Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Scenic surrealism

From Mendoza to San Jaun, San Juan to San Augustin del Valle Fertil. We arrived in this quiet little town of 3000 specifically to check out some of the natural parks in the area. First off: Parque Provincial Ischigualasto and Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Some of you may have been to Drumheller or Dinosaur Park in Alberta. Picture that kind of landscape, but add to that dashes of colour from the most surreal of palettes, cracked creekbeds of red that haven´t seen water in ages and geological formations that really do look like another planet.

From the upper edges, the wind blew sand across the open canyons, the light filtered through a veil of gray, while rays from the harsh sun sent shafts of colour onto dunes in the distance. It was a pretty wild place to be. Our caravan of vehicles were led further into the valley, passing such famous monuments as La Catedral, El Submarino and El Hongo leading us to the unique and bizarre phenomena called Cancha de Bochas.

Perfectly round rocks, some the size of soccer balls, on the desert floor. No real pattern to speak of, yet, they almost look like they could have been placed by humans. This area has gone through such geological turmoil that to have caused this scape is a real testament to the power of nature. And in the process, the valley walls have revealed not only the largest dinosaur skeleton ever excavated, but also the oldest at 230 million years. There are fossils here that are considered to be the origins of dinosaurs. Like we said, a pretty wild place indeed.

Next stop, was Parque Nacional Talampaya, a UNESCO world heritage site an hour from Ischigualasto. This place blew our minds! Blasting with park rangers across a desert flecked with guanacos (wild llama-like animals) towards towering walls of deep red jutting impressively from the sand surrounding us. Ancient "petroglifos" from 600 years ago carved on stones that seemed to have just fallen off the canyon wall yesterday. When we entered Cañon de Talampaya, we passed into a realm of awe.

The cliffs went straight up 150 meters and the canyon is 4km long. Carved by water centuries ago are rounded impressions that go the height of the walls, almost like perfect cylinders of rock were removed, leaving half cylinder outlines that create vertical waves along the canyon. One of our favourite parts was the Chimenea del Eco where you can shout while standing in one of these rock tubes and the resulting echo from the other side returns louder that the original and echoes a half dozen times before disappearing. Condors nest on the cliffs and parrots swoop from tree to tree in the ancient bosques below. It is almost inconceivable how a canyon like this can rise from such a flat, sandy environment. Or rather, how the land falls apart around it and becomes the desert. I imagine Uluru has much the same impression, but Talampaya has the added bonus of being able to travel through the twisting confines of this above-ground canyon. It is a difficult place to get to - out in the middle of nowhere far from any villages - but well worth the hot, dusty journey.

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