Piedra Parada, a volcano story

A polychrome earth book on the Argentine steppe.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The steppe in Argentina’s sector of the Patagonian region has more to offer curious travelers than the beautiful snow-capped mountains to the west and the dramatically desolate coastline to the east. At first glance, it seems just an arid no-man’s land of brushy plains, mesas and low hills with canyons and valleys that lies between the Andean and coastal ecosystems. However, it has much to tell because it is older. It is a story book about the earth’s history and the adaptability of wildlife to climatic adversity that is opened to the curious traveler during guided excursions that leave from the city of Esquel in the northern Patagonian province of Chubut.
… foto PIEDRA PARADA 1 BLOG.jpg … Volcanism is the main character in the chapter of this story that can be read in the polychrome surroundings of Piedra Parada, a 245-meter-high standing rock 140 km east of Esquel and 45 km from the Mapuche village of Gualjaina. Here, the Chubut Valley widens to accommodate the 25-km-wide caldera of a mega volcano that erupted for the first time 60 million years ago, before the Andes were created by successive upthrusts of geotectonic plates. Imagine this enormous volcano erupting time and again over a period of 10 million years that also saw numerous marine ingressions.

The yellow, green, grey, red and pink rocks that lie within a 30-km radius of the volcano testify to the intensity of its activity. During this period the caldera collapsed and filled with water. In the lagoon thus created, several small volcanoes formed islands that were covered with luxuriant vegetation between eruptions. The interaction of the water with acidic lavas produced thunder eggs (hollow rocks with crystals lining the inside wall).
The big volcano choked on its last eruption, and the lava that cooled in its chimney became the standing rock when the softer rocks around it eroded.
… foto PIEDRA PARADA 3 BLOG.jpg … The colors of the terrain and the presence of Piedra Parada itself, which is impressive from all angles, attracted the Indian tribes that roamed the area as far back as 5,000 years ago. More than 40 ancient rock art, camp and burial sites in this part of the Chubut Valley indicate that the standing rock in its setting fascinated them as much as it does today’s visitors.
… foto PIEDRA PARADA 4 BLOG.jpg … Buitrera Canyon has ancient petroglyphs and paintings in the overhangs of its 80-meter walls, fossils of a wide diversity of prehistoric flora and fauna on its floor, and impressive rock formations that have been produced by erosion. It is attractive to birders as well as rock climbers and rappellers.
Photographers and people who are interested in geology, paleontology and archaeology tend to book their excursions with Limits Adventure, the Esquel travel agency that specializes in science- and culture-based outings, as well as active tourism such as hikes to glaciers and ice tunnels in the Andes.
For more information, see http://www.limitsadventure.com.ar/.

PHOTO CREDITS: All images courtesy of Esquel Tourism Secretariat.