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April 22, 2009

San Pedro de Atacama and Kari Gorge

Filed under: Chile 2009, Travel — anotherheader @ 5:59 am

The Salt Mountain Range

The Salt Mountain Range

Having come from Patagonia, we had been programmed to expect the weather to change on a daily if not hourly basis.  In the Atacama Desert, some days are hotter and some days are cooler, but it would be headline news if it rained.  When we woke early on our second day in San Pedro, the weather felt like a carbon copy of the previous day.  Yesterday’s weather had been perfect with cloudless blue skies, so that was a good thing.

Our pack member from San Pedro de Atacama

Our pack member from San Pedro de Atacama

The night before we had arranged for bikes to be available to us in the morning.   In the soft light before sunrise, we took the bikes out and headed the short distance to the well-maintained center of small village of San Pedro de Atacama.  When we arrived, we shared the hard-packed dirt roads with just the town’s dogs.  It wasn’t long before we had collected a pack of dogs and were leading them through the town.  Dogs love bikes, after all.  Alas, the dogs didn’t quite know what to do when we stopped to take pictures.  The pack would start to spread, pausing only to the mark its territory on an adobe wall or an emerging civic worker’s leg, while we slowed to examine San Pedro’s typical pastel blue doors or the dirt brown buildings or some other sight that caught our attention in the morning glow.  When it was time to leave San Pedro’s rustic, non-rectilinear structures behind and return to Tierra Atacama’s compound, our dog pack quickly reassembled and followed us closely out of town.  By the time we reached the hotel’s gates, our initial pack of eight dogs had dropped to three.  Two of the dogs understood that the ride was over when we got off the bikes and immediately turned back to the town in search of more cyclists to follow.  The third dog wanted to go with us into the hotel.  Apparently, he had heard that the food at Tierra Atacama was very good.

Our pack San Pedro de Atacama at dawn

Our pack San Pedro de Atacama at dawn

After breakfast, for our guided morning excursion, we headed out on mountain bikes with a Brazilian couple and our guide, Salvador, to the Sejas Lagoons.  Along our flat 10 km ride, Salvador would stop and have us taste the local vegetation that was typically either sweet or salty and always fibrous.  The ride ended when we reached the mirror smooth, intensely colored, small salt lakes of the Sejas Lagoons.  After some exploration and flamingo spotting, we donned our swimsuits and went for a float in the buoyant waters of the brine lake.  At the surface, the water was cold.  Deeper down, when the lake turned dark blue, the water was comfortably warm.  We all floated like corks in the dense brine, but none of us lingered long as floating meant staying in the frigid surface waters.  Back on shore, we rinsed off as well as we could with fresh water before heading back to the hotel in the van.

Wading in the Sejas Lagoon:  Not bad for a 67 year old super model

Wading in the Sejas Lagoon: Not bad for a 67 year old super model

Following a shower to wash off the remaining salt and a light lunch, it was time for our afternoon excursion.  In the van with Salvador and the driver, we headed out on the road to the Salt Mountain Range passing our early morning’s dog pack now running far out of town with another group of cyclists.  Tierra Atacama takes multiple excursions to the Salt Mountain Range area and the afternoon’s trip focused on the Kari Gorge.  The Salt Mountain Range is a geological formation where the salt deposits have been moved upwards by uplifting forces.  With the high salt content, the rocks in this area are hard and resistant to wind erosion while at the same time being easily eroded when the rare flood occurs.  This balance of forces results in a unique landscape and the Kari Gorge.

Becky and Salvador in Kari Gorge

Becky and Salvador in Kari Gorge

Leaving the van, our hike followed the rim of a red rock cliff and then dropped down on a gray sand dune to the floor of the valley.  All of this was interesting, but when we turned into Kari Gorge the terrain was unlike anything we had ever seen.  Kari Gorge starts shallow and then soon turns into a steep walled U-shaped labyrinth.  It winds back and forth through the rust red colored rock that is often tipped with white salt deposits.  As we followed along the gorge, the floor of the dry riverbed drops through steep, waterless waterfalls, tunnels under a collapsed rock wall, and twists and bends back and forth.  Being shaped rapidly and very infrequently by rushing water, the gorge was different from the desert canyons I am more familiar with.  On the bottom of the gorge there is little sand, gravel, or loose rocks that you might expect in a dry streambed.  Instead the ground underfoot is solid rock.  If there were any vegetation around, you would have to search hard to find it.  At times the gully feels so symmetrically rounded that you half expect to see a big ball to come rolling down the curved slot of the gorge.  In a flash flood, this would be a very bad place to be.  There’s not much worry of that happening, though.  The last time the canyon had significant flowing water was over twenty years ago.

Descending a dry waterfall in Kari Gorge

Descending a dry waterfall in Kari Gorge

I took tons of pictures.  Though, in many ways, this is a photographers dream location with the myriad unusual shapes and tones, it is also difficult to fully capture the feel of the gorge in a short visit as the ideal light conditions varied dramatically with the twists and turns of the canyons.  In other words, my pictures don’t do the experience justice.  You’ll just have go there and see it yourself.  For me, this was one of the most unusual, surprising, and impressive natural features I have seen, anywhere.

Another dry waterfall in the Kari Gorge

Another dry waterfall in the Kari Gorge

We reached Tierra Atacama’s van before we emerged from the gorge.  As usual, the van had relocated to save time by making our trek a point-to-point hike rather than a loop.  In this case, the van moved as far up the canyon as it could go to meet us.

Back at Tierra Atacama’s compound, we drank Pisco Sours and made plans for tomorrow, our departure day.  It seems that every place in Chile has their recipe for Pisco Sours.  Tierra Atacama’s formula is particularly good.  Needing to pack and with plans to get up very early for our excursion to El Tatio Geysers the next morning, it was a quick dinner and an early evening.

The curves of Kari Gorge

The curves of Kari Gorge

More pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/SanPedroDeAtacamaDay2#

A shaft of light on the tunnel section of Kari Gorge

A shaft of light on the tunnel section of Kari Gorge

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1 Comment »

  1. Amazing pictures!

    Comment by readersguide — March 28, 2011 @ 2:24 pm


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