Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flamingos, Salt Flats, and the Unique Beauty of the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is not one of the driest place on earth rainfall wise, it is The driest place on earth, with some areas not having received a drop of rain in recorded history.
nothing but the bluest skies and miles and miles of empty space- Atacama desert
nothing but the bluest skies and miles and miles of empty space
But unlike parts of the Sahara, the desert is not completely arid as snowmelt from the nearby Andean peaks infuses some life into the otherwise un-inhabitable land.
evidence of water in the desert- often below ground
evidence of water in the desert- often below ground
Salar de Atacama (the desert's salt flat) is spread out over a vast 3,000 square km, making it the 3rd largest salt flat in the world, but still a distant bronze compared the gold earned by Bolivia whose nearby salt flat encompasses more than 10,000 square km.

The region contains most of the world's known supply of lithium, but political concerns and lack of infrastructure prevents 40km away Bolivia (whose reserves are far and away the world's largest) from reaping the economic benefits of mining this element at present time. Chile on the other-hand is the world's second leading producer of lithium, trailing slightly Australia despite having 5 times the known reserves.
white ground= salt
flamingos taking flight in the clear skies
flamingos taking flight in the clear skies
Surprisingly, flamingos are a mainstay of the desert, wading through the pools and salty lakes subsisting mainly on the brine shrimp.
The Chilean flamingo is generally more white than the pink normally depicted in most of my known sources (cartoons.) While other species of this omnivorous bird grow more pink in color as they age. This is due to the algae they consume being loaded with beta carotene, an organic chemical that contains a reddish-orange pigment (literally, you are what you eat,) but alas, virtually no algae grows in the salt laden bodies of water here, and witnessing the white flamingos makes me question whether my world view is truly enhanced by continuing to watch Saturday morning cartoons.
Chilean flamingo wading n the salt flats
Chilean flamingo wading n the salt flats

20,000 foot volcanos rising in the distance
salty lagoon in the Atacama
salty lagoon in the Atacama
The water of Salar de Atacama here has a salt concentration which ranges from 5 to 28% (where the flamingos feed the level is at the lower end) but at the higher end of the range produces an effect of floating like the Dead Sea. 
You can pay a ridiculous amount to the local indigenous peoples for access to a floating pool of water. With the high elevation (2500 meters) and the wind howling in the pre-winter atmosphere, combined with the massive amount of fresh water needed to clean oneself off of the salt covered 90% of one's pores once you emerge from the water, and the limited time one wishes to spend in the cold water.  
videothe "Dead Sea" of Atacama- floating on water

But beyond that, the desert is positively a uniquely beautiful place in color and landscape, and the sunset over the volcanoes will simply take your breath away.
video: highlights of Sala de Atacama 

Atacama sunset over the salt flats
Atacama sunset over the salt flats
Atacama sunset over the salt flats
salty salty
all that white on my shorts- salt residue from the Chilean "Dead Sea" flotation experiment
all that white on my shorts- salt residue from the Chilean "Dead Sea" flotation experiment

1 comment:

  1. Great Article!!! I enjoyed it and Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete

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