Saturday, December 12, 2009

Argentina's Arizona

The cathedral, Talampaya. Photo: Aya PadrĂ³n

Argentina is like North America upside down. At the bottom you have the glaciers and frozen, inaccessible winters of Alaska and northern Canada. A bit higher, near Esquel, snow caps rocky mountains, their pine-sided slopes reminiscent of Colorado, Wyoming. I've never been up to Salta and Jujuy provinces, but in my mind their stand-in is the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas/northern Mexico.

And last week, on a five-day rental car roadtrip out of Mendoza, I found Arizona. Flat, dusty desert stretches, unexpected ridge passes wound by caminos sinuosos, ancient-cut canyons, colored rock photogenically eroded. So...maybe Arizona+Utah.

The best, of course, lay within protected parks: La Rioja's Parque Nacional Talampaya, and, 80km down the highway in San Juan, Parque Provincial Ischigualasto. I hit both in one day, which, although leaving no time for the more attractive touring options of mountain biking or trekking, did allow me to see the major attractions. Scroll down and you can too.

Between the walls of Talampaya's canyon--the only Pre-Cambrian canyon in the world that...something or other. The tour was in Spanish and geology is complicated.

A view up The Chimney, a vertical concave scoop in the redstone wall that produces some trippy echoes when you yell in it.

Out of the canyon. The right-most formation is "El Monje" (The Monk). In the distance, the outline of a chain of 6,000m+ nevados that predate the Andes by a few hundred million years.

Ischigualasto (more commonly known as Valle de la Luna) was slightly underwhelming (could have been the 100-degree heat). But its contrasts with Talampaya, despite being so close, were fascinating.

"La Cancha de Bochas" (The Bocce Court)

The Valley of the Moon's two most notable features: eroded yellow pillars and the long, low redstone ridge that runs along the eastern border.

*Note: For more, keep your eyes on Matador Trips, where I hope to publish a guide on these two and one other western Argentinean park in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Call It a Vow

I will climb this peak.

Name: Cerro Aconcagua
Height: 6,962 meters (22,841 feet)--the tallest mountain outside of Asia
Location: Mendoza Province, Argentina, 15 miles from the Chilean border
Location of photo: Parque Provincial Aconcagua
Days till climb: Undetermined...