Ischigualasto / Talampaya
The Ischigualasto and Talampaya Natural Parks were established to protect geological formations of the Triassic Period. They are rich in diversity of both plant and vertebrate fossils. The parks are contiguous and belong to the same geological formation, though divided between two Argentinian provinces.
The Triassic Period (popularly known as the Age of the Dinosaurs) lasted from 245 to 208 million years B.P. Some of the oldest known dinosaur remains were found in this location, which makes it one of the most important palaeontological sites in the world.
Also, geologically, it is the only place in the world where a complete sequence of continental sediments with abundant fossil fauna and flora for the Triassic Period can be seen.
The red sandstones of Talampaya are the earliest. The Ischigualasto Formation is composed of white floodplain sediments and is immensely rich in fossil specimens of reptiles, amphibians, therapsids and plants. The desert vegetation of the parks is sparse and consists mainly of shrubs and cactus.
Visit October 2008
While it was 40 degrees Celsius the day before in La Rioja, it even rained on the Saturday I set out to visit Ischigualasto and Talampaya Parks.
At the park entrance of Ischigualasto we were told that parts of the park were sealed off for visiting today because of flooding. Fortunately we could get in to a significant part. Visiting here is regulated by driving in a convoi, assisted by a park guide. This park sees about 150 to 200 visitors a day, and is more commonly known as Valle de Luna. There were 5 other cars in our group. The guide signed for stops, which included short walks and explanatory talks.
Right at the beginning are rocks that perfectly show the thousands of layers of sediments that have been left here by geological processes. The area used to have a tropical climate with abundant flora and fauna, but is now strictly desert. Fossils of plants are still in situ and are clearly distinguishable. The remainder of the 2,5 hour tour takes unpaved roads through the often strangely shaped desolate landscape. One of the most remarkable is de cancha de bochas, like a bowling court where the balls have been shaped by water en wind.
The entrance to Talampaya Park, although contiguous with Ischigualasto, is 80 kilometers away. Tours here are by guided mini bus tours only, for which you can arrange at the gate. The route here covers a spectacular drive on the dry riverbed right through the canyon, which red sandstone walls climb up to 150 meters. The rivers in this region are dry all over, a little bit of rain like of today doesn't change that. One of the canyon walls is shaped in a half circle, and makes a great echo (echoed several times over in the canyon).
There's also a stop at several collections of petroglyphs. They were made by the people that lived here between 120 and 1180. The glyphs often show guanacos - a member of the camel family like the lama and vicuņa, which still can be seen roaming around both these parks. The only other animal we saw sprinting away was a large hare. Finally, photo stops are arranged to try to capture the geomorphology (a cathedral, a tortoise, a tower, a totem).
This is a strangely tricky WHS to visit - it is located quite far from everything. I wasted a day in the city of La Rioja, where the highlight of my stay was a visit to the local Carrefour supermarkt. It had great airconditioning and lots of tasty snacks. For the fast traveller, I think it would be best to arrive at La Rioja bus station early in the morning, ask around there to find a remiss that will take you around to the parks for a fixed fee, and leave for your next destination (Salta and Cordoba are easily within reach) the same evening on a night bus. A tour from La Rioja to both parks takes at least 12 hours. There's no public transport directly to the entrances of the parks (you could try to hitchhike from the nearest towns).
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|Iain Jackson (Scotland UK):|
I visited these parks in January 2003. I went first to the little town of Pagancillo. I could find neither package trips nor any form of public transport to the site but a local resident, Aldo, was happy to taxi me around in his pick-up truck, and at a very reasonable price too.
We visited Ischigualasto first, Aldo advised that the light was better earlier in the day. Here visitors' vehicles are organised into a convoy and then led around the site by a Park Guide. Frequent stops are made and things of interest pointed out and explained. Although this was said to be the rainy season there was very little substantial vegetation, it's a semi-desert, in parts rather like the Badlands of Dakota but perhaps not as colourful.
There are some remarkable and highly dangerous looking columns where a hard rock capstone protects and is supported by a tapering towards the bottom pillar of softer rock.
There is a feature known as The Ball Court where large, almost perfectly spherical stones have been formed by windblown sand sticking to an inner core.
While Ischigualasto is perhaps of most interest to those with a serious interest in geology, Talampaya is more picturesque. Here the park rangers provide the transport and in about 3 hours will show the visitor petroglyphs cut to exploit a remarkable blue deposit on reddish brown rocks; guanacos and a variety of birdlife; an excellent echo, got by shouting into a canyon and some (20m?) sandstone columns as sharply cut as anything I've seen made of basalt.
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