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In Chilean Patagonia, Following a Track to the End of the World

The hiking path leading to the Morada del Diablo volcano (the Devil’s Dwelling) crossed a field of blackened lava, congealed during the last ice age. Black lizards covered with white speckles, known as lagartijas Magallanicas, skittered throughout the ground, and the desiccated corpse of a guanaco, a wild grazer related to the llama, baked beneath the solar. A puma had probable killed it, my Chilean partner, Alvaro Soto, said.

I picked my manner throughout the crust, pocked through holes simply big sufficient to curl an ankle. After a mile, we climbed over a heap of rocks that slid under our feet and emerged at the summit of the crater.

Mr. Soto and I gazed across the maw at a scene of otherworldly bleakness: A curving wall, tinted inexperienced, splattered with hen feces, or whitewash, and riven with crevices, fashioned the volcano’s lip. Steep slopes of scree and soil weighted down with red-tinted hematite fell away into the abyss. The cries of buff-necked ibises, big rodent eaters with cream-and-russet throats and curving grey payments, echoed off the canyon. A peregrine falcon rose, plummeted into the crater, rotated lower back up and disappeared inner a crevice.

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We have been deep internal Pali Aike National Park, one of the least visited, but maximum dramatic reserves in Chile, one hundred ten miles north of Punta Arenas. The Tehuelche hunter-gatherers who once dwelled here called this moonscape both “the vicinity of desolation” and “the devil’s usa,” and believed that evil spirits possessed it. It’s not difficult to see why. The location is studded with volcanoes, shaped at some point of the Jurassic technology one hundred million years in the past, by the collision of the Chile Rise and the Peru-Chile oceanic trench.

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Three eruptions — the first taking vicinity three.Eight million years ago, the maximum recent 15,000 years in the past — covered the steppe with spills of black lava and pillars, columns and parapets of basalt, which glow yellow, purple and greenish-gray inside the harsh barren region sunlight. Half a dozen craters and collapsed cones loom over the terrain like broken enamel.

View from inside a volcano at Pali Aike National Park, Chile.
Credit
Tomas Munita for The New York Times

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View from internal a volcano at Pali Aike National Park, Chile.CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times
An Obscure Stop on the Route of Parks
Despite the bleakness, this 31-square-mile reserve, installed through the Chilean government in 1970, teems with flora and fauna: hares, tuco-tucos (mole-like rodents), skunks, armadillos, gray foxes, pumas, guanacos, lizards and dozens of species of birds precise to Patagonia. Chilean flamingos, splashes of crimson and orange in a charred landscape, accumulate within the park’s soda lakes. Buff-necked ibises build nests excessive in timber or within the extinct volcanoes, sharing the ledges with peregrines — a symbiotic relationship rare amongst birds of prey.

Pali Aike is most of the most difficult to understand points of interest on Chile’s new Route of Parks, a 1,740-mile barren region trail that become unveiled earlier this yr. The path was the fruits of a yearlong technique that started in April 2017, whilst Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the widow of the North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins, donated to the Chilean government a million acres of Patagonian barren region thru Tompkins Conservation, the nonprofit umbrella organization of conservation tasks that she co-based and now leads. Out of that land, Chile carved new reserves, Pumalín National Park Douglas Tompkins and Patagonia National Park Chile.

As part of the deal, the authorities set aside a further nine million acres to beautify the u . S .’s country wide park network. A overall of 17 countrywide parks have now been related by way of the Route of Parks, a hiking path that winds past mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, forests and arid steppe, and roughly follows the Carretera Austral, the usa’s storied Southern Highway (additionally called Route 7) through Patagonia.

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Travelers who need an unmitigated dose of Chile’s wasteland can now travel from Alerce Andino National Park, near the city of Puerto Montt, to Cabo de Hornos National Park on the southern tip of the u . S .. The new path reflects the Chilean government’s growing dedication to retaining Patagonia’s pristine landscapes — and its exceptional fowl lifestyles.

Caiquén (additionally called Magellan or Upland geese) in Pali Aike National Park.
Credit
Tomas Munita for The New York Times

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Caiquén (additionally known as Magellan or Upland ducks) in Pali Aike National Park.CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times
An Obsession with Birds
The birds had been specifically what I had come to look. While doing research on an ornithological-related book over the past 18 months, I’ve traveled round the arena, exploring chicken-rich geographical region in Scotland, the Rhondda Valley of southern Wales, and Matobo National Park in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. None of those regions, however, compares with Patagonia, domestic not simplest to the pallid peregrine — a unprecedented, white-breasted morph of the southern peregrine — however additionally to passerines, waders and carrion-eaters found only at the bottom of South America.

I made my forays from Punta Arenas, a windswept metropolis of approximately 125,000 on the Strait of Magellan. Navigated by means of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, the strait remained certainly one of handiest 3 options, at the side of the Drake Passage and Beagle Channel, to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific until the Panama Canal opened in 1914.

I stayed at the Hotel Plaza, a gaudy French neoclassical villa built with the aid of a own family of farm animals barons inside the early Twenties, adjoining to the Plaza de Armas, in any other case referred to as the Plaza Muñoz Gamero, a leafy square within the town middle. There I met Mr. Soto, a young photographer, chook-watcher and son of the neighborhood consultant of the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadera (Department of Agriculture and Livestock), the authorities enterprise answerable for protecting Chile’s flora and fauna. He had agreed to be my guide for the trip. We rented a pickup truck and set out on a chilly spring morning at the peak of nesting season via the Patagonian Steppe on the two-lane highway referred to as La Ruta del Fin del Mundo (The Highway at the End of the World).

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