We flew to Calama, Chile in mid May and picked up our Hertz rental truck at the airport. Although the truck was fancy looking and new, bright red, we were disappointed that instead of the 4 x 4 we wanted our truck was a 4 x 2. This almost proved to be our undoing.
On our first day of sightseeing we were headed northwest towards and past the lovely conical volcano Licancabur, elevation 19,005 feet. Excited by seeing a small group of guanacos, we pulled slightly off the road (two wheels) to capture the scene. When we tried to get back on the road the rear wheel started spinning and dug itself almost knee deep into the soft earth. We were stranded at 16, 000 feet!
As good fortune would have it some local passersby stopped and rescued us by hopping on the back and jumping up and down to get the wheel engaged. It worked and we escaped.
Nice shot of a guanaco, anyway.
San Pedro is a rustic town with lots of tourists, one-way dirt roads, and traffic confusion. There is only one gas station and it is a challenge to find. Still, the town is quite interesting and quaint. Tom said it feels like what Santa Fe NM might have looked like 100 years ago.
Weather in mid May was very nice, with temperatures mostly in the 70's except up in the mountains, where the driving wind and biting cold can be a bit overwhelming. Visiting the local attractions, Valle de la Luna, and Valle del Muerto can be a camera sensor spoiler, as the sand can suddenly come up and pelt you and your camera with a great force. (This also can be an advantage; the shots can be pretty nice.)
We drove for miles in all directions and witnessed some of the finest scenery ever. The Atacama desert contains part of the South American section of the "Ring of Fire," with over 150 active volcanos. The ring of fire forms a U-shape, and stretches from New Zealand through the basin of the Pacific coast and down the Western coast of North and South America. Some of the volcanos in the Atakama region of Chile reach altitudes of over 20,000 feet. Blanketing the foothills, grasses wave in the wind and the area boasts many flamingo-dense lagoons. The flamingos feed on tiny shrimp-like creatures that live in the salty water.
One day we visited the most famous tourist site in the area--the Tatio Geysers. If you want to visit the geysers try to get there early (which means up and out by 4:30 am), as the early morning scenes are well worth the aggravation.
If you plan to visit the Atacama region contact me and I can give you some advice about where to stay and how to get around.
To see more images of this region click the button: "This week's featured images" on the website's front page.