Atacama and Patagonia Photo Tour 2018 Day 5-7
by Michelle Alten
Day 5: You may wonder—did life begin with the “Big Bang”? Well scientists at ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, certainly do. This global scientific collaboration has embarked on a 50 year project. Curious to learn more about this research using a giant telescope positioned high in the Andes, we drive through the desert to reach the facility. This project, including scientists and funding from Chile, North America, Europe, and Japan has 66 giant antennae, resembling giant discs, perched on a plateau in the Atacama at 16,000 feet. Taking advantage of this amazing elevation and the strikingly clear skies, scientists hope to unlock mysteries about the origins of the universe. The Wolfies, which includes a few scientists and engineers, visit Alma, talking to scientists and our guide. While I, Michelle, am not a scientist, I find this ambitious project intriguing. I have to wonder: What will they find? I will be checking back on the ALMA website to find out!
Day 6: In the Atacama, arid peaks create a backdrop for azure lagoons, rimmed with white salt. I pad along the salt trail that reassembles a pathway of snow and ice. We photograph Andean, and Chilean flamingoes flying overhead. At another lagoon, two small herds of vicunas chase after each other, scampering across the barren shore. These protected lagoons support important wildlife. But I learn that lithium is an important product for Chile, and extracting lithium takes enormous amounts of water. This means that water, such an important resource, is disappearing in other less-protected areas.
In the little town of Socaire, we stop for lunch where indigenous women serve us an amazing soup piled with carrots, potatoes, kale, and other vegetables. Delicious!
Day 7: Every so often, driving past the rocks, boulders, and volcanoes of the Atacama, we come across something astounding—an oasis. In the middle of the desert, a stream of water winds through grasses creating an ideal grazing area for a herd of wild vicunas. The water and the vegetation seem like a miracle. But in other locations, wetlands provide a haven for Andean, Chilean and Puna Flamingos and for Great coots, which build prodigious nests from grasses they pull from the water. It is astounding to see the wildlife that these small sanctuaries can support in the midst of such a hostile environment.
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