Winter Wandering

Patagonia
By Eileen Gunn
  |  Gorp.com

While it's freezing in the north you can flip the world around and you've got yourself the summer season. Make a beeline to South America and to the tip of the continent for an adventurer's dreamland in Patagonia. Bring the sunblock and light clothing because while the sun is intense you won't want to spend a minute indoors while visiting this playground.

Patagonia, in the "tail" of South America, is a region of mountains and steppes that includes parts of both Argentina and Chile. Much of this area has a climate similar to that of the Coast Range of British Columbia—temperate rainforests at lower elevations, glaciers and alpine lakes higher up. The most well-known of the region's parks, Parque Nacmonal Torres del Paine, perhaps the most spectacular park in South America, is named for its most remarkable feature, three pink granite pinnacles that rise more than 600 feet above a glacial moraine. The park encompasses a variety of terrain and ecosystems, and displays a remarkable diversity of animal life—you'll see flocks of flamingos and occasional grey foxes, as well as ostrich-like rhea (locally called qandz) and guanaco, short-haired relatives of the llama, in the eastern pampas (steppes) of the park, and condors with 8-foot wingspreads soaring in the mountains.

Further south is Tierra del Fuego, the tip of the continent's tail, a scattering of islands separated from the rest of Patagonia by the windy Strait of Magellan. To residents of the northern hemisphere, this isolated area has long been synonymous with the very concept of the remote, a place visited only by the most far-ranging adventurers. To hardy trekkers and kayakers, it's becoming known as a spare, beautiful land of unexplored wilderness, and the spot they head for is Parque Nacmonal Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost national park in the world. Red and gold mallmnes, bogs of sphagnum moss, often dry enough to walk on, are common in the subalpine valleys here and the Magellenic forest, as it's known, is less dense than the forests immediately to the north. Guanaco are common, as are introduced North American beaver. The largest flying birds in the world, the condor and the albatross, can both be seen in Tierra del Fuego, the condor in the mountain regions and the albatross in the coastal areas.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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