Welcome to the driest desert in the world!

“Ride like a Chilean. Like you are making love to a woman,” Yasu our guide said about our impending horse ride.

This…was our introduction to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

Glenn’s brother Chris had flown down from Santa Cruz, California, to join us for a little adventuring. On this first morning we found ourselves standing in the shade of a small tree outside of our hotel waiting for a van to pick us up to take us, presumably, to a horse corral on the outskirts of town. Suddenly a cloppity-cloppity-cloppity sound could be heard in the distance.

It was either a bunch of Englishmen with coconut shells…or the horses were actually coming to us!?!

Soon Bernardo appeared in front of our hotel with four horses in tow, looking every bit the traditional Chilean huaso (horseman). A wide brimmed hat cocked forward, a longsleved shirt with the collar turned up, leather leggings over his lower legs, boots with the hugest spurs I have ever seen and a kind twinkle in his eye.

Bernardo and his horses. Look at the size of those spurs!

Most of my adult horse riding experience has been in the form of slow, bored horses that spend everyday schlepping tourists single file down the same trail and back again. That wasn’t the case with Bernardo’s horses. They were very well trained (e.g., no need to pull on the reins -they sped up when you made a kissing noise, and slowed down when you made a hushing noise like “shhhhshhhshhhh”). They often cut their own trails through the desert and loved to run like the wind across the dunes.

No shortage of dust in this desert!

It was a great way to begin exploring the Atacama Desert, the driest (non-polar) desert in the world. This part of the world gets about 0.6 inches of rain a year, with some areas having never had any recorded rainfall. Ever. What a difference compared to the cold, wet and rainy weather we enjoyed while visiting Chile’s Lake District only days before.

The Atacama is a place where unique and otherworldly landscapes await visitors in every direction.

Just in our first few days we’ve explored – by horse, bike and foot – many beautiful environments with evocative names like Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range). We’ve swam in the pools of a warm river, floated in a salty lagoon and tumbled down huge sand dunes.

Hiking along the crest-line of Death Valley.

Yasu (our guide), me and Glenn getting ready to jump, run and tumble down some crazy huge sand dunes.

Spectacular geologic features pop up from the salt crusted ground in Moon Valley.

Hiking up the Guatin Canyon, following the river of green pampas grass growing along the warm water of the Puritama River.

The eastern side of the desert valley is lined with volcanoes, including this one known as Licancabur – or “the people’s mountain” – (pictured: Glenn, me and Chris, Glenn’s brother). 

Glenn and I taking a float in the salty waters of the Cejas Lagoon. The water is so salty you can just relax, easily float on the surface and take in the beautiful surroundings – including the flamingo that was feeding nearby.

It’s hard to believe we are just getting started with our adventures in the Atacama Desert!

You’ll find additional pictures from the past few days below…with more to follow as we set out to explore in other directions.

(Note: Many of these pictures, especially those that include me, were taken by Chris. Any that are out of focus or cut my feet off were taken by Glenn.)

Exploring Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). It was supposed to be called Mars Valley (to compliment the nearby Moon Valley), but the name was lost in translation when Mars became Muerte. (pictured: me, Glenn, Chris)

Glenn’s fashionable “dust inhalation prevention” attire, with his horse Diamonte (Diamond) in the background.

Weeee! Chris making his run down the dunes.

Yasu, Glenn and Chris taking a break after running down the dunes (which is surprisingly hard work) – little do they know a dust devil is coming to get them!

Hiking through Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), crusted with salt. (pictured: Yasu, me and Glenn)

Watching the desert turn various shades of pink as the sun sets – a panoramic view from atop Gran Duna (Grand Dune).

Hiking up Guatin Canyon. This place reminded me of my favorite part of the United States – the red-rocked canyonlands in Utah and Arizona. (pictured: Yasu, Glenn and Chris)

Colorful boardwalks through the pampas grass, leading to the soaking pools of the Puritama River.

Glenn (ever fashionable) and I enjoying a dip in the Termas de Puritama (Puritama Hot Springs).

Um, guys…you’re going the wrong way.  Me, Yasu and Glenn setting out on the 20 mile downhill bike ride back to town.

Chris riding through the town of San Pedro de Atacama, a little dirt road and adobe clad oasis in the desert.

A beautiful bike ride on our way to float in the salty lagoons. This part of the desert reminded us of the Owens River Valley near Bishop, California, where Chris and Glenn grew up (and I went to high school).

I outlasted both Chris and Glenn in the salty Cejas Lagoon. It was freezing cold water! Contrary to what one might expect to find in a sunny desert.

One big happy family…with awesome fashion sense.

Goodbye until next time! Thanks for following along. 🙂 

2 comments on “Welcome to the driest desert in the world!

  1. Pingback: A love affair in the Atacama Desert | A Life More Extraordinary

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