Chile: Altiplano

Updated 30 August 2001
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Climbing into the altiplano of Chile, from San Pedro de Atacama toward Argentina / Paso Sico on Ruta 23.

Socaire, pop 300, elev 3218m/10600ft. This village dates to precolumbian times, and is notable for its farming terraces and buildings of volcanic rock and thatched roofs. For a close-up of the "upside-down" Moon, see here.

Continuing to climb via Ruta 23 / Callejón Varela.

Laguna Miscanti, at an altitude of 4350m/14300ft, flanked by Cerro Miscanti (left: 5622m/18400ft) and Laguna and Cerro Miñiques (right: 5910m/19400ft). Part of the (highly disconnected) Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos.

Sunset on the altiplano. The temperature dropped very rapidly.

The altiplano along Ruta 27 toward Argentina / Paso Jama, along the Bolivian border, at an altitude of about 4500m/15000 ft. This is the area of Llano de Chajnantor, where the enormous multinational radio telescope ALMA is under construction.

Wild (and timid) vicuñas -- the most endangered of the four species of camelids (the others are guanacos, llamas, and alpacas).

The vegas de Quepiaco, a swampy salty habitat at 4400m/14400ft.

Sector Salar de Pujsa of Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. This stunning green lake was beginning to freeze around the edges.

After cresting out at 4600m/15100ft, one reaches a spectacular valley containing sector Salar de Tara - Aguas Calientes of Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. This environment truly felt like another planet. At this altitude, the atmospheric pressure is half what it is at sea level. I capped an empty water bottle tightly here, then took it down to sea level the next day, with impressive results (last photo).

These looming erosional rock formations are quite striking. Some look as though melted, others resemble human figures.

Some very strange "UFO"-shaped clouds appeared.

Salar de Aguas Calientes. Down in the pampas, herds of vicuñas or llamas could be seen grazing.

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