Ischigualasto National Park, Argentina
They say that it’s like standing on the moon, being in Ischigualasto National Park. The grey sand at your feet can seem white in the right light, the rock formations seem unworldly against the sky, and everything is quiet. Oh, so quiet. There’s a reason the locals have named part of the park ‘Valley of the Moon’.
Not far from the valley, against the ridge of mountains that stretch for more than twenty kilometres, the space theme continues. It feels like being on Mars, with the red rock formations creating an impenetrable boundary that traps you in the heat of the sun.
Argentina’s national park
Ischigualasto National Park is one of the secrets of Argentina. Barely mentioned and hard to access, it’s rarely on the itinerary of the average traveller. It is worth the effort, though. The moonscapes turn into stunning valleys. Rocky outcrops named for the shapes they resemble (the sphinx, the submarine…) appear seemingly from nowhere.
In the rocks, hidden from view for millions of years, are the remains of dinosaurs. Many have been discovered and moved for scientific research. Undoubtedly many more remain beneath our feet. The rocks are up to 240 million years old – and this is the world’s most complete fossil record of the Triassic Era. Nowhere else on the planet reveals so much about the evolution of vertebrate life.
Because it is such an important area, access to the park is only under the supervision of a ranger and in a vehicle. Cars line up at the gate and each hour a ranger will guide everyone through Ischigualasto, stopping at the most significant landmarks to allow everyone to get out and walk around. I had hired a car and a driver with two other travellers who were also keen to walk the moonscapes, in the shadows of the Martian red rocks and above the skeletons of dinosaurs.
Our group of cars was small. The park was enormous. It was a long way off the tourist trail to make the expedition here and the feeling of isolation made it seem even more remote. It’s not quite the moon, but for a moment it felt a bit like it.