What to See in Ischigualasto


Rumor has it that Pink Floyd wanted to stage a revival concert of the Dark Side of the Moon against the towering rock sculptures of the desert of the Valle de la Luna, but the local authorities decided against it for environmental reasons. When you’re standing on the desert floor gazing up at the colossal Submarine or the Toadstool, you can imagine just how effective it would have been.

The tour lasts some 4 hours from the park-keepers building at the entrance and costs five pesos per person, including the obligatory guide. Use the bathroom there and make sure you have plenty of water – there are no facilities in the park and it is really hot and dry. If you’re on one of the excursions organized from San Juan City, which is by far the most convenient and comfortable way to do this, you’ll probably have brought food and water anyway and the entrance price to the park will be included in the package.

The tour makes five guided stops where you can get out and take pictures: each rock sculpture is really incredible even if the names are a bit fanciful –the Worm, the Prostrated Chicken, Aladdin’s Lamp. The rugged grey Toadstool is the most emblematic geo-formation –it’s on the cover of all the guide books—and you also get a great view of the striated purple, magenta and brick-red cliffs of the Formación los Colorados from there. You can actually climb up the rocks for a better panoramic view behind the Submarine, so called as the stone at the base is softer than the bit at the top, and is thus eroded faster by the wind, an ever spindlier column on which balances a submarine-like shape. One day it will simply crash to the ground.

The most intriguing stop has got to be the Cancha de Bochas or Bowling Alley. These are some 20 large, perfectly-formed stone spheres like cannon balls or bowling balls, as the name so aptly suggests, which sit in a large dusty basin, some fully uncovered and others half-buried by sand. They have scientists baffled, as no-one can quite figure out how they got there, although there is a theory that the core is some kind of magnetic mineral which attracted layers of dust, rather like an onion, forming a sphere. As this is the lowest part of the desert, they rolled down ever so slowly over millions of years to settle together under ground where they lay buried until the wind began to uncover them.

You can find out about the Saurosuchus and the Coraptor, just some of the many unique species of dinosaurs excavated and now on show at the San Juan Paleontology Museum when you stop off at the Centro de Interpretación at the park-keeper’s offices back at the main gate. There’s also a small souvenir shop which sells fossil replicas and so forth.

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