Lovely sand nooks in the canyon walls
March 25 - 28 km: We started around noon as we knew that we wanted to camp somewhere in the canyon and it was only 40km in length. Our biking experience through this canyon far exceeded our expectations. We both felt, hands down, that this was this canyon provided the best bike riding experience we have had in Argentina thus far. And this says a lot since we have been to the Lakes District in Patagonia which is known to have some of the best riding in Argentina. Nope, this was better.
We started from Nihuel and headed East along the Atuel River towards Valle Grande and San Rafael. As we biked through the canyon, the rock formations grew more astounding and the rocks also became more and more colorful as we continued on to the very end, nearly sending us falling off the roadside because we could not stop taking photos and keep our heads from straining upward like crazed tourists.
Sandstone cliff climbing....no problem
Tunnel ride - hell yeah!
On two different occasions, we had to put the bikes down and hike into the side canyons for a few hours just to experiences the colors and boulder around the rocks. The other thing that makes this canyon stunning visually is the fact that it is very narrow, so spatially everything seems exaggerated and more profund. The Lonely Planet mentions that most of the canyon has been submerged by four hydroelectric dams, but from what we experienced, it was hardly submerged. Yes, there were rivers and resevoirs, and a series of dams, but very lowlying water. We were there during the fall where the lack of rain here may have drained the water supply greatly, but even still, this would be well worth a visit any time of year.
The dirt road at the start right outside of Nihuel
The road conditions were overall excellent for a non-paved road. At the very beginning near Nihuel and at the very end near Valle Grande, we had to hop off the bikes and walk through some thick sand and rubbly rock, but other than that, no problems. Due to all of the curves along the river canyon and beautiful vistas, cars droves extremely slow, so there are no ruts in the road And they didn't really kick up much dust either. All of this is different from what we normally experience on non-paved roads in Argentina, where drivers are zooming past at high speed kicking up dust into your face.
View from camp over the rapids
After are necks began to ache from looking up so much while biking, we decided to find camp. Since no camping is not really allowed here, we waited to pitch a tent until the sun went down. We found a great spot just past the last dam near a shrine up atop a rocky riverside cliff where it looked as if others had camped as well. Very good shrine luck the last few days. As the sun set, the canyon color show tranformed itself to another colorful lightshow, with fireflies swarming round, flickering lighting above the eastern ridge and bright southern hemisphere stars hung high.
During the night, only once did anyone stop by after they saw us camp. A couple of motorcyclists loudly talked streetside at 1:30 am and then moved on. Ryan thinks that we stole there camping spot.
This was a great day!