Stunning Vistas at Torres del Paine

Trip Start Nov 07, 2012
Trip End Nov 20, 2012

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Flag of Chile  , Patagonia,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wow!  We managed to visit Torres del Paine on two beautiful, sunny days with winds that at times gusted but which were definitely less than we had been warned they could be.

Torres del Paine national park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978 and is renowned as one of the most remote, beautiful, and unspoiled places in the world.  Although we encountered other travelers, it was still a pristine and less traveled destination.  The landscape is rich and diverse in dramatic geological formations, which combine in several distinct ecosystems, from the wind-bent grasses of the plains to the sheer, frozen cliffs of the Andes.  Here we were able to see condors soaring above, guanaco, a cousin to the llama and camel, rhea (a large flightless bird related to the larger ostrich),  Andean gray fox, huemul (a nearly extinct Andean deer) and rabbits.  Unfortunately we saw no puma which also inhabit the region.

We arrived at our hotel located on the banks of Lago Grey which fronts the Lago Grey Glacier and hiked the shores of this lake.  The park itself comprises about 935 square miles and is part of the Paine Massif, granite mountains that emerge suddenly from the plains of the Patagonian steppes and are capped by crumbly sedimentary rock that used to lie on the valley floor.  This granite intrusion-one of the most recognizable mountain profiles in the world-was formed about 12 million years ago, making the Paine Massif quite young geologically.  Sedimentary rock and magma collided violently and were thrust high into the air.  After the ice age, when the ice fields covering the base of the massif began to melt, water and wind carved the rock into huge towers of varying shapes, at heights up to 9,000 feet.  Some of these are covered in permanent ice.  At our viewing level, the crushed rock and sediment colors the lakes in the park from a milky gray to yellows and greens and the dramatic blue caused by blue algae.

The glaciers of the park are in quick retreat-up to 56 feet a year for the last 90 years, creating a remarkable study of soil creation and plant development from bare rock to thick forest.  The flora of the park ranges from grassland to southern beech forests.  Many parts of the park wre too remote for the cattle and sheep ranchers, and so they exist today in a pristine state.  More than 40 mammals make their home in the park.  Some of the world's rarest bird species besides the Andean condor are found here, namely the crested cara cara and the black vulture.

Beautiful waterfalls such as the Salto Grande also grace the landscape.  Fantastic scenery!
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