Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.
Just a few miles from Ushuaia, is the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. The national park was established in 1960 to protect the area of the southern tip of the Andes from Lake Fagnano to the coast on the Beagle Channel. For us, a visit is a must because in the park is the actual true end of the Pan American highway. Two young Americans, Dan and Brian want to go into the park to hike and camp for a couple of nights and ask us for a ride. They are from Connecticut and are travelling by hitch-hiking and buses. “No problem” we tell them but also warn them that we are not early starters and probably won’t leave until noon or so. Since they plan on spending two or three days in the park that is ok with them plus they want to save money and the buses are expensive. The drive to the park is along an unpaved gravel road and the landscape is abrupt and sharp as a result of glaciations during the earth’s earlier eras. Here, the Andes are a series of mountain chains divided by deep valleys with lakes, rivers, peat bogs and forest. After entering, we followed the signs to Lake Roca, one of the glacial lakes and the beginning of several hiking trails. The hiking is magnificent following the spectacular coastline to lakes, mountains and glaciers with trails that wind past shrubs, bushes and trees that the almost constant wind has bent into odd angles. There is also a camping area but you have to pay extra to stay at this particular site. There are others which are free with the park admission and Dan and Brian plan at staying at one of those. They are also planning on doing the most strenuous of the hikes, the Cerro Guanaco Trail leading up to the summit of the mountain. We say our goodbyes and Tom and I settle on an easier trail leading to the lake. The park preserves the sense of being at the end of the world with paths that wind around the spongy masses of ancient peat bogs. A characteristic feature of a Fuegian (fiord-like) landscape, peat bogs are accumulated masses of dead plants, mosses, reeds and grasses that have built up over the centuries in damp valley bottoms and ooze ice-cold water. They add to the feeling of being in an area marked by the process of earth through time, very Jurassic-park like. After a visit to the Visitors Center to warm up and read about the indigenous Yamana and Ona tribes who inhabited the area before the Europeans arrived, we drove the short distance to the head of the trail leading to Lapataia Bay. you can stand at the end of route 3, the Pan American Highway, now little more than a dirt trail and imagine the long line that connects you to Alaska. Wilderness and nature surrounds you. Facing one direction are the sharp, jagged, snow capped, granite peaks of the Andes. Turn the other way is the Beagle Channel (named after Darwin’s ship “The Beagle”), the waterway that leads to Drake’s Passage and Antarctica. As we walk to the very furthest point we gaze out over the channel. We are truly at the very end. Only water and Antarctica lie ahead. As we slowly turn, we see the Andes. We will eventually have to cross them but for now we are content to gaze around us and dwell on the fact that we got here. It is remote and beautiful and we realize how fortunate we are to be able to have had the time to get here and spirit to accomplish it. May the road to Alaska be as thrilling.