Today I head south on route 40 departing Mendoza Province and entering Neuquen Province. The Barrancas River flows into the Rio Grande River and then into the Colorado River to form the provincial border. I am now officially in Patagonia.
Patagonia extends from here, the Mendoza/Neuquen provincial border, down to the southern tip of Argentina and includes the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. On the Chilean side of the Andes, Patagonia begins a little farther to the south at the Reloncavi Estuary and like Argentina includes the entire southern end of the continent. Sparsely populated Patagonia extends to both coasts.
Much of today’s driving, about 75 km out of 160 km, is over unpaved, pretty rough road before joining the pavement again.
Though I am driving through semi-arid desert landscape, the scenery is stunning. The mountains and hills appear to be painted on canvas. Stark rock formations, lava flows, calderas and other geologic formations abound. Wherever there is water trees, shrubs ,and wild flowers are growing. Glacier capped peaks border the horizon. It is a spectacular drive.
Much of the route this morning follows the sprawling Rio Grande River which is winding its way down from the Andes to join the Rio Colorado and flow into the Atlantic. I pass an few fishermen enjoying the river.
I am surprised to happen upon “La Pasarela”, where the sprawling Rio Grande flows or cuts its way through a lava flow. Somebody has erected a home made sign and made a tourist attraction out of it.
I finally get back on pavement, the scenery continues and a volcano appears along my route. I later learn it is the 13,497 ft. Tromen Volcano, which last erupted in 1822. Tromen is a stratovolcano tall and once pointed unlike the flat shield volcanoes seen yesterday.
I come upon my planned gas stop and possible overnight at Buta Ranquil, but they do not have premium grade fuel so I press on to what will be my first overnight, “Chos Malal”. Chos Malal means “yellow corral” from Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche Indians, who inhabited this area before the europeans arrived
I have a short wait in the block long line for fuel and then fill up. The attendant explains to me that this town is famous for being the mid-point on the north/south Route 40.
I stay in the municipal campground which is five minutes walk from downtown and even receive a senior citizen discount of 50%. WiFi is scarce in town. I finally find some internet to check my email after buying a bottle of overpriced mineral water at a local hosteria/restaurant.
Back on route 40 the following morning I happen upon an elaborate monument. Chos Malal is very proud to be the geographic center of National Route 40. Route 40 runs 3,250 miles parallel to the Andes range and connects over 210 villages in eleven provinces.
The design of the monument is interesting. The flagpole is curved to depict the year round strong winds in Patagonia usually from the west. The wall displays a map of the western hemisphere, upside down, with North America at the bottom and South America at the top. This display is a proud symbol of the Argentine and Latin American perspective that there is no up and down, just a matter of perspective. There is no first world and third world. On the wall inscribed in Spanish the words of early liberator General Jose de San Martin; “Let us be free or nothing else matters”.
As a big fan of Buckminster Fuller what I find most interesting about the monument is the display of Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion map. The explanation is that whenever a curved surface is displayed on a map it is a distortion to suit the use for which the map is intended.
Several times throughout the day I must slow or stop to avoid livestock of every description on the road. I frequently see Gauchos.
I continue through the gorgeous scenery of Route 40 to the town of Las Lajas, in english “The Flagstones”. The name of the town which was founded in 1882 comes from the name of a nearby creek whose bed is covered in flagstones.
Just before arriving in Las Lajas is a pull off to a view point that overlooks the town on the river.
Having read reports of the nice campground, I decide to spend the night. Las Lajas is located on the Agrio River, which means sour river in English. The municipal campground is family run with all of the amenities. It has a private footbridge over a small channel to an island with a nice beach on the main tributary of the river. I am going to have to learn to fly fish.
I am informed that the campground gates are closed and locked at 11:00 p.m. This is the first time I have heard anything like this in Argentina. I am told that everything in town is closed by 9:00 p.m. and there would be nothing to miss.
The following morning I again head south on Route 40. Several times today I see low circling Condors. Whenever I pull over to try and get a photo the elusive creatures drift away.
Today’s scenery includes high basalt bluffs where condors nest rising up out of the desert.
I come upon an informative roadside information display about condors and their habitat.
The radical terrain and scenery continue as I continue south to Junin de los Andes for the night.