could just kick us out for being here. Surprised by the beauty of this pit, we slowly walked back to the car to visit working limestone pits near Naujoji Akmenė.
Naujoji Akmenė limestone pits
The last and the least, Naujoji Akmenė limestone pits from the satellite maps looks like a really huge area. For that reason and for being tired, we decided to risk going inside in with our own car. Still, it took a while until we reached limestone wall. The cliffs look really similar to Menciai limestone pits — Mars canyons just isn’t consumed by nature. Since it is still working pits, it contains piles of sand or stones around resembling mini mountains.
After a long day of traveling, I was already full of impressions and the landscape itself didn’t excite me too much. Walking around seemed like a pointless action because everything around looked like a copy/paste Landschaft. But the place left It marks nevertheless, it was an evening and the Sun was already starting to set beyond the horizon. For a second I could imagine like being a cowboy in a desert somewhere surrounded by mountains, watching a sunset.
Even knowing that the landscape of the pits surrounding Naujoji Akmenė is man-made, it is still fun to visit the place, playfully imagining that you are somewhere else or even trying to make a photo from which it is impossible to tell the origins. For a local it is a must visit place in Lithuania, but for someone who grew up somewhere surrounded by mountains it might seem dull and I would suggest spending your time somewhere else.
Pro traveling tip: When illegally visiting a private area, leave your car somewhere where a guard would see it, otherwise you might end up locked in the place after he closes the gates.
This is a special entry of my travels in my homeland — Lithuania. For regular posts from my travels check out my blog every Monday.
Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
Design: Mantas Ališauskas