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One of the best options for the traveller during his visit to San Luis is the circuit that will take him or her to the picturesque and colourful Valle del Conlara Valley and the beautiful and pleasant Villa de Merlo Village.

Along the length of the trip, the tourist would not be able to neglect the small streams that flow across the plains, cutting the ground in the forms of strange crevices or profound gorges. And upon the hillsides of the highlands, now and then, will appear in front of his eyes small woods of algarrobos (carob trees), hawthorns, hackberry, pepper trees and chañares, with static and dark forms amazingly contrasting with the blond curls of the ditch reed and bulrush, permanently dancing along with the wind.

This trip is made by a road that borders the Sierras de San Luis and the Conlara Valley. It takes some 200 kilometres over excellent roads, with service stations, bars, hotels and other lodging facilities offered in the towns at the side of the roads.

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After leaving behind the end of the central highlands of San Luis, where the Capital is located, the southernmost mountains of the Sierra de Comechingones begin to appear as a long mountainous chain that seems to be swallowed up by the sedimentary plains, from where rises in isolation the Cerro del Morro Mountain.

At 96 kilometres from the City of San Luis, by the Ruta Provincial No 20, which connects with the Ruta Nacional No 148, the traveller will find San José del Morro, a small historical town that originated aside a small stream, at the feet of the Cerro del Morro, in the Sierra del Morro, and at the entrance of the Conlara Valley.

In the course of the Spanish domain it served as a fort in the struggle against the native indigenous peoples, and as a staging post on the road from Buenos Aires to Cuyo. Its ancient church, called San José, preserves valuable relics, like the ornaments of the first Bishop of San Luis, and in 1981 it became a National Historical Monument.

It supplies the service of a daily camping, and a beach resort near the river, where a natural pool has been built. It is an ideal place for walking; trekking, horse back riding and trips in four wheel drive trucks.

At the feet of the Sierra de San Luis, a typical mining town comes to sight. It is the Capital City of the Department of Pringles, and the name is La Toma, name taken from an old water outlet that was constructed in the year 1850, and some 56 years before the foundation of the town. Nevertheless, the railway meant the true start of this town. The design the town was made starting from the La Toma railway station.

But what really characterizes it is by all means the mining. Not in vain people convene to call it "Capital del Ónix". Onyx is a kind of marble that is extracted from the quarries in the area. It is also unique in South America and easily identifiable by the brown streaks over its green base colour.

The tourist in its streets cannot leave before visiting the "Cantera Santa Isabel" quarry, and the multiple workshops where the craftsman shape the stones in order to obtain fascinating and delicate crafted pieces of art.

Located 84 Kilometres from the city of San Luis, at the crossroads of the Ruta Provincial No 20 Provincial Route, with routes number 10 and number 2. It has a beautiful beach resort over by the Río Rosario River, three kilometres away from the village, and all the information needed to enjoy the attractions and possibilities can be obtained by the traveller in "El Parador Minero", a post located on the Ruta Provincial No 20 along with a restaurant and a museum exhibiting ore samples.

Another interesting attraction is the sober construction called El Castillo, or the Castle, remainder of a ranch house today abandoned, showing a strange picture with its turret and battlements crowned walls, making it resemble an ancient fortress.

Every year, during the summer season, the Festival Provincial del Ónix Onyx Provincial Festival takes place with the presence of well-known local and international performers.

At 120 kilometres from the Capital City, and seven kilometres from La Toma, driving by Ruta Nacional No 148 National Route, we will be find Naschel, a farming centre par excellence, and an industrial one as well, due to the tannery and the paper factory there present. It also offers a Provincial hostelry counting with all the necessary services. Excursions can be arranged too. They mingle a religious concept with recreation. The "Fiesta Provincial del Maiz", maiz meaning corn or maize, takes place in the village, with a parade of machinery and chariots, local beauty queen pageant and a grand ball afterwards.

In the near proximity of Naschel, and 140 kilometres away from San Luis, again by the Ruta Nacional No 148, appears the village of Tilisarao, a Native indigenous cacana word meaning Wild Corn, words full of meaning because the area is dedicated to both agriculture and animal husbandry. Corn, sorghum and sunflower are some of the most common crops in the locality.

The Village was founded close to the Estación Renca Train Station, inaugurated in the year 1904. That explains why its first name was Nueva Renca. But the villagers did not like that name much, so in 1925 they made arrangements and changed its name for the present one.

In the locality exist an important sawmill and a factory making excellent wood planks of export quality.

The name owes its origin from the old parish of Renca, and it is the pilgrimage sanctuary of the Señor del Espino - Lord of the Thorn or Señor de Renca, whose image is taken out in procession every third of May. The small villa was founded in the early 18th century, at the banks of the Río Conlara River. The image of the Señor de Renca is a beautiful carving depicting a lying Jesus inside an axe-made crack in a thorn tree, the copy of which was brought from Chile. Before and after the ceremonies lots of produce from the zone can be bought. There are good lodgings and places for camping. From the city of San Luis it takes a 150-kilometre drive across the Ruta Nacional No 48 National Route and Provincial Routes Numbers 20 and 40.

At 155 kilometres from the City of San Luis. This is an important water reservoir that catches the waters of the Conlara River. It stores 81.3 million cubic meters of water, irrigating 13000 hectares of land and delivering electricity to the towns in the area. On its huge water mirror, nautical sports and the fishing of atherines are a common practice. The access is easy from the localities of La Toma and Naschel. There is a camping site close by.

Typical village of the San Luis Province and one of the oldest as well. Along with the towns of Renca and Santa Rosa, it is homeland to some of the most conspicuous families in the area. Access is through the Ruta Nacional No 148 National Route and its altitude is about 600 m.a.s.l. Some few kilometres away is located the first tungsten mine of South America and ten kilometres away is the most important deposit of wolfram in the country. The Mine is called Los Cóndores, and provided the Province with great wealth during World War II. In order to exploit it, pits and galleries were excavated with a length of 800 metres, along with many ventilation outlets, used also to extract the ores. Finally, some pits reached more than 250 metres deep into the ground.

From this small village excursions to the neighbouring towns can be arranged

Once more travelling down the Nation Route No 148 and then taking the Provincial No 5, at 150 kilometres distance from the City of San Luis, you will find the mythical Santa Rosa de Conlara. This small town was born at the beginnings of the 19th century, beside the Chapel of Santa Rosa de Lima, on the lands that were owned by the Captain Manuel Antonio Salazar.

The Village shows a well-ordered and defined layout. There are some showy old big houses that belong to the late 19th century, among which stands out the neo-gothic shape of the tower of the church. There is a very beautiful beach resort, at the banks of the Conlara River, a watercourse with the singularity that it flows northwards. The traveller will here find some barbecue pits and a pleasant and welcoming hostelry.

Santa Rosa also offers a splendorous and picturesque highlands environment. Clear waters flowing in the shapes of rivers, falls and streams, all under a privileged climate that turns the area into a place where nature can be found in its purest state. One of the excursions that arouse the most enthusiasm is the one that goes to the La Huertita Reservoir, 79 kilometres away. A water mirror in the midst of the Sierras de los Comechingones Highlands, with their bluish and ochre tones.

From Santa Rosa de Conlara it is easy to reach Bajo de Véliz. This is an excursion only for the adventurous tourist, along a 24 kilometres of a small uneven road. For this reason, it is recommended that the visitor travels in the area aboard a four wheel drive vehicle, that will carry him across its colourful landscape among impressive rock walls covered by plants.

Bajo de Veliz is a profound and narrow depression of some 12 kilometres length and an area of around 600 hectares. Follow the road along the Cabeza de Novillo Stream North to South, when it changes its name to Cautana, by which it is mostly known. It has the category of a National Park.

There is in the area a prodigious slate quarry, a kind of a slab stone that the inhabitants of the zone had learned to unearth with pickaxes and steel bars and thus transforms it in roof or floor tiles.

The outcropping is dated as being approximately 300 million years old. In it there has been some animal and flora fossil findings of immense importance. The stony remains of the biggest spider that crawled in the world, along with the living presence of the African Guayacán, called "the tree of life", a unique species in all the region, are only a few of the treasures that this village has to show the tourist.

The Town has a school in which the Centro de Visitantes or Visitors Center can be found. The tour to this zone is called "La Ruta de la Pizarra" or "The Slate Route". There are no lodgings available along this Route's extension, so the cautious traveller will make sure to reserve rooms in the hostelry near Santa Rosa del Conlara or in Merlo, at a distance of 20 kilometres from this place.

At 196 kilometres from the City of San Luis, by the National Routes numbers 20 and 148, an then over Provincial Route No 5, in the north-eastern extreme of the Province appears, green and peaceful, a legendary village that seems to be sliding down the feet of the Sierra de los Comechingones: Merlo

The town was officially founded on January first in the year of 1797, on behalf of the orders given by the Marquis Rafael de Sobremonte, to honour the Viceroy Pedro de Melo. Although a small town organized on the grounds that surrounded the old chapel of Nuestra Señora del Rosario already existed before the foundation, this mentioned chapel is still standing today.

Merlo is an important destination for tourists. Located between the Divisadero and El Tren Mountains, and benefits from an excellent micro-climate which origin is the fact that the highlands cut the pass to the wet air currents that come from the Atlantic Ocean, as well as all the smog and other contaminants that these currents pick up on their way across the damp "Pampas" as the Argentinean plains are called.

In addition to this feature, we have to consider the fact that the electrical charges of the rocks in the Sierra de los Comechingones are very low, and as a result, the negative ionisation that catches the oxygen atoms freed by the decomposing granite are transformed into ozone.

If we put together the existence of ozone, the lack of humidity and the little or none contaminant agents, the scarce altitude of only 890 metres above sea level and a average temperature of some 20 °C, the resultant equation is a dry micro-climate that produces a healthy sensation of pleasantness among its regular dwellers and to visitors too.

The village offers four different tour circuits covering an area with a 200 kilometres radio, allowing the traveller to go around, know and enjoy the country labours in the ranches and farms, watch the craftsmen skills in practice, the mines, the reservoirs and also practice sport fishing. For all these activities, Merlo is equipped with almost 6000 hotel beds.

Inside the City itself, the traveller will find two casinos: The Dos Venados and the Chumamaya. From the installations of the last, also a camping club, the traveller can enjoy one of the better panoramic sights of the village. Also available are tours by car, on horseback or on foot across the picturesque surroundings and highlands, with its plentiful views like colour postcards.

Festivities: "Fiesta Nacional del Valle del Sol" on the first fortnight of February


The Capilla Nuestra Señora del Rosario Chapel
Typical building of the 18th century, in a Colonial style, its roof made from axed carob tree wooden beams and thick adobe walls. It keeps an image of the Virgen del Rosario Rosary Virgin and one of a Cristo de la Agonía Agonising Christ. Located on Avenidas Del Ciprés and Presbítero Becerra Avenues.

The Centro Recreativo Municipal - Municipal Recreational Centre.
Located six blocks away from the Main Square, between Comechingones and San Martín Streets. The building itself is a typical example of Colonial architecture, with thick adobe walls, tiled roofs, and half point arched gallery and on the patio courtyard a fountain called aljibe . Inside this building functions the Museum Casa del Poeta, in the memory of the famous poet of San Luis , don Antonio E. Agüero. It also has a snack bar, a swimming pool and a multiple-sports field.

The Museo "La Pampa Gringa" Museum
Exhibits scale reproductions of agricultural machinery. There are also some paintings referred to this topic. In Avenida Norte n/n.

The Museo "Lolma" Museum
Exhibits remains of "Glyptodonts" and Comechingones aborigine rules. On the road to the Algarrobo Abuelo.

The Museo "Palmira Scrosoppi" Museum.
Crafts elaborated by artisans from Merlo, Exposition hall and sale of crafts. On Avenida Del Sol Avenue No 900

The Algarrobo Abuelo - Grandfather Carob Tree.
It is an impressive example of a white carob tree. Sole survivor of the once existing densely populated woods of this species that ruled in the area before the arrival of the railway trains. Its estimated age is of more than 800 years and it has witnessed the historical whereabouts of the region. Lately it has been declared "Sitio Histórico de la Ciudad" or Historical Site of the City.

Piedra Blanca
Typical highland area where the colourful houses with their beautiful gardens is the main attraction. The stream that bears the same name marks the boundary to the Provincia de Córdoba Province. At a very short distance from there, in Pasos Malos, the exuberant lush of the Molle Pepper trees gives form to a natural park. The natural baths are of pristine and fresh waters and are surrounded by a dream-like landscape.

Rincón del Este
The excursion begins from Merlo by a little road towards East, goes into the Comechingones Highlands, with their prodigally coloured palette, and driving among Molle Pepper trees, poplars, huckleberry and fruit trees, the traveller will arrive at Rincón del Este (East Corner). This is a residential zone. There is a bathing resort (El Rincón), hotels, camping sites for tourists and many places where to bathe. There, from the Mirador del Peñón Colorado, you will get an impressive panoramic view from Merlo and the Valley of Conlara.

At tour kilometres to the South of Merlo is located the ancient village of Cerro de Oro, with its clear watered streams. Further on, the town of Carpintería still preserves the rudimentary workshops of chariots from the 19th century. Then, Los Molles, resembling that typical highlander tree. The roads goes through the locality of Cortaderas, where the traveller will find all kind of commodities and services, not to mention the many sights of the sierra highlands he will discover.

After this, the trip continues by the ravines of Villa Elena, and into the bosom of the Sierra, Villa Larca, with its irrigation channels and ditches dating from the 19th century. The latter is a summer vacationing village that has a beach two kilometres away called "El Chorro de San Ignacio", were a 20 metres high water fall captivates those that have the privilege to contemplate it.

This locality precedes, finally, Papagayos, a splendid place of a wild polychrome intensity. Very close to it is the ravine of the stream of the Papagayos, whose hillsides are intensely covered by molle pepper trees, ferns and genipaps in deep contrast with the grey and pink coloured rocks, whose strata can be seen from the stream.

This zone provides very good lodgings and multiple possibilities for camping. Other excursions take the traveller from Merlo to the localities of Santa Rosa del Conlara and to Concarán.


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