Hearing about the salt flats while planning our trip, Chris decided the Salar de Uyuni and its surrounding environs was a place he wanted to see. He thought cruising over the world’s largest salt flats in a 4×4 would be “pretty awesome”. I, on the other hand, had my doubts. But, the Salar proved me wrong.

Before driving to the Salar, we visited the train graveyard where “carcasses of once valiant steel beasts now forever lay” (Chris’ description mocking my writing style). Climbing and exploring the dilapidated locomotives, the train graveyard is an adult boys’ playground.

More than 40,000 years ago the Salar and much of southwest Bolivia was engulfed in the waters of Lago Minchin. Today, the Salar de Uyuni is blindingly white and stretches as far as the eye can see (12,000 km). Upon entering the Salar, we stopped and watched as workers harvested the salt. Using pick axes and shovels, they formed mounds of salt which we assume is used to dry the salt. The Salar de Uyuni’s unique landscape allows for taking illusionary photos. We had some fun balancing on a water bottle, and I enjoyed getting my aggression out on Chris by squashing him. We enjoyed watching the antics of other groups as well until it was time to move onto other sights.

In the middle of the Salar, the Dr Seuss-like Isla Incahuas sprouts cacti nearly 1,000 years old. Once surrounded by water, now the barren salt flats enclose it. The jagged rock island gives amazing views of the Salar and the surrounding areas.

The surrounding landscape of the Salar de Uyuni is like nothing we’ve ever seen. You can drive for hours with nothing but views of the barren landscape and distant mountains, but in an instant the scenery completely changes; a forest of rock formations crops up just around a bend or geysers shoot up to the sky just over a hill. On our first encounter, we came upon globs of jagged fossilized algae. The unique formations look like plaster webs clumped as though they were dropped by large spoonfuls. At first we thought the formations were volcanic rock, but learned Lago Minchin covered much of Southwest Bolivia and these rocks are what’s left of its inhabitants.

Throughout the trip, mountains and volcanoes dominated the horizon. Like jars of colored sand layered upon each other, swirls of cream mixed with shades of orange, red, green, and blue minerals formed the mountains. Created from different minerals, each mountain range looked slightly different.

Crossing into burnt-red plains, the desert was like a picture from the Mars Explorer. A desolate area with little life forms except vicunas and llamas, the desert stretched in all directions. Coming upon towering rock pillars was like a scene out of Star Trek—the one where Captain Kirk fights the “Lizard Man”. Scrambling up the formations was a welcome break from the long hours spent in the car.

One of our favorite parts of the trip was visiting the geysers and bubbling mud pots. Steaming geysers engulfed us as we walked through the area. Unlike Yellowstone, no barriers blocked us from getting close to the geysers. In fact, we could stand on top of them if we wished. However, the smell of rotten eggs seeping into our clothes deterred us from spending much time in the midst of their spewing sulfuric steam.

Breaking up the  landscape, lakes filled with flocks of flamingos dot the area. Rich in minerals, the lakes support an abundance of life. These lakes are home to six species of flamingos and serve as excellent feeding grounds for them. Watching the flamingos graze as we at our lunch was one of the best backdrops we could imagine. Visiting the Salar de Uyuni and its surroundings is truly a unique experience. The Salar is just as Chris expected, “pretty awesome”.

As always, our recent photos can be viewed onChris’ and Jodi’s flickr pages.

2 Responses to “The Land of Mars”

  1. Ashley says:

    it’s so nice to revisit through your stories and your photos…it is such a fantastic adventure you are on. i love seeing the flamingos and the mars-like landscape again.

  2. gary and susan says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! What beautiful pictures and descriptions. South America may have to be our next extended trip. Love, Dad