Tupungato

Just 62 miles south of Aconcagua lies Tupungato, at 22,375 feet it is the 14th tallest mountain in South America.  Unlike Aconcagua, Tupungato is a Volcano.

Mighty volcanoe Tupungato at 22,375 feet high, the 14 tallest mountain in South America.
Mighty volcano Tupungato at 22,375 feet high, still only the 14 tallest mountain in South America.

Tupungato Provincial Park is 69 miles southwest of Mendoza, but it is not easy to get there.  There doesn’t appear to be any paved access to the park.  Tourist information is very sparse, it is not even known by Google Maps at the time I am writing this.

Wanting to get more information and a closer look at the area I head to the town of Tupungato.  The center of town has a large, quiet and pleasant central plaza.  There are a few parking spaces in the plaza, across the street from the police station.  It is Sunday afternoon and almost everything is closed.  Thunderstorms are on the horizon.  I decide that this may be a good place to spend the night, access WIFI and do some research on how to get to the park.

The beautiful plaza looks like an ideal place to “camp”.  It is clean, quiet, right in the center of town and across the street from the police station.  I park and ask the police if it would be OK to park for the night.  The officer in charge tells me sure it’s OK and he tells me that there is a kitchen and bathrooms in the station that I would be welcome to use.  He then instructs one of the officers to show me around to acquaint me with the facilities.

Once inside the bustling station lots of discussion is occurring about where I should spend the night.  The general consensus is that I would better enjoy their municipal campground, where I am guessing many of their families have gone for the weekend.

Police escort me to Tupungato Municipal Campground.
I get the VIP treatment and a police escort to the municipal camp ground 7.5 km outside of Tupungato.

The commander in charge offers to lead me to the campground.  She has me follow her police vehicle like a VIP and I get a police escort to Tupungato Municipal Campground.

I say goodby to the Tupungato Police.
Having been safely delivered to the local campground, I take a departing photo of the very nice Tupungato Police officers.

It is Sunday evening on this long Christmas holiday weekend, the campground has been busy but the local campers are beginning to pack-up.

My campsite at the Tupungato Municipal Campground. Include 240 volts power at the site.
My campsite at the Tupungato Municipal Campground. Include picnic table, barbecue pit and 240 volt power at the site.

The campground is on a river where people are wading, fishing and having a great time.  I meet a lot of nice people including a couple of families from Tupungato.  Lifetime residents of the area they have no idea how to access Tupungato Provincial park.

A river runs through Tupungato Campground.
The river through Tupungato Campground, I am told that I can easily catch a trout for lunch.

The head of one of the families runs a soccer field and club in town and presents me with a brand new pair of his club’s uniform shorts.  I guess I will need to learn to play “football”.

I am introduced to the future son in law of another man.  Guiliano, who happens to speak perfect English.  It seems Guiliano’s father has an international software analytics business and the son is the interpreter for customers in the U.S.  I get a  demo on his phone.  The software analyzes traffic cameras at intersections and automatically detects collisions and alerts authorities, pretty impressive.

Departing in the morning, I stop at the campground office to settle my bill.  They would not accept any payment and wished me “buen viaje”.   The manager gives me directions on how it might be possible to approach Tupungato.

Later I found the local map on the internet but today I was navigating by word of mouth.
Later I found this local map on the internet but today I was navigating by word of mouth.

The park entrance and ranger station are located at Refugio Santa Clara which is at the end of a rough track, that starts out as Calle La Estancia and then crosses the Rio de las Tunas.  It is once again a beautiful drive through vineyards, fruit trees and desert.

A weathered sign for the Monastery of Christ Orante.
A weathered sign announcing the Monastery of Christ Orante.

I pass many vineyards with fancy entrances, a monastery of cloistered monks, Monasterio del Cristo Orante, and the posh looking “Auberge Du Vin“.  I stop to take photos at the entrance and am invited in for a tour.  I decline, sensing it is beyond my budget. I find out later that rooms start around 250 USD per night.  It looks very nice.

The beautiful luxury Auberge Du Vin located way out an unimproved road nestled in the vineyards of Tupungato.
The beautiful luxury private residence and condominiums, “Auberge Du Vin”, located out an unimproved road nestled in the vineyards of Tupungato.

I continue down the road crossing several streams and through a a couple of small picturesque settlements.

The road leaves a little to be desired, pretty bumpy.
Good road but leaves a little to be desired, pretty bumpy.

I pass the massive entrance to the Huentala Wines.

Massive entrance to the Huentala vineyard.
The entrance to Huentala Wines and I think their boutique hotel.

I finally come to the Rio de las Tunas.  Across the river the road begins climb more steeply.

The road to Regugio Santa Clara is bisected by the Tuna River.
The Rio Tuna cuts through the road midway from Tupungato to Refugio Santa Clara.

I have not seen another vehicle in a while, though I am told, the army sends a patrol up the road every day.   Afternoon thunderstorms are building.  A single vehicle with few extraction options, I decide to play it conservative and not press-on.

Someone's rose garden, along the road near a little stream.
Someone’s rose garden, along the road near a little stream.

Clouds are building and views of the mountains are obscured anyway.  I enjoy a beer and nice lunch on the river and then head back toward Mendoza.