Monthly Archives: October 2011

Start planning your visit–Camping Los Alamos is almost complete!

Think you’ll be roughing it on your next trip to the future Patagonia National Park? Think again. (Unless that’s your thing.) The Westwind at Los Alamos campground, located a few kilometers from the central park headquarters, is well underway.  By this December, when the park pre-opens to the public, the first campers will be sleeping in its grassy meadows and  admiring its stunning scenery.

Last February: the design team (Doug Tompkins, Francisco Morunde and Matias Martinez) compares architectural plans to the site, and oversees the beginning of construction.

Construction on the new campground has moved rapidly, thanks to our seasoned construction crew and experienced oversight from our new park superintendent, Dago Guzman.  Working through the winter, the team made steady progress on bathrooms, paths, shelters, tent sites, parking areas, and landscaping.  Despite speedy construction, the area feels natural and undisturbed, thanks to careful planning of the impact of campground construction.

This October: construction almost finished on one of the covered cook shelters at the campground.

November: looking close to finished!

The new campground will include hot showers, car parking, cook shelters, and even flushing toilets.  Each cook shelter (or “quincho”) is unique, and provides campers with shelter from wind and weather.  When designing the campground, we wanted to create a family-friendly home base comfortable for car campers and tourists not interested in extreme backpacking.  Westwind of Los Alamos will enable up to 200 visitors a night to experience the future park in relative comfort.

But the best part is undoubtedly location.  Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this?

View from Los Alamos

When you’re ready to get the day started, you’ll find yourself on the 7 kilometer La Vega trail (affectionately know as the “granny trail”), which runs right through the campground. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, the trailhead to the 22 kilometer Lagunas Altas loop is just steps away.  At night, share stories of your adventures with fellow campers during a sunset asado.

The Westwind at Los Alamos campground earned its name one spectacular but windy evening last January, when a crowd of employees, volunteers, friends and supporters gathered underneath the namesake Alamos trees to share a celebratory asado. With a glorious sunset to watch and fresh lamb to share, the wind seemed less chilly and the spot seemed impeccable for camping.  Duncan and Ellen MacFarland, visiting from Boston, decided then and there to fund the construction and development of the campground that has become Westwind at Los Alamos.  Thanks to their love of Patagonian landscapes and commitment to making the park accessible to all, we will be able to welcome and accommodate thousands of visitors this summer.

We invite you to be one of them!

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Saying Goodbye to Pablo Carrasco

October in Patagonia means springtime and the end of the cold southern winter – a time to celebrate. But this month, our community here and in Chile has suffered a loss that seems especially untimely during this season of natural rebirth. On October 15th, we learned of the passing of Pablo Carrasco, a longtime friend, supporter, and employee of both the Pumalin and Valle Chacabuco projects. After battling cancer for several months, Pablo died in Santiago at age 62.

Pablo sharing mate with a friend

Pablo began working at Parque Pumalin nine years ago and was an integral member of the team at the Future Patagonia National Park since its inception. As the story goes, when he first heard that the purchase of Estancia Valle Chacabuco had been approved, Pablo drove all night down the rocky dirt road in order to reach the Estancia by morning. Foreseeing the upheaval that this news might cause among the locals, he wanted to reach them before the official word did in the hopes of quelling their fears and rumors before they began. He went of his own accord to build confidence among the people who trusted him, people who already knew him for who he was: a voice from the local community, and a lifelong protector of Patagonia’s natural beauty.

It was also at Valle Chacabuco that Pablo met Alejandra Bardavid, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Though their time together was relatively short, it was, as she said, “the connection of a lifetime.”

Pablo and Ale

Friends and acquaintances of “Don Pablo Carrasco” recall his vivid and free-spirited personality, his love of music, his smile, and his singular sense of humor. But perhaps most of all, Pablo will be remembered for his deep connection to nature. This legacy is reflected in his final wish for his ashes to be scattered in the Baker River. The freedom of its current and the ongoing fight to keep it wild represent so much of who Pablo was, and it is where his loved ones will come to rejoice in his memory. So, in the end, it is not wrong to celebrate the arrival of spring even when we are feeling the pain of this loss. It is surely what he would have wanted.

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Species Profile: Pygmy Owl

Whether you’re hiking during the day or camping at night in Patagonia, chances are you might see (or hear) a Patagonian Pygmy owl along the way. Unlike other owls, they are not strictly nocturnal, frequently emerging from their nests during the day.  But you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to see them: these owls are small, weighing only a quarter pound or less, making them one of Earth’s smallest owls.  With their grey and brown coloring, they camouflage easily with the Patagonian steppe grasslands.

The Patagonian Pygmy Owl generally flies low and over long distances, alternating between rapid wingbeats and gliding. The owl then swoops up to perch and, quite often, to sing. In fact, these birds are quite prolific singers. When a Pygmy owl arrives in a new area, it imitates the song of local birds. When the birds hear this playback, they gather around the newcomer. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a Pygmy owl during the day, mobbed by such birds as the thorn-tailed rayadito, the white-crested elaenia, as well as other native Patagonian finches, wrens, and sparrows.

He might be social, but this owl is also clever. Some of the smaller birds around will likely become his prey, as well as insects and other small mammals. A grown female grows to be considerably bigger than the males: almost all females weigh more than males.  The females are also exclusively in charge of incubating their eggs, which they lay in a carefully chosen nest, most often on the inside of a tree trunk, but sometimes in another animal’s abandoned burrowing hole. In late November, the mother lays about three to five eggs at a time roughly every two days. After the last egg is laid, incubation lasts for almost a month. Then, when the fledglings are born, they remain in the nest for another month but still require care for yet another month after that before becoming independent.

Locally, the Patagonian Pygmy owl is not rare. But in more developed areas, these birds have become threatened by development – agriculture and industrial alike. Another reason to protect the wildlands of Patagonia.

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