Las Leñas

Las Leñas ski resort is located at the southern end of the province of Mendoza.  I decided not to include it in my Mendoza post because it has a magical attraction for me and deserves its own post.  Since my first trip to Buenos Aires more than 30 years ago locals have extolled its virtues and urged me to visit.

Las Leñas in the winter, ski season July - September from up on the hill.
Las Leñas village in the winter during ski season, July – September, from up on the hill.

Las Leñas is 200 km mostly west and a little south of San Rafael my last stop.  My trip to San Rafael yesterday and three quarters of the drive back to Las Leñas was a deviation off of Route 40, my principal route.  The stretch of Route 40 that I am bypassing is unpaved and in poor condition.  I headed west toward the Andes and re-joined Route 40 just 16 km before the turnoff to the resort.  The last 48 km from Route 40 to Las Leñas is on a narrow, mostly paved but deteriorating provincial route 222, and the going is slow.

Las Lenas lies mosstly west and a little south of San Rafael
It was much easier and faster to bypass this section of Route 40 on the very nice alternate route 123 and save wear and tear on the truck for some later sections.

The drive up the access road now in summer is very scenic.  Entire fields of purple wild flowers, rivers and fishing holes, horses, sheep and goats running loose on the road.

It was slow going, the access road was shared with many different kinds of animals.

I am Surrounded by mountain peaks with glaciers and rivers making their way down.

It is a very scenic drive up the access road to Las Lenas.
It is a very scenic drive up the access road to Las Lenas.

Along the access road are two large sink holes filled with water known as the “Pozo de las Animas”, or in english, “Well of Souls”.

The name derives from an ancient Aboriginal legend that a group of Indians were being chased by a rival group. When the night came, the pursuers could not see their enemies anymore upon which they returned to their homes. The next morning they went back to search for their enemies and on reaching the scene, began to hear moans and calls of distress. Advancing cautiously, they found to their great surprise that two huge wells had sunk beneath the feet of their enemies, and people were dying in the rising waters of lakes at the bottom of wells.

The wells have since been called,  “the place where souls cry” and they are a place of worship.

Two large water filled sink holes exist near Las Lenas.
These two sinkholes were created by the collapse of underground voids created by the dissolution of gypsum deposits by groundwater. The holes are divided from each other by a thin crumbling wall.

Just 12 km further up the road I come into the famed Las Leñas ski resort.  The base starts at an elevation of 7,350 feet and goes up to 11,253 ft,  for a total vertical 3,937 ft.  It is now mainly shutdown or converted to summer activities.  Horseback riding, motorcycles, quads, bike rentals,  kayaking, etc.  Only one hotel, the Piscis is currently open.  It houses the Casino Las Leñas, the highest casino by elevation in the world.

Deserted Las Lenas Ski buildings.
Deserted Las Lenas Ski buildings.

I am allowed to truck camp free of charge in the resort parking lot.  It is just across the street from security, nice 24 hour restrooms and the Parador Restaurant and Bar.  I later discover that the “Company Drug Store”, which is the less expensive employee restaurant and bar, is tucked back behind the Parador.

I was allowed to truck camp free of charge at the conveniently located resort parking lot.
I was allowed to truck camp free of charge at the conveniently located resort parking lot.

I spent the day walking the near ghost town of the ski resort trying to imagine what it’s like in winter.  It looks like it could be some good skiing, especially if the quality of the snow is as good as I’ve heard.

Looking up one of the valleys at Las Lenas ski resort. Looks like most trails here have outer space names.
Looking up one of the valleys at Las Lenas ski resort. Looks like most trails here have outer space names, kind of like at home.

Click here for a trail map of Las Lenas.