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With a stubbornly red and grey coloured Sierra acting as a spectacular frame, at the West of the City of San Luis lies a privileged area for tourists that includes the Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas as its main attraction.

This is a circuit of short distances. Composed by only 126 kilometres starting from San Luis, driving along the Ruta Nacional No 7 and the Ruta Provincial No 15. The first village to reach is:

At a distance of 32 kilometres to the West of the City of San Luis, travelling by the National Route No 7, suddenly emerges, both discreet and welcoming, the Village of Balde, a town born around an old railway station from which it took its name. The main attraction is its therapeutic hot spring thermal waters.

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The average temperature of the waters that surge from the well is about 43 ºC. Among its qualities there can be mentioned the medical benefits in the treatment of chronical rheumatism, as well as to fight obesity, diabetes, gout, kidney stones, dermatitis and other diseases.

This small town is located over the flatlands. From this site, the traveller can stare into the far distance, westward, towards the far away Alto Pecoso Mountains, an area of intermediate terrain, which ranges between saline and dry, where low bushes and shrubbery predominates over other species of vegetation, among those can be mentioned the caldén, the black carob, the chañar and the jarilla.

Among the facilities there is a hotel and a hostelry, and on the outskirts the Spa "Los Tamarindos" has been recently inaugurated; a place where the traveller will enjoy a high-class service.

Nearby attractions from Balde are the salt pits known as the Salinas del Bebedero. It can be reached by the Ruta Provincial No 7 and then by the Ruta Provincial No 15. It takes a drive of 19 kilometres to get to a lagoon of salty water that in wintertime gets transformed into an incredible white desert.

As the villagers use to say, "cuando madura la sal" meaning "when the salt is ripe" arrives the time when dozens of workers come to this white plains to engage in the recollection of salt, thus transforming the landscape with thousands of salt heaps waiting for the trucks to pick them up and carry them to the processing plant.

By the Provincial Route No 3 and then by the Nacional Route No 147, which ultimately leads to the Province of San Juan, some 25 kilometres away from San Luis, is situated the locality of San Gerónimo which just like the previously described Balde, is renowned and appreciated due to its health-providing hot spring thermal waters.

The water emerges from a well 451 metres deep, at an average temperature of 39º C. They are presumed to work wonders as body invigorators, and are also believed to improve the sexual performance of men. They are also reputed to cure other afflictions as rheumatism, arthritis and lymphatic diseases.

In regards to the traveller's commodities, the village includes lodgings and a restaurant.

Twenty kilometres ahead, after turning to the left, and leaning on the Sierras del Gigante, the hamlet of La Calera appears. This is a small urban conglomerate where dwell both the lime and the cement workers. Two elements that have so many applications in the construction of the large cities and that are available thanks to the richness of the mountains that stand at the edges of this territory.

More to the North, the traveller will arrive to Hultarán, a small town that serves as the natural entrance to some remote eras, frozen in time to achieve the fulfilment of the senses: the Sierra de las Quijadas.

The astonished traveller is here confronted with an overwhelming landscape that contains impressive stratified stonewalls in red and grey tones. There, it is possible to walk over the structures, aroused through the eons, consisting in cliffs, crags, cornices and terraces. The compound has been denominated "Pequeño Cañón del Colorado" or "Little Colorado Canyon", due to the similarities it shares with the famous North American Canyon.

Declared a National Park in 1991, it hosts not only representative specimens of native wildlife but also testimonies from the past, by means of the archaeological remains left by the Huarpe Culture and also by valuable palaeontology findings. Million years ago this land was the home to pterosaurs and to some species of dinosaurs.

The origins of its name are still confusing. To an acute observer, the shape of these highlands will roughly resemble that of the lower jawbone (quijada) of an animal. Nevertheless, when the name was adopted the aerial photographs had not been developed yet.

On the other hand, near the end of the 19th century, a story tells that the chariots daring to travel from Buenos Aires to San Juan were usually assaulted by outcasts, which afterwards flew seeking sanctuary among the labyrinths scattered all over this highlands. Cattle provided their main nourishment and, as the legend asserts, the first part to be consumed was … yes, the lower jaw. That explains why on the placards offering rewards for the capture of these thieves; they were entitled as "Gauchos de las Quijadas" or "Lower Jawbone Gauchos".

The Park has an overall extension of 150 thousand hectares. The Cerro Portillo Mountain, with its 1200 m.a.s.l. stands as the highest point in the zone. On the western side there are several isolated water mirrors, some of them permanent, although the great majority are temporary, with shallow waters, whose extensions vary through the year according to the flow of the Desagüadero River. This complex is called the Guanacache Lagoons, where waggling canes (juncos) grow, giving shelter to uncounted water birds.

Towards the end of the trip, a colossal amphitheatre carved throughout the centuries surprises the traveller: the "Potrero de la Aguada". Above this riverbed can be spotted the most spectacular cliffs, gorges and cornices stained by scattered bushes and trees like the chañares and quebrachos.

It can be visited all year round, although the prevailing temperatures during the summer season add an especially difficulty to the trip. In these highlands rains occur very seldom, with an annual average rate of 300 mm, mostly during spring and summer but then usually in torrential amounts.

It is also important to recall that neither in the Park, nor in the access route, exist any kind of facilities for the traveller. Therefore it is very convenient to carry supplies and drinking water. There is a cost free area for camping, supplied with two latrines and a small shop. The Park is also equipped with barbecue grills; tables and lots of tree shadowed spots, and some spots with still pools of drinkable water. The Park has forest guards called Guardaparques Forestales and permanent guides to embark in the different excursions offered.

Flora y fauna - Vegetation and Animal wildlife.
The Park shows two differenced ecological areas: The Chaco or flatlands and the Monte or mountains, and between them an extended transitional range. The former zone is characterized by vegetation consisting in shrubberies of retortuño, atamisque and pichana, while the latter consists in dry forests with caduceus leaves.

The vegetation in itself is scarce throughout the Park being its main characters are the jarilla, the zampales and several species of bushes, cactus, and quebrachos blancos among others.

And as incredible as it sounds, in this semi-arid environment, battered by high temperatures, some isolated plants endure, like the purslane and two species of cacti that partially expose their roots, due to the erosion effects.

In addition the Park contains a great number of natural balconies where the chica develops, a hard wooded bush, leafless, to be found only among some specific highlands.

There have also been identified two species of plants that are endemic to the Sierra de las Quijadas. One is the zampa, a small tree with violet flowerings, and the other is a variety of the solo, with a creamy colour.

It is noticeable too the great amounts of aerial plants that stand out at every step taken by the traveller.

The small bataraces woodpeckers fly among the scattered quebrachos blancos and over the treetops of the black carob trees, the little grey falcons take a rest before engaging in their hunting parties. The breas, small trees of a shining green bark, provide a poor shadow, barely enough for a puma and its offspring to find shelter from the heat during noontime. The sluggish land tortoises nibble at the cacti, their preferred food. When the sun goes down, the grey foxes become momentarily visible, only to disappear few moments later into the thickets.
The same happens when spotting some guanacos pasturing atop the cliffs of the highlands.

Concerning the animal wildlife that lives in the Park, there are several endangered species like the moro cat, the land tortoise, the red vizcacha, the yellow nightingale, the red eagle and the picho ciego menor.

There are also some animals in a critical state of survival, as the gato del pajonal, the gato montés or wildcat, the puma, the red fox, the small gray fox, the guanaco, etc.

Among the most notable birds we can mention the peregrine falcon, the rhea, the condor, the black neck swan, the white swift, the so called monjita blanca, that chases the insects with which it feds by darting towards them, the bataraces woodpeckers, and the catitas serranas grandes, that fly forming flocks upsetting all the peaceful eco-system, while a group of comesebos andinos or boquenses flaunter with the bluish colour that so distinctively stains the head of their males.

Huellas del pasado - Traces from the Past
The Park treasures the fossils of two species of a particular group of prehistoric reptiles. The pterosaurs or winged lizards. One of them shows a unique set of teeth resembling a sort of a basket, which was used for retaining and filtering the microorganisms with which it fed, presumably from the water, the way that present day flamingos do. As a matter of fact, it becomes evident that these highlands still keep many secrets of its past biological history, secrets that will keep unravelling with the continuous pending scientific and biological research.

Los antiguos habitantes - The Pre-Historic dwellers.
There are some elements found inside the Park that reveal the former presence of the "Huarpes", an ancient indigenous culture that once populated the area. An even though it still remains to be proven that the discovered rests of some small ovens were theirs, it is a fact that other archaeological findings belonged to them.

If the traveller's will is to make a short visit, it will be enough for him to step off the trail to arrive at the viewing points. A red-coated scenery, formed by precipices and altars at different heights are contained by the Potrero de la Aguada.

Sitting at the top of some outcroppings of rocks, or on the edge of the cliffs, the landscape can be stared at for hours, in a peaceful state of mind, with both eyes and mind filled by unique and pleasant sensations.

On the other hand, if his or her intentions are to take a longer trip, the traveller can take the journey that goes down to the Valley, always with the help of an expert guide, because it is very easy to get lost among the natural labyrinths that exist along the way. After the descent, the traveller will reach the Potrero de la Aguada, and from this point, heading westward, will arrive at the Desaguadero River, whose waters nourish the Guanacache Lagoons Complex.

Access roads.
The Sierra de las Quijadas National Park is located in the Northeast of the Province of San Luis. From this place, the natural approach will be by the hamlet of Hualtarán, at 120 kilometres over the Ruta Nacional No 147, from where a small gravel road goes to the left for about six kilometres that will actually take the traveller up to the limits of the Potrero de la Aguada.

Suggestions and Tips for the Traveller
  • Before engaging in any activity, ask for a permit and then gather all the concerning information from the guards of the Park.
  • Respect all the signs, directions and rules of the Park.
  • Every excursion must have the presence of a local guide.
  • Motorcycles and bicycles have a restricted transit, only over the designated vehicle roads.
  • Camping is forbidden outside the designated areas.
  • Do not bring pets of any kind. If so, you must keep them restrained.
  • Do not leave your garbage and leftovers in the Park.
  • Take enough drinkable water with you, there is none to be found in the Park area.
  • Carry a heater for cooking, the firewood is also a protected item.
  • There are few shaded places. Protect yourself against the sun
  • Don't forget your hat at home. If you did; buy another one.
  • Use blockers on your skin or any other protection against sunburn.
  • Wear your sunglasses.

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