Triassic Park

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Jun 16, 2012

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Flag of Argentina  , La Rioja,
Friday, March 23, 2012

When I asked for nearby attractions, the hostel in Cordoba rattled off some really lovely-looking towns in the surrounding mountains. I'm sure they'd have been nice, but they didn't look that dissimilar to what you might find at home. Then they showed me pictures of Ischigualasto Park. Known as the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) this place really looked like it was on another planet!

Like most places off the main tourist trail, it took a bit of a trip to get there. I caught an overnight bus to San Juan, then another 4hr bus the next morning to San Agustin de Valle Fertil, which is the closest "town". By the time I finished I was way closer to Santiago in Chile than I was to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately Parque Provincial Ischigualasto is not particularly well catered to tourism. Every few hours, you join a ranger-led convoy through the park, and must inevitably travel at his pace. There are no individual visits permitted, and you can't camp. But the scenery was definitely still worth the sidetrack.

As I'd guessed, the park was World Heritage listed by UNESCO, but not at all for the reason I'd assumed. Apparently this desolate wasteland used to endure flooding of biblical proportions about 230 million years ago. Those disasters led to Ischigualasto now revealing the most complete fossil record of the Triassic period anywhere on earth. So far scientists have unearthed 56 different genera of vertebrates from this historical forensics lab, including the direct ancestors of modern mammals.

On our guided loop we saw one of these famous deposits, the eery moonscape of the Valle Pintado, giant marble-like volcanic balls known as Cancha de Bochas and some gravity defying pinnacles including El Submarino. Ironically, the protection afforded to this park ultimately means that the natural erosion process will continue to eat away at these spires until they eventually collapse. No need to race to the travel agent and book the ticket yet, though. Something tells me they'll still be here for a few more hundred/thousand years...

[285 days on the road]
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