SOOS National Nature Reserve
The SOOS National Nature Reserve (also known as SOOS Hájek) was declared as such in 1964 and it covers an area of 221 hectares. The reserve is a complex of vast peat bogs and fens with numerous mineral spring effluents and emanations of pure carbon dioxide in mofettes, i.e. mud volcanoes. The reserve is accessible by a 1.2 km-long planked nature trail. The trail leads through the bed of a dried-up salt lake where an absolute European rarity known as the diatomite shield was formed from the shells of diatom algae living in the lake. The bizarre terrain is churned up by erosion and covered with yellow and white efflorescence of mineral salts. Since 2005, the SOOS NNR has been included in the network of Sites of European Community Significance.
The reserve is the natural habitat of a great variety of protected animal species, as well as a large number of wetland and halophyte plant species, e.g. the very rare halophyte coralroot orchid (Corallorhiza trifida). Moreover, the complex offers a geological exposition, a small zoo (a wildlife sanctuary), and a museum with an exhibition entitled The Nature of the Cheb District and the SOOS Reserve, as well as a new pavilion. An exhibition dedicated to the history of earth and palaeontology with large-scale reproductions of the paintings of Zdeněk Burian and life-size models of prehistoric reptiles is housed in the pavilion. The idea of opening a seismic information centre of the Czech-Bavarian Geopark had been contemplated for some time.
The unusual name of the reserve, i.e. SOOS, is probably derived from the German word Satz, which means sediment. The Soos NNR belongs among our most valuable nature reserves and it covers an area with vast peat bogs and mineral fens. The site had originally had been a small lake, which disappeared under layers of mineral sediments – diatomite. At a number of locations, the several metres thick diatomite layer was penetrated by deep mineral springs flowing from small 10 to 80 cm deep craters. They are quite unique in the Czech Republic and they include mofettes - i.e. dry carbon dioxide emanations, and false mud volcanoes with effervescent water and mud. The strongest is Císařský pramen (Imperial Spring) with a captured effluent; and the Věra Spring. A themed nature trail leads through the reserve (for an admission and accessible only on foot). Visiting the reserve is worthwhile at any time of the year because the mud volcanoes and mofettes manifest themselves differently during the various seasons of the year.
Kaolin was extracted in the area in the past. Narrow railway tracks and ruins of mining buildings remind us of the mining activities. Opposite the entrance to the reserve, you will find the SOOS Museum and next to it, the Museum of Prehistoric Animals. Not far from the reserve entrance, there is an old wooden granary and the wildlife sanctuary. There are also other points of interest worth visiting in the area. In the small village of Stodola not far from Nový Drahov a mill with a half-timbered barn has been preserved. Nature lovers will undoubtedly enjoy the Butterfly House in Žirovice where they may see live butterflies, as well as a large butterfly collection.