Cuatro Cienegas 2012: Let the heat and the fun begin!

We’ve arrived to Cuatro Cienegas after a comfortably uneventful trip from Monterey.  At the moment it’s me (Jim), Jess, Zarraz, and Alex.  We spent the first two days scrambling around and setting things up.  The UNAM crowd arrived yesterday.   Of course, our main work is at Churince and Jim’s Pond has enough water in it to get started.  We did our first sampling and will begin the fertilization this weekend.  The usual complications with permits is underway and at the moment we are “closed out” of working at my favorite place, Rio Mesquites.  This is a bit of a problem for Jess, who is trying to finish her PhD studies.  However, we have permission to work “upstream”, in Mojarral East and its outflow stream. We had a spectacular scouting trip there today.  See picture below.

More pictures HERE.

Herichtys minckleyi in Mojarral Este.

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Torres del Paine: the video!

I finally found some time to pull together the video I shot during our trek in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile).   Have a look.  It’s HD!  LINK

Cruce Andino: Across to Chile, and home

Our time in Bariloche was (sadly) over and we packed up all our things and said goodbye for now to the wonderful Laboratorio Limnologia. Since our flight back was out of Puerto Montt, Chile (a ticket bought before the Bariloche airport had re-opened), we decided to cross into Chile in style, via the Cruce Andino (“Andean Crossing”). So, Esteban dropped us at the pier at Puerto Pañuelo near Llao Llao, where we boarded a catamaran. It was a gorgeous day and after a couple of hours we reached the western end of Lake Nahuel Huapi in the rainforests of Puerto Blest (3600 mm of rain a year!). We disembarked and headed by a short bus trip to Lago Frias, a cool-looking lake all turbid with glacial flour. Mt Tronador loomed overhead. After a short trip on the lake we landed on the far side and passed through Argentinian customs to file our departure card. Then, into another bus for about a 60-min ride, crossing the Argentina/Chile border to the tiny town of Peulla on Lago Todos de Santos. Here we had to clear Chilean immigration. Most of the passengers continued on the rest of the way but we booked two nights to stay in this little town. We enjoyed walking around, sleeping late, and working our way through the hotel restaurant’s limited menu. A highlight was seeing a Chilean pygmy owl sitting on a wire with a hummingbird! The weather both these days was sunny and hot – highly unusual! On the last day we rejoined the crossing, boarding the boat to cross L. Todos de Santos. This is a spectacular lake with many large mountains all around and waterfalls and deep forests. Unfortunately the weather was shaky with low clouds and we did not get to experience the astonishing view of the Osorno volcano for which this part of the trip is famous. After several hours of cruising we arrived at the landing at Petrohue (where we had been previously, during our November trip to Chile) where a bus completed the crossing, taking us in a intensifying, Chile-style, rain to our favorite little town of Puerto Varas. We immediately headed off to La Olla for a final seafood feast then to bed to rest before the long flight home. Pics HERE.  Everytrail map showing the route, plus more pics, is below.
Adios Patagonia! Que triste!

Adios a Argentina! (Desde Lago Todos de Santos)

A trip to “The Thunderer” (Tronador)

{Yes, we’re back in USA but not quite caught up on Argentina blog posts!}

Towards the end of our stay we were keen to be sure we had seen the main sights of Bariloche area and of course on of the best is the Pampa Linda area of Nahuel Huapi National Park, where you approach the big (extinct) volcano El Tronador quite closely.  So, we had a good day and headed out for a visit.  The road is narrow and so they only allow inbound traffic in the morning and then you need to wait til later in the PM in order to leave.  In any case, we enjoyed spending several hours exploring around, enjoying Ventisquero Negro (the “Black Glacier”) which deposits strikingly striped icebergs in a yellow lake.  Apparently this one has been receding at an alarming rate.  In any case, the waterfalls all around were impressive and once in a while a snow avalanche “thundered” from above (hence the name).   The weather turned for the worse on the way out but we did get a good view of a Martin Pescador (kingfisher) before the rain really came.  Full pics at LINK.

Torres del Paine: Final days – bring on the penguins!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise in P Natales and picked up our rental van to head south to Punta Arenas.  We took a side road and enjoyed some great scenery that included lots of geese and an intriguing sculpture in the middle of nowhere that evoked either a giant squid or a baleen whale or something else.  We stopped at the Magellanic penguin colony at Seno Otway and enjoyed the hijinks of the penguins as they sheltered on the beach.  The colony was in the life cycle stage where the young were making their first trips to sea.  So we only saw about 50 penguins of the 10,000 that are reportedly at this colony – the rest were busy chasing fish.  But it was fun (and, of course, windy!).

After a night in gray and semi-depressing P Arenas, we met our guide for the next day who would take us, at our request, to Tierra del Fuego on another penguin quest.  Being Monday, the regular (long) ferry to Tierra del Fuego was not operating so we had to drive east about 2 to to take a shorter ferry across.  After the very windy but short (20 min) crossing, we spent a couple of hours of driving across the pampas (which featured guanaco and rheas and, of course, a large number of sheep.  We stopped for a while to watch a “huaso” (NOT a “gaucho”, those are in ARGENTINA) work with his dogs to move a big herd of sheep into a new pasture.)

Eventually we arrived at our destination:  Bahia Inutil and its very unusual colony of King Penguins.  These gorgeous penguins normally inhabit oceanic islands, being found by the 100’s of thousands on South Georgia Island, the Malvinas (aka “Falklands”), etc.  But, for unknown reasons, some set up shop at this wind-swept beach about 15 years ago.  A small “preserve” was set up (the area is fenced and a guard stays there more or less full-time), creating a new destination for eco-tourism out of P. Arenas.  Unfortunately, our guide didn’t know that the preserve was closed on Mondays!  After some negotiating, the owner was summoned and she was very friendly and eager to meet us (our connections to biology, Science magazine, and National Geographic didn’t hurt, especially the latter).  So, we got a “private tour” and enjoyed the 17 or so penguins who were hanging out (the entire colony is about 75 or so; the rest were out fishing).  The group included a few chicks, being “tended”  (sat on) by males and females alike and peeking out from underneath for an occasional snack. After an hour or so we started the long trip back, highlighted by the tiny (~5 feet?) black and white Commerson’s dolphins that played in the bow wave of the ferry.  One more night of seafood and pisco sours and our time in Chile had ended. But a final thrill awaited:  a view from above of Torres del Paine as we flew out and then, minutes later, a view of spectacular Mt Fitzroy (in Argentina), perhaps enticing us back for another trek?  More pics HERE.

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Torres del Paine: The amazing Torres in their glory!

Well, 4 AM came awfully quickly and five of us staggered out of the refugio in full darkness, our headlamps lighting the way.  Matt and I went ahead to be sure we made it to the mirador in time for the sunrise, glancing overhead and thrilled to see the Southern Cross shining through the mostly clear skies.  After arriving at the Chilleno campsite after a bit more than an hour, the route takes a hard left and straight uphill across a big screen field.  High above us we could see the lights of others on the dawn pilgrimage, snaking up the mountain.  After less than an hour we reached the overlook of the lake and the Torres (towers), seeing them faintly through the darkness.  6:10 AM or thereabouts.  I took some long exposure pictures with the tripod and after a little while the others joined Matt and I at our viewing point.  As the sun rose, clouds spread from the base of the towers, making for amazing changes in perspective and color.  After a little while the towers were orange, on fire with the sunrise.  Unbelieveable!  We were thrilled by the show for about an hour and then the clouds got serious and shut the whole thing down.  We headed back to the refugio, amazed by our good luck to have seen the spectacle.  We arrived ca. 8:30 AM, in time for the end of breakfast! Monica was glad to see us but had also enjoyed the sunrise on the tips of the Torres from below (plus an extra hour of sleep).

We relaxed for a while by the stream, had lunch, and packed it all up to head down the hill to Hosteria Torres to be met by our faithful driver Eduardo.  He drove us through the park to Puerto Natales, an amazing drive with Mutual of Omaha wildlife everywhere (guanacos, rheas, grey fox, etc) and stromatolite-inhabited lakes.  We arrived to beautiful P Natales and the nifty Hotel IF, which we shared with only one other group – about 30 boisterous Japanese tourists!  A seafood dinner capped off our final day , with much toasting over pisco sours.

We did it.  The W.  Or, should I say: the !W!, to indicate the excitement of the trip and the actual path of our entire trip, from the boat launch at Laguna Grey to the endpoint at Hosteria Torres.  Go to this link to see the map on Everytrail: LINK.  Full pics HERE.

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Torres del Paine: French Valley then to Chilleno (days 4-5)

We woke up a bit sore from the previous day’s trek (especially Monica, whose feet were in bad condition), enjoyed a fabulous sunrise on the Cuernos, and then five us headed out to the Valle Frances (French Valley), backtracking a bit to Campomiento Italiano.  Up from there (the middle point of the “W”) the trail followed a spectacular stream with the snow avalanches continuing above and to the west.  We stopped for lunch before reaching an astonishing overlook and then continued a bit further until the day grew late, the wind picked up, and a bit of snow (!) began to fall.  We snapped some “hero shots” on some big boulders and then scampered back to Cuernos for an over-priced bottle of Malbec.

We packed it all up the next AM (after another gratuitously gorgeous sunrise) and headed east.  The weather was fabulous but we could easily tell from the vegetation that 1.  this was indeed the dry side of the park; and 2. even so, the plants were really drought-stressed (hence the fire of the previous month).  After a disheartening uphill grind and downhill slog to Refugio Chilleno,  we rested by two streams,  one of water and one of people returning to the Hosteria Torres way down below.  The peaks of the famous “Torres” peeked at us from above the ridge, saying:  “Why don’t you get up at 4 AM tomorrow and watch the sunrise?”  So, we headed off to bed.

Full pics HERE.

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