Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chile Journal IV: Valle de la Luna

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
The Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth. With the exception of an occasional oasis, it’s devoid of any forms of life. You fly into Calama, which houses Chuquicatama, the largest copper mine in the world, and attests to the harsh conditions under which miners still live (the scene of last year’s Chilean mining disaster is not too far away). The desecration of nature is counterbalanced by the urge for preservation epitomized an hour a way in San Pedro de Atacama which is the mecca for those who journey to see the harsh beauty of a landscape forged from the pressure of tectonic plates under the Andes, the Domeyko and the Salt Range Mountains which all encircle this plateau. The Valley of the Moon in San Pedro was created by the water flows which in previous eras washed the salt, lithium and other minerals down from the mountains. At certain points in the day the mountains literally talk as condensation creates ebbs and flows within the age old rocks. It’s a natural wonder that is also reminiscent of the sound emitted by radiators in pre-war Manhattan high rises. The Caves of Salt and Death Valley, a sweeping vista of layered rock are nearby products of the same geologic phenomena.  In the distance, sand boarders can be seen riding snow boards over the huge desert dunes. It’s a mixture of Planet of the Apes (the landscape was also the site used to develop NASA’s Mars probe) and Lawrence of Arabia. For those who look for mystery in the paranormal, the wonders of the Valley of the Moon are proof that there is mystery in knowable things.

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