Monday, October 26, 2020

TATIO GEYSERS IN THE ATACAMA DESERT, Chile, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Tatio Geysers, Atacama Desert, Chile
In December 2009, Art and I spent five days in the Atacama Desert in the far north of Chile, staying at Tierra Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama. Each day, our hotel arranged tours to sites in the area.
Our last excursion was to the Tatio geysers, a high altitude equivalent of Yellowstone Park in the U.S. At 14,000 feet, the Tatio geyser field in the Andes is the highest geyser field in the world. El Tatio covers an area of 12 square miles, with geysers, boiling water fountains, fumaroles, hot springs, mud pools, and mud volcanoes seeping steam across its surreal expanse.
The Tatio Geyser Field is the third largest in the world.
Recently, it was declared a protected area and helpful signs in both Spanish and English are being installed.
On the walkway to the geyser field.
The optimal time to visit is at sunrise when the cold air condenses the rising steam into small dense clouds. Since the drive from San Pedro is about an hour and forty minutes, we met at 5:15 a.m. for our departure. Fortified with a cup of coca tea (which tastes just like any herb tea and is said to combat altitude sickness) we dozed in the van for the ride up.
The crust of the geyser field is fragile.
It was pitch dark when we left our hotel, but by the time we arrived the sun was beginning to shimmer through the mist. I was worried about being light-headed at the high elevation, but, as long as I didn’t move too fast, I found I had no trouble walking around the geyser field.
Steam from vents in the geyser field condenses in the chilly morning air.
We had been advised to wear warm clothes because dawn temperatures are often below freezing, so I bundled up. All around us geysers spurted, hot pools bubbled, and steam puffed dramatically out of dozens of vents.
Bathers in the heated pool
Near a spring, a pool had been excavated that mixes cold spring water with the nearly boiling geyser water to make a giant hot tub. It was filled with bathers, although we didn’t try it ourselves. Instead, our guide set up our breakfast overlooking the geysers.
Breakfast of bread, meat, cheese and avocado
By the time we finished our meal, most other people were gone, and a group of vicunas moved in to graze on the tough grasses that grow at the edge of the geyser field.

Vicunas, valued for their unusually fine wool, are the delicate and extremely endangered wild relative of the llama. (The other wild relative is the guanaco.) As the sun climbed higher in the sky, we left and the vicunas had the mountains all to themselves.

A full report of our visit to the Atacama can be found in these posts from May 2011:
Chile: Atacama Desert, Part 1, Flamingoes, Oases and Volcanoes
Chile: Atacama Desert, Part 2, Ancient Rock Art, Llamas and Geysers  

 All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold. 

Monday, October 19, 2020


Petroglyphs in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile
In December 2009, Art and I spent five days in the Atacama Desert in the far north of Chile, staying at Tierra Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama. Each day, our hotel arranged tours to sites in the area.

The focus of our second day’s trip was an ancient petroglyph site in the foothills of the Andes. This turned out to be a private tour, as no one else from the hotel wanted to go there that day.
For thousands of years, a large rock outcrop at the foot of Andes has been used by indigenous artists to make drawings of people, animals and other images.
About an hour’s drive north of San Pedro, we approached an open valley surrounding a semi-circular rock outcrop. A caretaker was inside the small visitor center, but otherwise we were the only people there.
A life-size drawing of a llama, with a smaller image inside it.
Even from a distance I could see the outline of a llama on the first boulder. Deeply incised on the vertical surface, it was nearly life size. The surprise, as we got closer, was that there was another smaller llama drawn inside the larger one, perhaps to indicate fertility.
Although it is difficult to date rock art, it is believed that some of the images are thousands of years old.
Drawings were found all over the site.
Scrambling up the boulders we saw petroglyphs of more llamas, big and small, as well foxes, pumas, jaguars, snakes, flamingos, and human figures with feather headdresses.
Seated person with feather headdress
As we stood there in the shadow of these ancient images, it was easy to imagine prehistoric hunters resting here on their way to the next oasis.
The extremely dry climate is ideal for preserving rock art, and in many cases the drawings appear as fresh as if they were made yesterday.
Our shaded lunch spot in Rainbow Canyon
For our picnic lunch we went to nearby Rainbow Canyon, named for the unusual variety of colorful rock formations. Shade was in short supply, but we found a large rock whose shadow was just big enough to set up our lunch table.
Terraced fields in the village of Rio Grande
For our final stop we drove to the remote village of Rio Grande for an example of terraced farming. The contrast between the small but lush fields at the base of the river canyon and the stark, steep walls that contained them was huge.
Village church in Rio Grande
On the way back to the highway, we spotted a group of guanacos, the wild relatives of llamas and alpacas, domestic animals that are kept for their wool and meat.
A full report of our visit to the Atacama can be found in these posts from May 2011:
Chile: Atacama Desert, Part 1, Flamingoes, Oases and Volcanoes
Chile: Atacama Desert, Part 2, Ancient Rock Art, Llamas and Geysers 

Monday, October 12, 2020

MALIBU LAGOON STATE BEACH, CA: A Walk to the Beach, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Tidal flats along Malibu Lagoon
While Malibu Lagoon State Beach is only a half hour drive from our home in West Los Angeles, we had never been there until a few weeks ago when it became our destination for a fresh air excursion to get out of the house and get some exercise. It was a weekday morning, and as we drove north on Highway 1 through Santa Monica and then Malibu, we noticed relatively few people on the beach–mainly walkers and bicyclers along the cement path. (One can bicycle for miles along this coastal bikeway, something we have done in the distant past.)
Malibu Lagoon
Shortly after passing the Malibu pier, we crossed the bridge over Malibu Creek and turned into the Malibu Lagoon State Beach parking lot, where we paid the entrance fee and then found a shaded place to park in the small lot. In front of us was Malibu Lagoon, a tidal wetland fed by Malibu Creek before it empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Path to the beach along the edge of the lagoon
We followed the sign to the path around the edge of the lagoon, passing late summer wildflowers blooming along the edges.
The lagoon is a haven for waterbirds and popular with birdwatchers. We spotted a great blue heron perched on a log and flock of terns wheeling in the air. Gulls rested on sandbars and egrets and shorebirds stalked prey in the shallow water. At a few places around the lagoon are benches that make good places for bird watching or just resting and enjoying the view.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
The beach at the far end of the lagoon is used mainly by surfers (who have to carry their boards from the same parking lot where we parked.) The ocean was dotted with surfers patiently waiting for the next wave–although the water was especially calm and the waves so small we didn’t see much action.
Channel separating the lagoon from Malibu State Beach
Across the outlet for Malibu Creek is the end of  beach that begins at the Malibu pier. We saw a number of people wading across (at the deepest the water was mid-thigh) and since we were wearing shorts, we decided to do the same. The current in the middle is quite strong and we had to be careful to keep our footing. (I don’t think this would be safe when there is more water in the creek or at high tide.)
On the other side, we continued down the beach almost to the pier before turning back. We passed only a few people and the beach is so big that it was easy to keep our social distance.
Adjacent to Malibu Beach, behind a fence, is the Adamson House, a historic building that is normally open to the public, but closed during the pandemic. When it reopens, I hope to visit.
Tidal flats
For directions to Malibu Lagoon State Beach and more information, click HERE.

Monday, October 5, 2020


North Trailhead
Thurston Hills Natural Area
Springfield, Oregon

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton shares her visit to another one of the wonderful parks near her new home in Eugene, Oregon. She took the photos in this post in August 2020 when she enjoyed this free outdoor activity.

What makes Eugene highly attractive to hikers like me is the miles of nature walks within the city limits, especially when including the adjacent town of Springfield. The Thurston Hills Natural Area in Springfield offers up to 4.4 miles (~7 km) of trails. The land, once a pioneer homestead, was passed down through generations of the Gray family, before becoming dedicated to recreation and habitat restoration in 2012, and opening to the public in 2017.
The trail through mixed forest
Walking through the mixed forest of evergreen and deciduous trees, fuzzy all over with mosses, and with ferns squirting everywhere, I thought, What a gold mine of ideas for a miniature fairy garden, then, Why make a miniature? This is a life-size fairy garden!

A design choice that I deeply appreciate in this park is that although mountain bikers crawling uphill share trails with hikers, mountain bikers speeding downhill must stay on their own separate trails, protecting both bikers and hikers from unpleasant encounters.
Non-native, invasive Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
In late August, scattered wildflowers still bloomed white, yellow, or purple. A pretty but unwelcome flowering plant, Pennyroyal, is non-native and invasive. As such, it harms the environment by crowding out native plants, wildlife by threatening its food and habitat, and livestock by degrading pasture. Some say Pennyroyal arrived in America with English settlers as a medicinal plant. But like many medicines, it is toxic in excessive doses. Efforts are underway, at the city and state level in Oregon, to combat the spread of invasive plants and give native plants a fighting chance to survive.
Typical view from a Springfield or Eugene trail:
hills and valleys beyond forest and grasses
This park continues to undergo different facets of natural habitat restoration, but no crews were working on the Saturday morning my husband and I visited. We had the world to ourselves from 7 a.m. until mid-day, when, on the way back to our car, we put on masks as a Covid precaution while speeding past a small group of hikers.

It was worth getting up early to discover the Thurston Hills Natural Area, which is only one of several Eugene area parks where one can go on a nine-mile hike through varied habitats without leaving the city.
Rock cliff, columns, and piles
At writing time, a few days after the September 7, 2020 Labor Day, parks in Eugene and Springfield are closed while firefighters are barely beginning to contain the nearby “Holiday Farm” forest fire, which is smothering both cities in smoke hazardous to health. A fire this large anywhere near Eugene, and other large fires currently burning in Oregon are unfortunately a first in history.


Read about walking in the Alton Baker Park in Eugene, Oregon.