Göreme, Turkey - It's a bright sunny day in May when Ken and I embark on a trek along the evocatively named Love Valley in Turkey's Cappadocia province.
The basin's level footpath makes for easy walking. We skip lightly over stepping stones through the trickling rivulet grandiosely named Love River. Above our heads loom fantastic rock formations - smooth rock ledges, undulating walls, abstract shapes, shallow grottos, intricate honeycomb patterns scoured from the rock face by wind and rain.
This is one of the world's most bizarre landscapes. Some 10 million years ago, volcanic eruptions spread a thick layer of hot ash over Cappadocia. The ash hardened into a soft, porous stone called tufa. Through the ages, wind, water and sand have eroded the tufa, creating moonscape valleys like the one we're now in.
There are elaborate, even unearthly formations. Over the millennia, hard boulders were sometimes caught in the tufa and then protected the soil beneath from further erosion, creating tufa columns with slabs of stone perched on top. To me they look like magical mushrooms, sentinels in sun hats or perhaps the phallus of the Jolly Green Giant. But the locals call them fairy chimneys, and they do turn the landscape into an enchanted forest.
Early inhabitants of the region, discovering that the tufa is easily worked with basic tools, carved out cave dwellings. Even today, some villagers live in caves carved in conical tufa formations. Centuries of repeated carving and natural erosion have weakened some of these structures, making homes unsafe. Many villagers have moved to modern housing, leaving the old dwellings to collapse.
But in the village of Göreme, adventurous travellers can still spend the night in a fairy chimney. We debated this once-in-a-lifetime option but finally opted for a comfortable pension picturesquely wedged among the eerie structures.
As we hike on, the canyon widens into an area lushly planted with apricot orchards thriving in Cappadocia's rich volcanic soil.
To make the land even more fertile, farmers have carved thousands of dovecotes, rectangular niches in the tufa. The roosting pigeons' guano makes excellent fertilizer. (Don't try this at home.) The dovecotes add an extra mythical aura to the valley.
The malleable tufa has served many functions throughout history. When Christianity arrived in Cappadocia in the 11th century, monks carved churches and monasteries in the rock and painted the insides with crude frescoes. Many of these rock-hewn churches still survive and are now enclosed in an open-air museum. We spent a day there tramping paths, passing through tunnels and clambering up weather-worn stairways to admire the charming paintings.
But now we walk on, unaware that dark clouds are gathering overhead. A drop lands on my forehead, then two, then four. Suddenly we're caught in a downpour of biblical proportions. The deluge lasts just half an hour, and then the re-emerging sun turns the valley walls into a brilliantly coloured mosaic.
Soaked to the skin, we turn to head back to our cozy pension. But the smooth trail we'd followed is nowhere to be seen. As a result of the rainstorm, the gentle Love rivulet has been transformed into a full-blown fast-moving, whirling, gurgling river.
It takes us two hours to wade back in the growing current to our pension, where we congratulate ourselves on having made a wise, if wimpy, choice of accommodation.