• Steve Marks

Days 96 and 97: The Prehistoric National Parks of Ischigualasto and Talampaya


Eons ago, many geologists believe most of the earth’s landmass was clumped together in one supercontinent they’ve dubbed Pangea. In the heart of northern Argentine desert country are two National Parks which today still sport many features carbon dated to be from forever ago.

Both Ischigualasto and Talampaya are mainly from the Triassic period, which is roughly from 250 million to 200 million years ago, and which was eventually superseded by the Jurassic period of 200 million to 150 million years ago. Twisted trippy rock formations are everywhere, and a huge amount of prehistoric bones have been unearthed here. One of the USA’s leading paleontologists dubbed the wider area to be a “dream come true” and spent half his professional life here.

Dinosaurs only came along late in the Triassic period before flourishing in the Jurassic, so some of the bones unearthed here are from reptiles deemed to be pre-Dinosaur. Pretty old. But the remoteness of the area doesn’t just harbour history from forever ago; many cave and rock paintings from 2500-3000 years ago are here, although the meaning of most of them is anyone’s guess.

Because of the ancient and protected nature of both parks, there’s no independent exploring - only in groups with a guide. Travelling from south to north, I hit Ischigualasto first. Tours through Ischigualasto are in convoys of cars around a loop of the main sights, so park wardens told me to go find a car that might be prepared to offer a spare seat. I happened across a friendly Canadian couple driving around for a few weeks who were happy to oblige. After the morning excursion, I smashed out the 80km up to Talampaya through the afternoon and camped out at their nice campsite along with a few others.

Roads through Talampaya National Park are so sandy that excursions are only in special trucks. As much as I enjoyed Ischigualasto, I think Talampaya really stole the show. I felt like I was on some other planet. Although I tend to disdain “organised group” stuff, since there was no other option I just rolled with it. It was in fact quite a lot of fun, and at one of the most scenic points in the canyon they set up a table with lots of regional snacks and wine which was a nice touch.

After that it was a cruisy 60km afternoon ride up to the small provincial town of Villa Union, with a population of around 12,000, where I am now. I’d planned a rest day here, but then learnt this is a place where they have a big party for Carnival (starting tonight). Every room in town is booked out so it was good to arrive in advance to suss a place. To be honest I’m pretty exhausted after all this heatwave cycling, so one planned rest day has turned into a few and I’m looking forward to the start of the fiesta in a few hours 🥳 🎉 🍷 🍻

These subjects of the bottom two photos are both from about 250 million years ago; the one on the left is the bones of a pre-Dinosaur reptile, and the one of the right is a leaf that became embedded in rock.

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