Monday, April 30, 2012

Perito Moreno Glacier

Argentineans call Perito Moreno Glacier the "8th Wonder of the World.” In addition to its enormous beauty, it is the planet's third largest reserve of fresh water and one of the continent's last advancing glaciers. Located about 50 miles (80 kms) from EL Calafate and veiled by towering mountains, the glacier epitomizes the natural beauty and splendor of Argentina as it slowly pours in crackling celestial blue, from the granite spires of the Chilean Paine Mountains into Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park. After leaving El Calafate, we followed Lake Argentino around Bay Redonda giving us the opportunity to appreciate the milky blue glacial waters reflecting a background of snow-capped mountains. After about 35 miles at the Curva de Los Suspiros mirador, we got our first panoramic view of Glacier Perito Moreno. Even at this distance the glacier is massive. We lose sight of it as we enter the park and follow the road as it meanders around the surrounding mountains. At the end of the road, we are directed to the lower parking lot where shuttle buses take visitors to the upper viewing areas. This is also where we will stay for the night. Whilst giving Winston a walk, we can hear the glacier. The glacier is a kinetic attraction, emitting sonic booms as it calves icebergs into the lake. It creaks and moans and the sounds echo off the nearby mountains giving the area an ethereal quality. These sounds continue as we climb the steep road to the upper parking area and the connection of interlinking walkways that provide easy access to the glacier’s best viewing points. As we wander slowly towards the “fall zone”, we are struck as to the similarity between the walkways designed here and those which we encountered at Iguaçu Falls. We have to commend the Argentineans on the work. The manner in which they build accessibility walkways through their national parks giving easy access to most people including those with disabilities while still maintaining the beauty, aesthetics and integrity of the area is a lesson to be learned by other countries. And then, we are confronted by the renowned Perito Moreno Glacier. Unique in many ways, including its size, scientific significance and accessibility, the glacier is magnificent. At first sight, the sheer magnitude of Perito Moreno, one of the largest in South America is simply astounding. Its walls tower over two-hundred vertical feet (forty meters) from the ground, where the ice meets Lago Argentino. At this height, equivalent to that of a fifteen-story building, the glacier maintains a commanding presence as it forms an imposing panoramic wall, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. The most notable feature about the Perito Moreno Glacier is its dynamic and ever-changing facade. Unlike nearly every other glacier on the planet, which recede and dwindle in size over time, the Perito Moreno formation actually swells with each passing day. Deemed an "advancing glacier," the ice is continually growing and expanding outward, gradually occupying more and more territory. While the glacier is said to move outward at a pace of up to seven feet each day, large chunks of ice falling from the walls make this growth a bit more subtle. This phenomenon also makes viewing the glacier all the more unpredictable and exciting. The show is never-ending. You can watch the detachment of ice blocks of different sizes from a short distance, hear the roaring they produce, and then watch them turned into wonderful floating icebergs. We spent hours exploring its wonders and taking in the breathtaking vistas, at the picturesque sight which lies before us. It was mesmerizing. We walked from one end to the other, enthralled with watching chunks fall from it into the waters below, some almost at water level but others crashing from amazing heights. We stayed so long, we missed the last shuttle and had to wait for some workers to finish up and give us a ride down to our RV in their pickup. We walked Winston and prepared a simple dinner of soup and sandwiches. Throughout the night, we were awakened often by the moans and booms of crashing icebergs falling from the glacier. Very cool. The next day, we took a boat ride to get even closer. As the boat maneuvered closer to the glacier, it was even more amazing watching from water level, the chunks of ice falling and splashing ahead of us, some large enough to cause waves which made the boat rock. We took tons of photos and, whilst the glacier lacked the vibrant colors and spiked formations of Grey Glacier probably due to its constant movement, the sheer enormity of Perito Moreno is phenomenal and we could understand how it became known as the 8th wonder of the world.

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