After a short night’s rest we packed into the pickup with Maria and the TV crew for the trip to Socompa. Because it was early in the season, we had to take a longer road than normal but one that would take us first across Salar Grande (the second largest salt flat in the world) and then to the “ghost city” of La Casualidad, once home to more than 10,000 people and the largest sulfur mine in the world. It was closed abruptly (the lift buckets were apparently still full of sulfur – a line of them, and their dumped ore contents, made a yellow line from the town up the high mountain location of the sulfur ore), apparently in order to try to increase sulfur prices. The Lonely Planet calls La Casualidad “the most remote place in Argentina”. So, naturally we had to go further, another three hours or so over another pass that must have exceeded 4700 m and passing Mount Llullaillaco, a 22,000-foot volcano where high-elevation archeologists recovered mummified remains of three children sacrified by the Incas in the 15th Century or so. (We later saw one of the mummies in the museum in Salta.)
After a flat tire on one of the trucks, we finally reached Laguna Socompa. It was yellow! Maria noted that sometimes during the year it is blue, or green, or pink! We had little time to stay so I scrambled up a nearby slope and took an 800-image Gigapan sweep. Then back down the hill for some more pictures and interviews with Maria for the NASA virtual field trip. Maria retrieved a spectacular sample that showed clearly the characteristic laminations of a true stromatolite. Nearby we saw signs of the ancient Inca road and the more recent remains of a train wreck on the defunct Argentina/Chile rail line. Since we faced another 5-6 h driving back to Tolar Grande, we headed back in haste. Nevertheless we still needed to drive the last 2 hours on those treacherous roads in the dark, reaching town and a delicious chicken dinner a little before midnight. The generator turned off and so did we.
Full set of pictures HERE.