In to Atacama we go!

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

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In the middle of nowhere!

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-Arctic place on Earth, and is virtually sterile because it is blocked from moisture on both sides by the Andes Mountains and by the Chilean Coast Range. The cold Humboldt Current and the anticyclone of the Pacific are essential to keep the dry climate of Atacama Desert. The average rainfall in the Chilean region of Antofagasta is just 1 mm per year. Some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. It is so arid that mountains that reach as high as 6,885 meters are completely free of glaciers and, in the southern part from 25°S to 27°S, may have been glacier-free throughout the Quaternary though permafrost extends down to an altitude of 4,400 meters and is continuous above 5,600 meters. Studies by a group of British scientists have suggested that some river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.

 

Some locations in the Atacama do receive a marine fog known locally as the Camanchaca, providing sufficient moisture for hypolithic algae, lichens and even some cacti. But in the region that is in the "fog shadow" of the high coastal crest-line, which averages 3,000 m height for about 100 km south of Antofagasta, the soil has been compared to that of Mars. Due to its otherworldly appearance, the Atacama has been used as a location for filming Mars scenes, most notably in the television series Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets.

 

In 2003, a team of researchers published a report in Science magazine titled "Mars-like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life" in which they duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars Landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth in this regard and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions.

Sunset at Socaire Village
Alonso de Ercilla characterized it in La Araucana, published in 1569: "Towards Atacama, near the deserted coast, you see a land without men, where there is not a bird, not a beast, nor a tree, nor any vegetation."

 

The Atacama is sparsely populated. In an oasis, in the middle of the desert, at about 2000 meters elevation lies the village of San Pedro de Atacama. Its church was built by the Spanish in 1577. In pre-hispanic times, before the Inca Empire, the super-arid interior was inhabited mainly by the Atacameno tribe. It is most notable for the construction of fortified towns called pucaras, one of which can be seen a few miles from San Pedro de Atacama.

 

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries when under the Spanish Empire towns grew along the coast shipping ports for silver produced in Potosí and other mines. During the 19th century the desert came under control of Bolivia, Chile and Peru and soon became a conflictive zone due to unclear borders and the discovery of nitrate there. After the War of the Pacific in which Chile annexed most of the desert, cities in the zone grew into big international ports, and many Chilean workers migrated there.

 

We departed at 08.00 to the Atacama Salt Flat which is the largest salt flat in Chile. It is located 55 km south of San Pedro de Atacama and surrounded by mountains and has no drainage outlets. To the east it is enclosed by the main chain of the Andes, while to the west lies a secondary mountain range of the Andes called Cordillera de Domeyko. Large volcanoes dominate the landscape, including the Licancabur, Acamarachi, Aguas Calientes and the Láscar. The latter is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile. All of them are located along the eastern side of the Salar de Atacama, forming a generally north-south trending line of volcanoes that separate it from smaller endorheic basins.


The salt flat encompasses 3,000 km², is about 100 km long and 80 km wide, which makes it the Americas' second largest and is also the second in the world, after Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (10,582 km²). Its average elevation is about 2,300 m. The topography of the core portion of the salar exhibits a high level of roughness, which is due to that the surface of this area is permanently free of water, unlike the most of the other salt flats, as for example the Salar de Uyuni, which is periodically covered with shallow water.

Our group at the Miscanti Lagoon
It contains 40% of the world's lithium reserves and Laguna Chaxa (Wikipedia) in the Flamingos National Reserve.  After spending some time walking around the Salt Flat and watching the Flamingos eat at Laguna Chaxa we drove to Toconao Village for a visit of its church and main square. We then headed for the beautiful Altiplano Lagoons Miscanti and Meniques. After a long walk we lunched with a beautiful view of the Meniques Lagoon. Our group was completely fascinated by the beautiful surreal scenery.

 

After lunch we drove through the Callejon Varelas and come to Aguas Calientes Salt Flat and after that we come to the Tuyajto Lagoon. Back on the road again we stopped at Socaire Village to see the 18:00 sunset while we drank coffee and tea. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama at around 19:00 and were informed that Space Agency had tried to contact us about changing our initial Space Tour that was supposed to be from 21:00 to 22:00 to the next day at 23:00. We reluctantly accepted and went for dinner at El Blanco Restaurant.

pearcetoyou says:
Very interesting blog!
Posted on: Apr 30, 2011
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In the middle of nowhere!
In the middle of nowhere!
Flying flamingos at Salar de Ataca…
Flying flamingos at Salar de Atac…
Sunset at Socaire Village
Sunset at Socaire Village
Our group at the Miscanti Lagoon
Our group at the Miscanti Lagoon
The beautiful Miscanti Lagoon
The beautiful Miscanti Lagoon
Happy Face
Happy Face
On the shore of the Miscanti Lagoon
On the shore of the Miscanti Lagoon
The Miscanti reflection
The Miscanti reflection
Lunch at Meniques Lagoon
Lunch at Meniques Lagoon
Pedro at Tuyajto Lagoon
Pedro at Tuyajto Lagoon
The beautiful colors of Tuyajto La…
The beautiful colors of Tuyajto L…
Pedro, Daniel and I at Tuyajto Lag…
Pedro, Daniel and I at Tuyajto La…
Daniel in the Atacama Desert
Daniel in the Atacama Desert
a stop for some coffee and sunset …
a stop for some coffee and sunset…
Elsa and Rute Marques in the middl…
Elsa and Rute Marques in the midd…
On the road to Salar de Atacama
On the road to Salar de Atacama
Flying flamingos at Salar de Ataca…
Flying flamingos at Salar de Atac…
Church in Toconao Village
Church in Toconao Village
Toconao Village bell
Toconao Village bell
Interior of the Toconao Village Ch…
Interior of the Toconao Village C…
Meditating in neverland
Meditating in neverland
In the middle of the Salar de Atac…
In the middle of the Salar de Ata…
The Salar de Atacama and I
The Salar de Atacama and I
A little lake in the Salar de Atac…
A little lake in the Salar de Ata…
Pedro and Nelson in the Atacama De…
Pedro and Nelson in the Atacama D…
Salar de Atacama flamingos
Salar de Atacama flamingos
Elsa, Pedro and their reflections
Elsa, Pedro and their reflections
Cactus Door in Toconao Village
Cactus Door in Toconao Village
Little microorganisms waiting to b…
Little microorganisms waiting to …
Flamingos in the lagoon
Flamingos in the lagoon
Flamingos in the Laguna Chaxa in t…
Flamingos in the Laguna Chaxa in …
Our group next to Laguna Chaxa in …
Our group next to Laguna Chaxa in…
Laguna Chaxa in the Flamingos Nati…
Laguna Chaxa in the Flamingos Nat…
A Flamingo
A Flamingo
Rute and Miscanti Lagoon
Rute and Miscanti Lagoon
Micanti Lagoon contrast of colors
Micanti Lagoon contrast of colors
Meditating in Miscanti
Meditating in Miscanti
The road down to Miscanti
The road down to Miscanti
Our table at Meniques Lagoon
Our table at Meniques Lagoon
Meniques Lagoon
Meniques Lagoon
Pedro... always with his Canon tak…
Pedro... always with his Canon ta…
Me and the frozen Tuyajto Lagoon
Me and the frozen Tuyajto Lagoon
Sunset on the mountains
Sunset on the mountains
Panorama of Meniques Lagoon
Panorama of Meniques Lagoon
Panoramic of Miscanti Lagoon
Panoramic of Miscanti Lagoon
Panorama of Tuyajto Lagoon
Panorama of Tuyajto Lagoon
Panorama of Atacama mountains
Panorama of Atacama mountains
San Pedro de Atacama
photo by: eefab