Triassic Park, Argentina.
Ischigualasto Park, San Juan province, Argentina. About a day’s drive northeast of Mendoza, past increasingly scorched earth and a gently sloping horizon, the “fertile valley” floats into view like some kind of mirage. In an instant, a ribbon of fresh water streaks through the scaly soil top forming a creak clogged with desperate algae and even more desperate locals who plop their lawn chairs in the water in an attempt to cool their buttocks. This tiny oasis flashes by in one hamlet as the desert swiftly reclaims the terrain. It’s hard to imagine that such land could ever sustain much in the way of life. And yet millions of years ago, this patch of earth was entirely fertile, like the lush wetlands of the Pantanal or the Everglades. And it is precisely for these once fecund conditions that today the Ischigualasto park has one of the richest concentrations of dinosaur fossils in the world. (In fact, according to the park’s UNESCO World Heritage page, the site contains “the most complete continental fossil record known from the Triassic Period”.)
Knowledgable guides direct caravans of tourists and make several pitstops to explain the unique geology of the region. It’s a dusty and torrid affair, but if you time it accordingly and arrive around opening or closing, you’ll avoid the most oppressive of the heat.
The park itself is surreal, the landscape seemingly better suited for the moon or mars than for earth, and the rock formations so perfect they appear to have been hewn by hand.
Practical Info: The best way to get to Ischigualasto is to rent a car in either Mendoza (6hr drive), San Juan (4hr30), or La Rioja (1hr45) and drive there yourself. Once there, you’ll take your own car through a guided caravan tour of the park. Public transportation options are limited, though there are buses that connect San Juan and La Rioja to San Agustín del Valle Fértil (the nearest civilization, about an hour from the park entrance). Without your own wheels, your best option is to organize transportation to and from the park through your accommodation in the Valle Fértil. General admission is 70 pesos per person (roughly $15 USD). The park is open daily from 8hr to 16hr in winter and until 17hr in summer. For more information and for detailed driving instructions consult the park website (in Spanish).