Route 68 Classic Rock - Day 473
There were lots of interjections today. Every time we drove around a corner there was more wonder. Who needs Route 66 when you have Route 68 here in Argentina with Classic Rocks such as The Devil’s Throat, The Amphitheatre, The Windows and many others.
The first part of the journey was fast on dual-carriageway, and then we went through some delightful small towns such as La Merced and El Carril, with quaint painted cottages. We passed a young boy dressed in traditional clothes riding a horse and leading another one. It looked weird seeing his head donned in a typical wide-brimmed hat, looking at his 21st-century mobile phone.
Along the journey, we stopped for goats and a donkey to cross the road, saw many of the red-flagged shrines and played Veo, Veo (I Spy); needless to say that with our limited amount of Spanish the game didn’t last long!
The flat agricultural land started to change, and at last, we arrived at the natural reserve Quebrada de las Conchas which translates to The Shell Gorge. There are numerous marine fossil-remains here illustrating that this area was once the ocean floor some 15 million years ago. Not that you would know from the landscape now.
A meagre two million years old the tectonic plates moved and caused a ravine surrounded by the unique rock formations with igneous and metamorphic rocks pushed to the surface; a geologists dream, and ours. The Conchas River, today just trickling through a broad valley, shows that once this played a role in carving the weird shapes that we see today. We could see traces of the old Route 68, as well as a train line, and I have read that archaeological investigations have discovered that an Inca road ran close by.
OK, enough of my novice geological knowledge. What did we experience? Well, it was a day of continually parking the car to take photos or have a walk to see some incredible sights. It reminded us of the day we drove to Mount Cook in New Zealand, in awe of the beauty surrounding us. There were so many “Oooh” “Wow” “OMG” coming from us each time we drove around a corner. Incredible.
Our first stop, which we nearly missed if it wasn’t for a few other cars parked by, was the Garganta del Diablo or The Devil’s Throat. We walked through a colossal crevice with stallholders selling their wares of jewellery, baskets and playing pipes reminding us that we are in the Andes. To get to the back of the massive, curved throat was a sheer wall. We watched a lady trying to get her two Chihuahuas up there for some reason. Tim scurried up the rock while I snapped some photos. As he slid back down, a young family with their son of about 5 were coming down. They had tied a rope around him so that he could abseil, ok, slide down safely. What a great idea.
Just up the road was another phenomenon, El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheatre). Both of these rock formations were formed by cascades of water flowing, eroding the stone and creating these incredible places. Now, not a drop in sight. Again, stallholders lined the thin, tall corridor that led us into a round opening of at least 100m high, giving fantastic acoustics. A man sat playing his guitar and singing, with his beautiful lyrical voice reverberating around the rock.
We drove on until we came to a panoramic view that was so jaw-droppingly beautiful, we pulled over and ate our picnic in the coolness of our air-conditioned car. I can imagine cycling through here would be incredible if it wasn’t for the scorching heat. The colours were magical, similar to yesterday, but for us, more spectacular with swirling greens, zigzags of bright terracotta, beautiful layers like a multi-flavoured cake, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
Next stop was El Obelisco – which was impressive, but it was the scenery behind it that took my breath away. I confess I did get a bit excited and was yelling “it’s crazy, it’s crazy”. Imagine a young child playing with a massive lump of soft clay with a variety of tones, from white, yellow, pink, deep red and brown. They swirl colours together, they pile lumps on top of one another and then leave it in the heat, which causes the clay to melt a bit. Now imagine that the child is a giant, playing with giant-sized clay. That’s what we were looking at!
Within a short distance were Las Ventanas (the windows) which reminded me of Play School (Now, that’s showing my age). Is the story through the Round window, the Square window or the Triangular window? You guess.
Around another corner was Los Castillo (The Castle), towering columns of orangey red to purple rock, and then Los Colorados, A painted notice on a beautiful wooden board informed us that “Water erosion has formed in the layers of red sand, this canon invites you to see its interior, where you will find an endless number of magical geological formations. Ideal for short walks…”
As the notice board instructed, we went for a short walk and saw many magical geo-forms with holes, columns, and other beautiful shapes carved out from red sedimentary rock. Somehow tall spikey cacti and thorny bushes managed to thrive here, and I noticed one pink flower defying the arid conditions.
Before our long journey back, we stopped off at a little white shack for a drink with the company of a few woolly Alpacas and their pleasant aroma! We did also see a hut made from a giant barrel selling wine but didn’t stop, there are far too many police checks along the road to have alcohol on our breath.
This whole place was stunningly beautiful. If you ever have the chance to come to this area, I suggest t you hire a car and spend at least 5 days here, unlike us. We would have loved to have had time exploring Cafayate just down the road with its vineyards, visit the deposits of fie calcareous aeolian sands at Los Médanos, trek through La Punilla and its long winding caves. We would have climbed up the thousand steps to the top of San Bernado Hill (or use the cable car) to see a panoramic view of Salta, and later in the evening enjoy the entertainment of lively folk music. We would have got up early for the train ride of a lifetime over a vast gorge into the mountains, or after seeing the 7 coloured hills in Purmamarca, go further on to see the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s salt flats (if we’d not been going to Bolivia later). And, of course, to spend more time along Route 68 enjoying the Classic Rock. Five days? Mmmm make that seven.
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