After a few days digesting what happened in Mendoza we parked our bicycles in the office of a car rental, loaded the car with our camping gear and left. Once again we passed the spot of the raid. Once again I went very emotional on it. We left a dozen flyers at gas stations and power poles indicating a finder´s reward for the lost items, still hoping to get at least the diary and passport back. Meanwhile Kathrin paid all my bills and even bought me a new harmonica. Near Villa San Agustin we find an empty campground next to a farm at dusk, and finally camped under a marvelous open sky again, cooking our food and singing along under the bright shining moon. On the next day we visit the Ischigualasto National Park. With a group of other cars, led by a guide we drive the 40 some kilometers circuit on gravel that is not allowed by feet or bicycle. At the various stops our guide explains the archeological events that shaped the moon-like area with its multicolored layers of soft round shaped rock formations and the steep red cliffs behind within hundreds of millions of years. At some places, petrified plants were clearly visible, and apparently there were certain types of saurian in the area too. Just as we are on our way out, a bright big full moon rises behind the red rocks. We spent a cold and windy night at the campground, and went to see the nearby Tamalpaya National Park on the next day.
For today, we go on a two hour bus tour. Petroglyphes at the entrance of the Quebrada (a canyon), vertical towering red rock walls reaching some hundred meters frame the sandy river bed. The green of thorny shrubs and low trees of a few hundred years of age display a splendid contrast to the red rocks and red sands. We spend the night in an inexpensive cabaña in Villa Union, and another day in the National Park. Tired of sitting in a car we go on a guided hike this time that brings us much closer to the beauty of the area. Stunning rock creations and an incredible view where the canyon opens into a distant wide plain and the sun shines at the rock walls at the very gate are the reward for following our private guide.
The drive to Rodeo seems to go forever through very boring plains of shrubs again before reaching a small town that is locked up for the siesta. Commonly, most of the shops are closed between noon and 5pm in Argentina, and therefore settlements often look a little like ghost towns. After the brief visit we drive for hours through a stunning black and grey rocky canyon, eventually leading to a reservoir under blue skies. As usual out here, the town is indicated by the yellow autumn leaves of cottonwood plantations. We can pitch our tent in the shelter of some Police campground. On the next day we warm ourselves thoroughly in the inexpensive hot tubs of the nearby hot springs before moving on towards Barreal. Again we cross flat plains with nothing but stones and shrubs for hours before hitting the next hill range in these endless lonesome highlands. It seems fairly difficult to estimate the distances in these open plains - what appears as 5 or 10 kilometers often turns out to be three or four times more. We often wonder how much water and food cyclists would have to carry out here.
The Leoncito National Park, famous for its two world-class observatories out in the high lands is a great spot. There is unguided hiking through alleys of cottonwood, small foot paths through rocky hills to a little waterfall, and splendid picnic areas with views to snow capped mountains. Autumn colors at its best. A long ride back to Mendoza on the same day, finishing the loop, seeing the road from Uspallata to Mendoza for the second time, in quick motion this time…