Valle Fertil, Argentina

The two places to see in the area are part of one large protected park, but have separate entrances. The Ischigualasto National Park (Moon Valley) and the Talampaya National Park (canyon) are nearby.

We went into the Talampaya National Park en-route from Chilecito to Valle Fertil, and went to the Moon Valley during our following day in Valle Fertil

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Finca Puesta del Sol, our accommodation in Valle Fertil

We had probably been oversold on this place after reading the reviews. But there was one word of warning in a Spanish language review entitled "“No vayan en invierno” (actually we went in the autumn, not winter, so it was slightly warmer). The cabin could have slept about 10 people from the number of rooms and beds. It did have Satellite TV

We were driving a 4*4 so were able to navigate the 8 (I do not exaggerate) water crossing to get to this cabin. We had not been warned about this, and certainly I would not have attempted it in an ordinary car. It is 8 kms from town, and the dirt road with its river crossings, is not something you would want to attempt at night

We had high expectations: his adverts promise breakfasts with "fresh juices, regional jams, bread and cheese". All that was on offer to us from this list, was one jam. On asking the owner, he disappeared and returned was a loaf of bread. Also "The tour desk can provide tips on visiting the area" is somewhat far fetched - no tour desk, no tips.

The cabin is simple, not that clean, and smells of stale wood smoke ( but we were not given wood for a fire). The living room has no heating. The very basic kitchen has a small gas hob, but a gas leak (you could smell it) made us wary about using it. There was no washing up liquid. A particularly odd feature was bedside lights, but nowhere to plug them into. There are a lot of farm animals around, so the verandah smells strongly of dung.

Having got the bad points off my chest, I can say the setting is magical, very scenic, right beside a river, with mountains around. We stayed here because we wanted to visit the nearby National Park. If I came this way again, I would find an alternative or drive on.

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Talampaya National Park

Both parks are accessible only when accompanied by a Ranger. In Ischigualasto you drive your own vehicle in convoy following the Ranger, while in Talampaya you have to go on a bus tour. Talampaya can be easily described as a 2km long canyon, 200-250m wide, bounded by sheer blazing orange cliffs up to 150m high. As you first enter the canyon there is a collection of petroglyphs well over 1000 years old.

Parque Nacional Talampaya in Argentina's La Rioja province was created to preserve important paleontological and archaeological sites. The wind eroded canyons and the ensuing rock formations attract scientists and visitors alike.

The two contiguous parks, extending over 275,300 ha in the desert region on the western border of the Sierra Pampeanas of central Argentina, contain the most complete continental fossil record known from the Triassic Period (245-208 million years ago). Six geological formations in the parks contain fossils of a wide range of ancestors of mammals, dinosaurs and plants revealing the evolution of vertebrates and the nature of palaeo-environments in the Triassic Period. When you are there, you do not actually see any of the dinosaur fossils, and I have no idea what has happened to them.

UNESCO says:- The site contains a complete sequence of fossiliferous continental sediments representing the entire Triassic Period (45 million years) of geological history. No other place in the world has a fossil record comparable to that of Ischigualasto-Talampaya which reveals the evolution of vertebrate life and the nature of palaeoenvironments in the Triassic Period.

Before the Spanish conquest, the area was inhabited by several groups of aborigines, usually semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers. The cultural value of Ischigualasto-Talampaya is of great significance, even though a detailed study of rock art, artifacts and archaeological sites has only recently begun. The site lies on the southernmost area of late Inca influence. At Talampaya, many sites have been unearthed and are easily accessible. At Ischigualasto, six sites of rock art have been discovered. In addition, cave and rock overhang habitation sites, as well as burial sites, campgrounds and tool-making areas have also been found. It is possible to classify much of the rock art in terms of geometric figures, human figures and combined scenes.

The nominated World Heritage site constitutes almost the entire sedimentary basin known as the Ischigualasto-Villa Union Triassic basin. This was formed by layers of continental sediments deposited by rivers, lakes and swamps over the entire Triassic period (245-208 million years ago). The sediments contain fossils of a wide range of plants and animals including the ancestors of mammals and dinosaurs. Some 56 genera of fossil vertebrates have been recorded from the area, including fish, amphibians, and a great variety of reptiles including the direct ancestors of mammals. Most of the fossils are found in the uppermost levels of the geological formations and consist almost entirely of archosaurs, including large herbivorous and carnivorous species, primitive crocodiles and primitive mammals about the size of a rat.

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Ischigualasto National Park (Moon Valley)

This park is part of a large area in Argentina that qualifies as UNESCO World Heritage

We did this in a convoy, as that was the only way that anyone can see this park. A Ranger sits in the lead vehicle, and on each of about 5 stops, the cars in the convoy park, we all get out, and the Ranger gives an explanation of what we are looking at. Apart from one stop with a (very) few fossil plants, most of what there was to see was the eroded rock formations, many of which were dramatic.

The round rocks are the "Cancha de Bochas" (Bowling Field). A natural formation of round rocks a bit akin to kidney stone formation in humans

Next morning we headed from Valle Fertil to Mendoza

Holiday in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina