Part 5: Alta Gracia to San Luis, AR


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The Trip

The casino in Alta Gracia was a fine place.  Kathleen and I hit the hot tub and then walked into town to get some pollo asado.  There was some confusion during the ordering process and we got WAY more chicken than we could eat and had no frig in the room.  No matter, the whole bill was $10 and we ate until we were full.   The following morning we checked out and left Alta Gracia en route to San Luis on our way to Mendoza.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We chose a short-cut to get to the main highway.  Sadly, so did this double-decker tourist bus.  He was slow due to the 12% grade and the high aspect ratio preventing rapid turns.  The good news is that we were only a few cars back and even though we had to wait 30 minutes or so, we did pass him.

We traversed the crest in the first mountain range and descended into the valley beyond.  We passed an observatory on the pass and from below we could see the dome of the structure.  The fields near the road were covered in pampas grass.

We hit the main highway and ascended another range of mountains.  This range was about 7500 feet in altitude and was high enough to get frequent rain resulting in a number of small waterfalls that were visible from the highway.

The pampas grass was interesting with tall stalks to assist in disbursement of the seeds by the wind.

The blonde seed stalks waving against the bright blue sky was a magnificent sight.

From a pull-out on the highway near Condorito ("little condor") we got a nice view of the steep canyons below.

The arroyo at the bottom of the canyon had only a small amount of water in it.

While looking at the canyons, I happened to look up and spot a bird circling above.  Given the size of the bird, its distance, and the name of the nearby village, I suddenly realized it was an Andean Condor above.  The bird is dark spot at the upper right of the photo above.

I quickly zoomed the lens and hoped that the camera would focus fast enough to catch it.  While I needed a 300mm lens, I only had 70mm on the camera but via cropping the image I was able to get an acceptable image of the bird.

The rocky mountainsides were mostly devoid of soil preventing the growth of much vegetation.

The Argentines did a great job on the highway and were smart about the construction process.  When doing the road cut, they allowed for expansion to multiple lanes, thus cutting the future cost.  The road was a 1+1 configuration with occasional passing lanes on the steep grades, but the surface was in great shape giving us a smooth ride.

Kathleen was hungry so we pulled over at a small roadhouse near the summit.  Our rental car was basic in every way: manual transmission, small displacement motor, manual door locks, etc.  But, it ran fine and had enough power to pass on moderate grades.  That said, the ride was "small car" and rough and it lacked sound insulation which made for a noisy ride.  But it DID have functional air conditioning which was a must.

The roadhouse was likely somebody's home at some point.  It was nice enough and the food was fine.

There was a really beautiful pasture behind the restaurant with a small spring and enough soil to have verdant grass.  In the distance, on the far ridge, there was another dwelling.  The structure on the skyline is a water storage tank.

In the distance from the parking area of the roadhouse, we could see the end of the mountain range with steep cliffs.

Kahleen and I shared a veal Milanesa with fries and it was great.

Near Villa Dolores we spotted this church next to "La Casa del Sandwich".

Outside Villa Dolores we came upon this accident with some harsh words being exchanged.  The police had the road blocked and diverted traffic.  The whole village came out to see the ruckus.

Continuing to the southwest toward our destination for the day, we spotted huge thunderheads building against the distant mountains.

This area of South America has a relative of a tree found in the American southwest: the mesquite.  I have always know these as Chilean Mesquites, but am not sure of the official name.  The trunks of these mesquite are straighter and less gnarly than those found near Tucson.  And they grow tall in the abundant rain.

We traveled in a straight line for over 100km passing through areas of dense brush and mesquite trees.  Meanwhile, in the distance, the thunderheads continued to grow.

As we progressed southwest we started to encounter low mountains that were impacting the thunderheads.

Further on, the 'heads actually delivered sheets of rain in the distance.

Outside of San Luis the rain started in earnest.  The noise of the rain beating on the marginally insulated roof of the rental car was deafening.

Using as we rolled, Kathleen was able to find us a nice room in Potrero del Funes near San Luis.  Funes is a tourist town and while I expected something remote and undeveloped, it was quite the opposite; lots of folks and nearly every room was full.   Our room was above a restaurant and while the check-in process was rather funky, the rooms was nice and had all the required amenites.  And, the restaurant was downstairs so we did not have to get in the car to get fed.

Tomorrow, we do a significant drive to the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park.  Happily, we did our research on nearby accommodations because there is nothing within 100km of the park.  So, we will stay in the San Luis area, drive to the park and return to San Luis before continuing on to Mendoza the following day.  I am expecting at least a 6 hour day with 4 hours of travel (250km) and 2 hours at the park.

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