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LOS CARDONES NATIONAL PARK

SALTA

ARGENTINA

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SALTA

LOS CARDONES NATIONAL PARK

At little less than 100 kilometres from Salta, the route winds among cacti and hippeastrum flowers, a road that anticipates the coarse simplicity of the Los Cardones National Park, in the Southwest of the Province of Salta, in the midst of the so called Calchaquíes Valleys.

The Park was created in December 1996 and covers an area of 64117 hectares. The terrain it embraces is typical of the highlands and dry gorges between 2700 and 5000 m.a.s.l. where shrubbery vegetation and giant cacti, the emblematic specie of the Park, is abundant.

The different altitudes found in the Park allow for a wider environmental variety, which in turn allows for the existence of an important diversity of animal species for a desert region like this.

There are three classes of environments: the Highlands or Sierra, with pronounced ups and downs in all the ridges and mountains. The "piedemontes" or mountain foot and slopes, presenting smoothly inclined surfaces, safe from the rains but also other surfaces submitted to fluvial erosion and sedimentation. And the environment of the depressions, namely the lower zones of the relief, where fine material brought by water is continuously being deposited.

The mountains stand out for the variety of their colours, ranging from red tones to different tones of green and black. They can be observed on the eastern side of the Tin-Tin Mountain, also notable for its large deposits of limestone, containing many fossil remains of gastropods, algae, fish and even dinosaurs.

Over there, in an ample sector of the Park, upright cacti stand guard on the roads of the ancient Empire of the Incas and on the unique Valle Encantado or Enchanted Valley, that keeps the secrets of its rich past.

The Parque de los Cardones has a worldwide importance due to the physic characteristics of its zones, which makes it comparable with the Saguaro Natural Monument and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park , both in the United States.

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* Northeast Circuit
* West Andean
Circuit

* Southeast Circuit
* Valleys Circuit
- Angastaco
- Animana
- Cachi
- Cafayate
- Chicoana
- Coronel Moldes
- Dique de
Cabra Corral

- La Poma
- Brealitos Lake
- Molinos
- Los Cardones
National Park

- San Carlos
- Seclantas
HISTORY
Because of its strategic position in the Valle de Lerma and Valle Calchaquí Valleys, the territory of the Park has many vestiges of pre Hispanic human dwellings. The oldest traces are stone remains in the form of arrow points, stone chips and rock paintings inside caves depicting both human and animal figures.

The latest are fortifications and roads right across the Park showing the influence of the Incas. This road infrastructure served as a link between the different centres of economic exploitation, goods production and socio-political control of the territory of Argentina by the Incas.

FAUNA - ANIMAL WILDLIFE
Owners of the deserted beautiful landscape of Los Cardones, across the vast territory roam the guanacos (Lama guanicoe), zorros colorados or red foxes(Ducicyon culpaeus), zorros grises or grey foxes (Ducicyon griseus), chinchillones (Lagidium viscacia), pumas (Felix con color), pericotes andinos or Andean mice (Auliscomis sublimis) and the small quirquinchos chicos (Chatophactus vellerosus).

The Cardones Giant Cacti shelter endangered species like the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) and the guemul (Hippocamelus antinensis).

Among the birds we can mention the condor, the rhea, the so called keu or quiula, the Andean seagull, the Andean woodpecker, the royal woodpecker, the cactus woodpecker, the bare eyed small dove, the golden dove, the black-winged dove, the Andean hummingbird, the common hummingbird, the black breasted hummingbird, the giant hummingbird, the red tailed hummingbird, the so called cacholote pardo, the so called gallito copetón, the black thrush, parrots, the big headed plover, the common diuca, the so called cortarrama and assorted kinds of storks and ibis, nightjars, woodcocks, flamingos, ducks, linnets and more.

FLORA - PLANTS
Throughout the whole extension of the Los Cardones Park a diversity of plants can be spotted, distributed among four well-differentiated areas:

Puna: Between 3500 and 4500 m.a.s.l. Freezing low temperatures at night, and enigmatic condors that rule on the mountain crests, distinguish this almost totally dry climate part of the Reserve. The plant species typical of this habitat are the tola (Parastrephia sp.), tolilla (Fabiana densa), añagua (Adesmia sp.), rica-rica (Acantholippia hastulata), cortadera (Cortadeira especiosa), muña-muña (Satureja parvifolia) and some gramineous plants.

Pre-Puna: The highlands descend from 3500 m.a.s.l. to some 2200 m.a.s.l. This is the kingdom of the churqui (Prosopis ferox) forming small groves in the lowlands of the Park, known as "El Churcal". There are also tolas, tolillas, chijuas (Baccharis boliviensis) and añaguas, scattered across Cachipampa, Cajoncillo and the straight road of the Tin Tin.

Monte occidental. Western Mountain: There are lots of cacti (Trichocereus pasacana), the jarillas (Larrea divaricata) and the yellow flowered arum (Hippeastrum tintinensis) that grow only during rainy seasons. They stand in groups on the mountainsides of Tin Tin and in the Cajoncillo Ravine. In more open and deserted places grow the typical breas (Cercidium praecox) and retamas or brooms (Bulnesia retama), bushes that reach less than one metre high, with their green stems and yellow flowers. The jarilla (Larrea divaricata) is very important, because the cacti sprout and grow underneath the protecting shadow of this plant until they reach an adequate size.

Pastizal alto andino de neblina - Cloudy Andean High Grasslands: Showing a yearly rain rate below 200 millimetres, in this zone predominate the gramineous plants, the leguminous plants and some species of fungi.

EL CARDON - THE GIANT CACTUS
Being the main character of the Park, its abundance in this area has granted this plant to share its name with this National Reserve. Outside it is covered with spines resembling golden needles that reach lengths of up to 30 centimetres. Some artisans in the valley still use these spines to knit llama wool.

The yearly growth rate of the cacti varies between one to five centimetres and only after reaching fifty years of age they sprout their characteristic white flowers, which die a few days later giving birth to the fruit, the "pasacana", from which over eighty thousand seeds will disperse. Amazingly, the chance is that only one among those tens of thousands will germinate in the shelter of the jarilla.

In this Park, some individuals of this cactus have been seen to reach heights of up to three metres, standing as mythical witnesses of the area, with an estimated age of between 250 and 300 years old.

Although its wood seems fragile, it is actually used to make roof beams, furniture and crafts. Due to some irrational over cropping, this vegetal species became close to extinction, but it has later been protected and today it is strictly forbidden to cut down any of them.

WEATHER
Most parts of this area show a predominating arid climate, dry and mild with average temperatures of 11 ºC during the southern hemisphere Winter (with a minimum slightly below 0 ºC). And about 18 ºC during the Summer season, (with maximum levels of 30 ºC).

Rainfalls are scarce, the annual rate hardly reaching above 200 millimetres. And this happens only during the Summer season of the year, from November to March, when more than 90 percent of the yearly rainfall occurs. The rains do not fall in the same amounts throughout all the areas of the Park, and there are differences between the yearly rainfall averages as well.

Only on rare occasions, there are snowfalls in the lowest part of the Park's area, (about 2700 m.a.s.l.) where the yearly temperatures oscillate around 10ºC. Well over 3500 metres above sea level, in the so-called eastern highlands, there are occasional hailstorms. Towards the East, where the Valle Encantado or Enchanted Valley and the lowland hillsides of the Cuesta del Obispo are located, a transition between the arid climate towards a more humid one can be perceived.

HOW TO ARRIVE
To be able to arrive to the Parque Nacional los Cardones National Park, starting from the City of Salta you have to drive across the Ruta Nacional No 68 National Route, up to the locality of El Carril, from where you will enter the Ruta Provincial No 33, that runs through the Escoipe Ravine and the Cuesta del Obispo, until reaching the Piedra del Molino at 3600 m.a.s.l.

From this spot, you will access the National Park, going through the Tin Tin straight road until arriving to the picturesque locality of Payogasta, to continue down the National Route No 40 heading towards Cachi. Already inside of the jurisdiction of the Park you will meet the crossroads between the Ruta Provincial No 33 and the No 42, which will take you to the locality of Seclantás.

ACTIVITIES
There are many kinds of activities awaiting the visitors, despite the fact that the Park has not yet the basic infrastructure in place to welcome travellers. Apart from the opportunity tour across its deserted beauty on a road in good conditions, you will also be able to take amazing pictures, take a walk across the field, or do some trekking and watch the animal and plant wildlife

The cacti, amidst their arid silence, are really impressive with their upright postures arising from the ground. They will always be standing there to delight your eyes in a totally unaccustomed bizarre landscape. Although it is forbidden to cut it down, you will always be able to obtain a souvenir made out of its wood because the guards of the Park pick up the dry remains and save them for the craftsmen of the zone, who turn them into real pieces of art that are later sold to the visitors.

What to visit in the National Park Los Cardones:

The Valle Encantado - Enchanted Valley: Some beautiful ponds are born during the rainy season and become frozen in Winter. Moreover, an endless multi-coloured carpet of flowers flourishing among the capricious outcroppings of stones and the intensely blue sky covers the soil. There are also some ancient rock paintings and the mighty condors can be spotted surveying their domains.

Dinosaur Tracks: They were discovered due to the surveys done by the Mina Don Otto Mine, belonging to the Atomic Energy Programme. The prints were left on clay plates that were later thrust up on a cliff side by orogenic folding. Some years ago, some plates fell off. There was a time when they could be seen by climbing a dangerous ladder attached to a vertical stonewall of almost twenty metres that formed part of the mine. But the access to it was eventually restricted, as a result of the increasing numbers of adventurers daring to climb up there.

Cerro Negro or Malcante: It is the guardian that stands between the Valleys of Lerma and Calchaquí, magnificent and imposing. From its top at 5050 m.a.s.l. it is possible to see, on clear days, as far away as Cachi and Salta, Cabra Corral, the snowy peaks surrounding it along with the Cachi Mountainrange, and also Palermo, Ciénaga Grande, San Miguel and Acay In order to get to the top, you have to enter through Tonco, by an bad road that starts towards the right at the end of the straight road of the Tin Tin, by the Ruta Provincial Nº 33, coming from Salta.

WHEN TO COME
All year round

 


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