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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.

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.

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 observatories.


Thanks to APN - Administración de Parques Nacionales



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