EL LEONCITO NATIONAL
Province of San Juan
This protected area was created in 1994
to protect a stretch of "monte" (a biome endemic to Argentina)
with its peculiar vegetation, and puna and high andean habitats together
with the threatened species found there. Within its 76,000 ha there are
historic sites, paleontological remains, archaeological sites including
a stretch of the Inca Trail. It is in the SW of the province of San Juan
on the western slopes of the Tontal range. The nearest town is Barreal
some 34 km away. Uspallata, in Mendoza province, is 93 km distant.
This protected area occupies
an altitudinal gradient that goes from the Calingasta valley at 1600 m
above sea level in the west, to the crest of the Tontal range at 4300
m in the east. Each of the biomes represented within the park has its
typical plant species. Thus the lower areas which correspond to the "monte"
are scrubby with bushes such as a broom look-alike, photosynthesising
on the green stem for lack of leaves, and a creosote bush within its resinous,
long-lasting, stiff and shiny leaves. On the banks of the Cabeceras stream,
the only permanent water-course in the park, damp-loving species grow
such as the pájaro bobo, a species of Tessaria, and the giant pampas
grass (Cortadeira sp) with its huge, plumed, silvery-white flowering heads.
The high mountain habitat has puna species such as tolilla, another leafless
plant, aromatic ajenjo and at the higher elevations, grasslands dominated
by species of Stipa or rocky areas with tiny, flowering plants poking
through. Rivulets lead from green bog to peaty hollows.
The fauna includes species which have traditionally been persecuted such
as the guanaco, here found in large herds, or the puna rhea, a distinct
race of the lesser rhea, a flock of which can usually be seen by the astronomical
observatory. Rocky slopes are the habitat of various species of lizard
one of which is called the pichi-(armadillo)-tailed for its stout, spiny
reddish tail. On some of the cliffs one can see mountain viscachas, a
largish squirrel-like rodent with a thick coat, and on promontories birds
of prey such as the black-chested buzzard-eagle, the red-backed hawk or
the peregrine falcon, known as the fastest being on the planet.
In the area there are archaeological
remains such as petroglyphs and a portion of the Inca Trail from precolombian
times. There is the adobe house of the original estancia El Leoncito.
HOW TO GET
From the north route 412 through
Barreal or the same route from the south which is N° 39 in the province
of Mendoza. About at the northern end of the Barreal flats the access
road heads east for 14 km to the old estancia house and the observatories.
TO THE VISITOR
By creating this protected
area one purpose was to control wind erosion and thus preserve the dust-free
quality of the air which make this one of the best places for astronomical
observation. There are two observatories: the Leoncito Astronomical Complex
(CASLEO), one of the best equipped in the country, and the Carlos U. Cesco
Astronomical Observatory. Enquire as to their programmes and the times
they receive visitors.
In this strict nature reserve access is limited to the area around the
Thanks to APN - Administración
de Parques Nacionales