Saturday, April 19, 2014

Argentina's Ruta 40.

One of my dreams is to drive the whole Ruta 40 (Route 40) in Argentina.  The Ruta 40 is more challenging because of its length and the extreme conditions that it traverses.  It extends 5.200 kilometers from Cabo Virgenes at the entrance of the Straits of Magellan’s in the Province of Santa Cruz, to La Quiaca in the border with Bolivia in the province of Jujuy.  My trip was confined to the northern end of the route in the province of Jujuy, starting in San Antonio de los Cobres and heading north.  The accommodations are scarce and spartan, and having a guide made photographic trip more productive. 

The Ruta 40 traversed a multitude of geological formations that in my opinion, encompasses landscapes similar to those in the southwestern United States and perhaps surpasses them in majesty and magnitude.  Just to give you an idea, in descending order above are some of the formations I encountered during the trip.  The Valley of the Moon was the most impressive; it should be noted that there is another valley in Argentina but farther south as well as one in Bolivia.  The green mountain was the most impressive to me; not too common to see green mountains unless they are covered by vegetation.  The third formation is called “The Hand” for obvious reasons followed by an eroded calcareous formation. The B&W image is of a ridge called the “Spine of the Dragon” and is located in the Horrolcal.  And finally, the Vulcan Tuzgle. It brought back memories of the geology course I took more than 50 years ago; it allowed me to recognize the dark obsidian flows as well as the mounds in the foreground where the lava flow terminated. I changed the colors to make the lava flow easier to see and found a video in Vimeo that will give a better appreciation as to the size of this volcano at

 La Ruta 40 parallels in some sectors the track of the “Tren de las Nubes” and several train stops and viaducts are encountered along the route.  La Polvorilla viaduct is a curved viaduct about 14,000 feet above sea level and approximately 740 feet long and 230 in heights.  I spent some time admiring this engineering feast, designed by an American engineer Richard Maury.  The train currently used is diesel powered; hat you see above is watering station from the olden days of steam engines.  The train is mostly used now for tourism and only runs during the summer; that is December to March in South America. I encounter a single British couple during my travels in the Ruta 40.  They were doing Chile and Argentina in a rented van (even Elvis is King here).

  I saw a mural of Padre Chifri painted in one of the piers supporting the viaduct along the route and wondered who is this person?  Padre Chifri whose real name was Sigfrido Moroder came to the Quebrada del Toro zone as a missionary and started backpacking to visit the various villages in his parochial territory.  Due to the difficulty of the terrain, Padre Chifri decided to use a paraglyder allowing him to visit several villages in one day.  He will climb a hill near a village and then fly to another.  During one of those flies he crashed, was severely injured and was limited to a wheelchair for several years.  He overcame the injuries, wrote a book titled “Despues del Abismo” (After the Abyss), and continued to work with his parishioners by establishing artisanal fairs to promote the local trades.  He died in 2011.  His work still continues today as represented by the mural in this school as well as the Alfarcito Center dedicated to the promotion of the artisanal work of the region. The center generates its electricity using solar power as well as the use of solar grills for the parrilladas.

The variety of fauna and flora is limited due to the altitude and dryness of the highlands.  The predominant animal was the llama, which has traditionally being the source of wool and meat for the Indians in the area.  These are domesticated and even when you don’t see them, always accompanied by a by a herdsman; these are shy and tend to hide since they do not want their photo taken.  Llamas were friendly and easy to photograph but the guanacos were a different matter.  At the time I was there, the llamas were decorated due to the religious festivals.  I was lucky to arrive at a small river when the llamas were taken to drink water; what a great photo opportunities; it all the question of being at the right place at the right time.  There were burros all along the route and I learned that during colonial times, these animals were the main mean of transportation and were in great demand particularly in the silver mining operations in Potosi, Bolivia. As a result, this area of Argentina became the main breeding grounds for these beasts of burden. 

There were a few towns in the route but I found the door of the chapel in the cemetery in the town of Suesques the most attractive. I got there first thing in the morning and the colors were fantastic. The door is made of the wood of the large cacti that grow in the region.  The holes are part of the structure of the cacti; notice that it was put together with rope made out of animal hide.  Another point of interest was Salinas Grandes where salt is extracted for industrial purpose and very large and busy with truck traffic. When approaching the end of the trip near La Quiaca, people became more abundant and as always not pleased of being photographed.   I got caught and mooned…well deserved!!!  But I will return to the Ruta 40.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Yellowstone in Winter. Part 2.

People change the nature of the park. The yearly average of visitors is of 3 million but during the winter it drops to around 200,000.  During the peak season there are traffic jams and the park rangers seem to be overworked and short tempered. No wonder, visitors think that the bears and buffaloes are friendly creatures; not a single year goes by that fatalities occur.  So definitely the winter time is the best time to go with the bonus of the snowy landscapes.  At this time, most of the visitors appear to be affluent.

During the winter, most of the park is closed to private vehicle traffic and except for section of the roads; the road from Gardiner (above) in the NW entrance to the park to Cooke City in the NE entrance is the only opened, weather conditions permitting. Why only this road?  It is the only road that provides access to Cooke City residents as well as supplies, not to mention the school buses that bring the students to the schools in Gardiner. Cook City is the major center for snowmobiling in the winter. 

Cooke City is an awesome place to be during a snow storm as seen above…the Bistro was our regular hang-out while there no better place for a Club Sandwich or homemade hot Bowl of Chili.

The Lamar Valley road is a major attraction for the observation and photographing of wolves. One difference I noticed is that during the warm/mild seasons, the majority those are tourists are mostly wolf watchers, but during the winter, photographers outnumbered all others.  There were a few photography tours whose students were indoctrinated into how to behave in the park…these were well meaning amateurs spent their time telling non-tour participants where to go and not to go rather than taking photos.  Some of us got cursed for wandering into the snowfields to photograph frozen creeks claiming that the areas were restricted. This is not true during the winter, only the areas a near the vicinity of the wolves’ liars when they are having babies in the spring and summer are closed.

Photographers line-up along the road searching for their award winning shot.  There are so many people visiting this park during the year that I wonder if these animals are really wild. The buffaloes, elks, horn sheep and even the coyotes, walk by so close that the use of those expensive telephotos are overkill.  Except for the wolves and the pumas; these I consider still wild because they hard to see or photograph. 

I did go into the restricted areas of the park when the only access is by tracked vehicles run by the concessionaires in charge of the accommodations. We rented a Bombardier with a driver to take us around the park in the restricted areas of the park.  Travel is only limited to the regular roads; there are also snowmobiles for group rentals and these area also limited to the main roads.  We stayed in the cabins near Old Faithful.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winter in Yellowstone (Part 1).

I had been during all the other seasons in this park, but never in winter.  This is the best time because one gets to appreciate the extreme environment to which the large mammals get exposed.  Not only do they have to find food but the stress of being vigilant to protect themselves from the predators.

The buffaloes or bison’s are the most numerous and largest ungulates in the park and they do have a hard time surviving.  The tick fur protects them from the cold, and the strong neck allows them to plow through the snow while moving the head side to side to get to the buried grass.  These beasts are powerful and when running through they look like as snowplows.

Among the cliffs, the horned sheep are seen jumping around for fun I assume.   They used their hoofs to shovel the snow away to get to the grass.  They seem to be more relaxed than the buffaloes and move in families. At times the young males are seen playfully crashing their horns in preparation for future serious battles to establish dominance within the group.

The elks are abundant and very easy to approach.  At this time of the year the females and young ones are in groups mostly separately from the males.  Among the males, there are bachelor groups (mostly young males) and then the adult males that seem to roam alone.  They also have to struggle looking for food but different from the buffaloes and sheep they also feed in twigs from trees.  In one occasion I ran into a herd that was very attentive watching in one direction and then started running up the hills…there was a long wolf at a distance.

And then, we have Bull Winkle, better known as the moose, the largest member of the deer family and differ by the others besides the size, by its palmate antlers while all others have dendritic ones.  Most often one sees a cow with calves, group of young males’ together but are mostly solitary animals.  They eat mostly sage or birch branches.  The males are funny looking with their bells hanging down from the throats.  Their populations have declining and in the North East of the USA they are becoming rare and the reason is not known but climate change, parasite infestations and the reintroduction of wolves are blamed.  And don’t forget the Moose Droll, which is canned in Missoula, Montana by the Big Sky Company; a great tasting beer.   They also brew Scape Goat, Trout Slayer and Slow Elk beer; what a zoo.

Of the major carnivores, mostly the coyotes, foxes and wolves are seen during the winter time: I only got to see mostly coyotes and an occasional wolf at a distance.  The funny looking coyote above is diseased with mange and probably will not survive to the end of the winter.   Mange is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that invade the hair follicles and can cause immune system disease.  The coyotes feed mostly on the kills of the wolves or of dead animals.  They are usually seen solitary or in pairs.  My major reason for going to Yellowstone is the wolves and in the many visits there, I have never been able to get a decent shot of them.  They are always to far…or on occasions so close crossing a road in front of the vehicle in the Lamar Road that one have no time to get the camera gear ready. So the photo below is all I can offer of a female wolf chasing jays.  I have broken the Yellowstone trip into 3 blogs; so more is coming.