Atacama snow

Jane McGary
Fri, 08 Jul 2011 10:49:53 PDT
Andrew wrote,
>Some of you may have heard of the recent heavy snowfall (80 cm. or 30 inches
>or so) on the Atacama desert recently. That is indeed a rare event. Coming
>after a previous year where some parts of Atacama had exceptional rains,
>this might make it an interesting time to go see some bulbs. But first, I
>would like to see more specifics.

I was there some years ago after a good precipitation year -- you 
could see where water had flowed along usually dry drainages. I 
wonder where this recent snow was, though? The desert itself -- the 
part between the coastal hills and the puna, or high steppe -- has 
almost no vegetation at any time. The Desierto Florido (flowering 
desert) is most prominent at the southern margin, around Vallenar, 
for instance. The greatest floral diversity is on the coast and in 
the nearby hills and canyons. If the precipitation was in the eastern 
uplands, one wonders how far its influence would extend.

If a Desierto Florido is indeed in the offing, I'm going next 
October. Three friends and I made an attempt a couple of years ago 
but the promised El Ni~no had fizzled out, and we saw little on the 
coast, partly because the g--d-m goatherds had brought their flocks 
down to the coast to munch on the Alstroemerias. We ended up 
retreating to the south.

Early October was a very good time to arrive to see the flowers of 
the Zona Norte. I have a talk I give on that trip, but the photos are 
on slides, not digital, so I can't offer copies. It was a dream trip 
for me, even though my companion was a geologist who kept complaining 
about how boring the rocks were, and how overcautious my driving was 
-- until SHE got the truck stuck. In addition to lots of photos, I 
got the t-shirt: with Leontochir ovallei on it, and the bumper 
sticker with "Yo estuve en el Desierto FLorido."

Incidentally, in addition to bulbs and a huge diversity of 
Alstroemeria, there are scads of cacti in the area, from miniature 
chollas that leap onto your pant legs to stately columnar species. 
Also, as one would expect in an arid region, many showy 
annuals--which are what the CHilean tourists come to see and 
photograph their children standing in flowery fields, just like 
southern California. The traffic, however, is much less than in Death Valley.

And the seafood is great, and the wine is cheap. Vamos!

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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