Atacama and Patagonia Photo Tour 2018 Day 5-7

by Michelle Alten

The ALMA symbol on one of the vehicles at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array facilities, which is an astronomical interferometer of radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

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!

Scientist working in a control room at ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array). ALMA has 66 radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, which observe electromagnetic radiation at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths.
View of Licancabur volcano from the Valley of the Moon near San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile.

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. 

James flamingos (Phoenicoparrus jamesi), also known as the puna flamingos in flight at the Chaxa Lagoon, Soncor section of Los Flamencos National Reserve near San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile.
View of Miscanti volcano 5640 m (18,504 ft.) and Miscanti lagoon in the Los Flamencos National Reserve near San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile.
Vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna) in the Atacama Desert near San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile.

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.

 

Andean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus andinus) feeding in Laguna Machuca in the Atacama Desert near San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile.
Two Andean flamingos (Phoenicopterus andinus) feeding in Laguna Machuca in the Atacama Desert near San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile.
The Wolfies photographing the wildlife at Laguna Machuca in the Atacama Desert near San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile.
The southern sky at night with the Magellanic Clouds near San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile.

If you are interested in a future trip or other trips, please email me at info@phototours.us or check out my website www.phototours.us. Thank you.