Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures continues adventure along a sacred Uspallata Valley - to the natural marvel of Puente del Inca and then to Aconcagua - the tallest mountain in the South America.
Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Uspallata
Next stop on the RN-7 is in Uspallata – a little town at the distance of about 100 km (62 miles) from the provincial capital.
Surprisingly, given its altitude of about 2,000 m (6,550 ft) the landscape in this central part of the Uspallata Valley dramatically changes.
Bare slopes, rocky ridges, dust and scarce steppe vegetation observed all along the RN-7 gave way to a large open space covered by lush green vegetation.
Clean streams collecting mountain’s water and abundance of sun created here an enclave with harmonious coexistence of vibrant life and predominantly lifeless Altas Andes.
Frankly it feels like entering a different climate zone! And what the contrast of lively green against the rainbow of red, orange, purple, pink – you name it – colors of the towering the Uspallata Valley mountains…… !
The town is quite busy with tourists stopping for lunch on their way to the High Andes. But the area is also becoming the tourist destination itself offering horseback riding, photographic safaris, hiking, trekking, fishing (salmon and rainbow-trout) etc…..
And let me ask you - can you imagine here the cloudless night-sky with zillion of long forgotten stars? Well, actually it still exists and here is a dream-place to live this fantastic and unforgettable experience! Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Are we really in the center of High Andes, one may ask seeing abundance of these tall trees?
In pre-Columbian times the valley was inhabited by Huarpes, considering this oasis of life in the heart of lifelessness as a “sacred-place”.
Few hundreds years later (in 1817 as the matter of fact) the place gained a new historical significance. It was the point where General San Martin gathered his army before crossing the Andes to liberate Chile from the colonial power.
Today the so-called “Sanmartinian” routes including a much “revered” stone bridge over the Picheuta River are part of the National Patrimony. The original bridge (declared a National Historical Monument) was probably built in the late 18th century by Ambrosio O’Higgins. Its current version however seems to be only a replica.
In the more recent history the Uspallata Valley “enjoyed” the Hollywood-style moments. Thanks to its similarity to the Tibetan plateau at the foothills of Himalayas, Uspallata was a base for the movie “Seven Years in Tibet” based on the memories of Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt). Thankfully, Hollywood is long gone to where it belongs and the valley quickly came back to its peaceful ambiance……
Continuing the RN-7 we pass town of Polvaredas arriving to Punta de Vacas. It is marked by the confluence of two rivers: Las Vacas and Tupungato with the mightier Rio Mendoza. Here also starts the hiking trail toward Mount Tupungato 6,570 m (21,555 ft) and its smaller “sibling” Tupungatito. Next on RN-7 is Penitentes - Mendoza’s 2nd largest ski center. Summer time the site is visibly empty as majority of tourists keep going farther west to the Puente del Inca.
Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Puente del Inca
Thanks to its fabulously colorful Inca Bridge and hot sulfuric waters sources it is one of the most often photographed and visited sites in Argentina – a must to see for anyone passing-by.
The stories and legends behind this geological marvel accompanied by many beautiful pictures are offered on separate pages of this site.
To visit Puente del Inca please click on the left picture or select the link: Puente del Inca
Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Aconcagua
Not far from the Puente del Inca, on the right side of the RN-7 through an opening in the mountain range you may suddenly see the uncontested Queen of the Andes and Cordilleras – Her Majesty Aconcagua. With its 6962 m (22,841 ft) it is the tallest mountain peak outside of Himalayas!
The origin of the name is not fully established, but most scholars agree that it may come from Quechua “Ackon Cahuak” (meaning “Sentinel of Stone”) or “Anco Cahuac” (meaning “White Sentinel”). Personally I like more the latter one, somehow more vividly portraying this gigantic snow-capped mountain.
But as the most important I consider the fact that we (westerners) left its sacred name unchanged respecting traditions, beliefs and history of native people. Think about what happened to Mt Everest (Chomolungma in Tibetan) or McKinley (for long known to Athabascans as Denali – “The Great One”) mountains…. Chapeau!
Just for the records – for the first time the Aconcagua was conquered on January 14, 1897 when the Swiss mountaineer M. Zurbriggen reached the summit.
Looking at this beautiful mountain you may have an impression that an ascent to the peak is a mere “afternoon walk”. Well, the “crowded” mountaineers’ cemetery on the opposite side of RN-7 quickly proves that you are wrong.
The old saying:
Nothing is as it appears to be!
was never truer than here, at the foothills of Aconcagua. The Mother Nature jealously keeps her secrets “in the clouds” sometimes asking those too brave and curious to pay the highest price …
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Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Picheuta River
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Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Historical Monument - bridge over the Picheuta River used by the army of Gen. Jose de San Martin in his speedy crossing of Andes
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Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: Left - Map of the San Martin's army's itinerrery across the Andes - "Rutas Sanmartinianas". Right - Cordilleras and those already at peace with them....
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Cordilleras Aconcagua Road and Free Pictures: In front of you Her Majesty - Aconcagua - the tallest mountain outside of Himalayas!
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This is like in a good Hitchcock's movie. It starts from the earthquake and then the tension continuously raises up :-). Similarly during our adventurous trip along the RN-7, "things" are not only getting better or higher.
In front of us the real climbing up the Cerro Santa Elena following meanders, bends and switchbacks of an old Transandino road to the pass La Cumbre.
And from there, whenever you look - amazing "Sea of Mountains" stays in front of you. Sublime Beauty and Raw Power - all combined together.....
No wonder that this place was chosen for the statue of the Christ the Redeemer..
I bet, this segment of our trip will be the most memorable.