Wednesday 18 June 2014

Day 38: Volcan Toco and Hello NASA

P-PG68 - Susan - Atacama Cosmology Telescope, Cerro Toco
How long does it take to climb a five and a half thousand metre volcano?  Just over an hour and a half, as it turns out.  Of course, it helps if the road stretches up to 5,000m.  It also helps if you have just climbed a 6,000m mountain in Argentina.  It even helps that the wind, for once, has decided to lie down for a nap.  All these things combined are so beneficial that you can mince up to the summit, take your photos, and return to the car in time to eat another avocado for lunch, without even having to don your down jacket.  Why can't all mountains be like this?

After summiting Volcan Toco, we went to check out the ALMA Observatory - a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and others to observe the clearest skies in the world.  The ALMA doesn't yet have a visitor centre and we were expecting to be turned around at any moment - surely NASA didn't want a couple of sweaty campers checking out their multi-million pound telescopes?  But we saw no one.  Under the circumstances, it would have been rude not to pay a call to the host of immense white robotic figures glaring into space.  Unlike the flamingos, they remained motionless while we took our photos - no need to delete the blurred shots on this occasion.  Then we slunk away.  We drove down a different track to return to the main road and found the exit blocked by boulders.  Ah, NASA didn't want our company after all.  Well, they should have blocked BOTH approaches to the observatory then, shouldn't they?  

Continuing up the pass towards Argentina, our next stop was a mini Monument Valley - a set of rock pinnacles sprouting from the gravel.  They looked as out of place as cacti sprouting from a snowfield.  Some of them also looked like they offered a superb wind break.  It was time to camp.

View back to the Atacama Cosmology Telescope from the path to the summit
Volcan Juriques and Licancabur from the summit of Cerro Toco (5604m). The border with Bolivia runs through the middle of the mountain and encompassing Laguna Verde (the lake that you can see to the right.
The Atacama Large Millimetre Array up close. I'm no astronomer but aren't they all supposed to point the same way to function as an array? I'll let NASA (&ESA) off given that it isn't officially commissioned yet.
More outposts of the ALMA. Nice of them to build a really wide road for us to use!
Small lake near the Salar de Pujsa
Moais de Tara
Moais de Tara... no jokes about this one please.
Our campsite for the night and a nice evening scramble!

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