The nature in the Utsjoki area is truly unique. The steep-sloped Utsjoki river valley is one of Finland's national landscapes and the views around the River Tenojoki are just as rugged and imposing. In contrast with the river valleys and lower fell slopes, the highlands are almost treeless.

Norway lemming. Photo: Reijo Nenonen, Vastavalo.fi

Utsjoki Geology

Signs left by the previous Ice Age, the Weichsel Ice Age, can clearly be seen in the topography at Utsjoki. As a result of the power unleashed by the continental ice sheet, a layer of loose soils was deposited on the ancient bedrock. The flow of melt water in the tunnels in the bottom of the ice sheet rounded and sorted the rock material. The esker ranges of Utsjoki and Teno were formed from the gravel and sand deposited by the melt water.

Utsjoki's bedrock can be divided into two characteristically different areas. The western side of the Utsjoki river valley is made up of light grey or reddish granulites, the eastern side of grey and banded gneiss.

Trees at the Forest Limit

Utsjoki is located to the north of the taiga, the coniferous forest zone. Here the forest limit is made up of mountain birches (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii). On the almost treeless highlands, the dry, shrub-covered heaths are interspersed by broad mires and nutrient-poor fell lakes.

Here and there you can see the dark green, low pines with densely-growing branches, which remind us of warmer times. Even old coniferous forests grow in the gentler climate of the river valley. Halfway through the 20th century pines were also planted in stands in some places.

There are also mountain birch stands in the area, but they have been all but destroyed by the winter (Operophthera brumata) and autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata), leaving only old decaying stumps.

Life on the Edge

The ranges of many plants and animals are at their extreme in Utsjoki, and some have even evolved into their own subspecies in the area. There are over 600 species of vascular plants in the area, including many rarities.

Golden Eagle. Photo: Martti Rikkonen

Utsjoki has around a hundred nesting bird species, many of which are specifically northern species. Visitors to the area may be lucky enough to see the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) or the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus).