Perito Moreno National Park
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One of the most interesting and diverse national parks in Argentina lies on the westernmost edge of the country, in the northwest of the province of Santa Cruz. Perito Moreno National Park was created in 1937 to protect the richness of the region, which includes lenga (a type of beech) forests, two-lake systems, Patagonian steppe areas, fossils, and a wide variety of wildlife. The national park covers 115,000 hectares, with mountain chains cut by valleys, many of which are 900 meters above sea level. Hills and mountains surround the park on every side, creating an incredible natural amphitheatre. The weather is consistently cold, with permanent snows, and an average of 100 to 200 mm of rain, annually.
There are three distinct environments in the park: The Patagonian steppe, a transition area, and the forest. The forest is comprised almost exclusively of lengas, and is mostly located on the coastal zones of the Azara and Nansen lakes. Perito Moreno has an especially high scientific and cultural value, thanks to the presence of the paleonthological remains and biological elements that it protects. These remains, which provide a priceless look into the past, can be seen throughout the park, and are subject of much examination. Nine thousand years ago, the area was inhabited by hunter-gatherers, who carefully planned the usage of the available resources, and moved accordingly between the steppe and the forest.
The guanaco, a relative of the llama, was one of their most important animal resources—they used the meat, bones, leather, tendons and veins. The guanaco can still be found roaming the area in groups.The original groups of inhabitants lived in caves tucked throughout the area, but later moved to open-sky awnings. Special activities, like leather making and dyeing, however, were still done in rocky eaves.
According to the archaeological registers, the park area was abandoned in the 18th century, probably due the harshness brought on by a short ice age. The park is chock-full of evidence of the region’s past, which began 9,700 years ago. Through this evidence, we are able to learn so much about the Tehuelches ancestors’ lives, habits, and beliefs.
In addition to the links to the past that the park provides, it is a thriving, flourishing area today, as well. The guanaco freely roams the park, and the protected area is also works to help save the huemul, a type of deer unique to Patagonia, that is dangerously close to extinction. The largest predators in the region are the puma and the red and grey wolf.
The many small, beautiful lakes, which are fed by thawed snow, provide an important habitat for various aquatic birds, including flamingos, hualas, black-necked swans, and various ducks. The immense variety of avian life doesn’t stop there, however. Andean condors, the black and white hawk-eagle, and many other great birds call the park their home, as well. Although many other lakes in Patagonia have a variety of exotic fish, the lakes in Perito Moreno National Park are only full of native fish. You can find out more about Patagonia, and the other incredible areas of Argentina, in this Argentina Travel guide.
This park is well suited for those who want a truly natural experience. While officials recommend that you bring extra fuel when visiting the park, the nearest gas station is in Gobernador Gregores, about 200 km away. There is also no organized campsite. There are several suggested hikes throughout the park, ranging in duration from a couple of hours to up to four days. The comprehensive Park Information Center can provide information on the different routes. Rangers are also available to provide guidance and information; some of the hikes are recommended only with a ranger.
The Alero, near the Park Information Center, has cave paintings and 6000-year-old archaeological ruins, a must-see when visiting this area. Traces of settlers from years past can also be seen on many of the various hikes.
Perito Moreno National Park is not only a national gem today, but it is vitally important for understanding the Patagonia, and Argentina, of the past.
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