In mid-west La Rioja province, covering
an area of 215,000 ha, this park contains an interesting sample of the
Monte biome and harbours wonderful scenery and cultural resources .
A provincial park was created here in 1975 to protect the paleontological
and archaeological remains there present.
Given the importance of these resources and the potential for visitation
it was thought convenient to promote it to the status of national park;
in 1997 it was included in the system of the National Parks Administration.
In 2000 UNESCO declared it and neighbouring Ischigualasto in San Juan
province a World Heritage Site.
Talampaya is in the low sierras
of western La Rioja and contains important geological formations such
as the canyon with vertical red sandstone walls some 150m high, formed
by the Talampaya river. There are also areas virtually devoid of vegetation
where these "huayquerias" as they are called, support nothing
but sparse and small fleshy-leaved plants. The whims of erosive forces
have sculpted strange formations in the sandstone such as in the locality
called "Ciudad Perdida".
The dominant vegetation is thin, scrubby bush; a species somewhat like
broom, virtually leafless and with green stems for photosynthesis, creosote
bushes with their resinous, shiny foliage; brea, a green-barked small
tree which flowers abundantly in spring, a brilliant yellow spectacle,
and a "chilca" endemic to the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan
and San Luis, found growing on the slopes. Cactuses also abound in the
area, such as "puquis" and candelabra species. In the temporary
water-courses grow pockets of woods with majestic specimens of Prosopis,
and some Lithraea molleoides, the molle de beber.
Grey foxes, the black-legged seriema and the patagonian mockingbird are
seen at the entrance point. The high walls of the canyon are the perching
place for several raptors such as the andean condor, the black-chested
buzzard-eagle and the peregrine falcon, and the habitat for the mountain
Amongst the vertebrates one must mention species endemic to Argentina
such as the sandy gallito, the white throated cacholote and the creamy-breasted
canastero, the fairy armadillo of underground habits, all typical of the
Monte, itself an endemic biome. There are also endemic plants.
Talampaya and Ischigualasto are both known for their abundant fossil beds,
this being the place where the whole Triassic record is to be found, just
as dinosaurs appeared.
One of the important finds was Lagosuchus talampayensis, 250 million years
old. from the beginning of that period, one of the very first of the dinosaurs.
Another important find is the remains of early turtles such as Paloecheris
talampayensis, from 210 million years ago.
CULTURAL ASPECTS There is an important archaeological
record in Talampaya with evidence dating its occupation between the years
120 and 1180 AD where the caves and shelters were habitations, burial
sites and storage deposits. In open sites on the rocks and cliffs, a great
number of figures and zoomorph engravings as well as various geometrical
motifs are found. They express a union between nature and culture and
are one of the most relevant rock art sites in the country.
Visitors can wonder at these remains at two sites: the Puerta de Talampaya
at the entrance to the canyon, and Los Pizarrones (the blackboards) further
up the canyon.
HOW TO GET
THERE Route 26 joins the localities
of Villa Union and Baldecitos, this last on the border with San Juan province,
and traverses the park. A 14 km entrance road leads to the visitor reception
area for information and orientation.
TO THE VISITOR Because of its recent creation
this park has but limited facilities. At the jumping-off point where information
is to be had there is a bar and bathrooms. It is from here that tours
start up the canyon to see the sights and sites. At the end of the tour
one reaches the narrow upper end of the canyon, the Cajones.
Some 60 km away from this area is the Ciudad Perdida where the strange
erosive features lend magic to the imposing landscape. For this tour one
must obtain permission from the ranger.
The Triassic Basin of Ischigualasto or the Valley of the Moon,
as it is called by geologists and paleontologists-is a vast depression
characterized by the proliferation of a series of ancient sediments, belonging
to the Triassic geological period, which lasted some 45 million years
before the beginning of the Mesozoic era.
The land, which until then was only inhabited by plants and insects, began
to be invaded by reptiles, which flourished and reproduced freely, without
The climate of this region then was a wet, tropical one where vegetation
must have been extremely lush and abundant. Neither the Andes Mountains
nor the Famatina Mountain range, which can be seen from various points
in the valley, had been formed.
Instead, there were lagoons and swamps, whose vegetation transformed into
carbon deposits, which can be seen in the South of the valley, where the
oldest of the three series of sediments, known as Los Rastros
formation lies, with its distinctively greenish, brownish, and blackish
The Submarine and the Worm are peculiar rock formations,
sculpted by the constant action of wind erosion over these sedimentary
rocks. Slowly, so very slowly, over a period of millions of years, the
climate and the landscape mutated. Rainfall diminished, draining the region.
Wind eroded the rocks and deposited new sediments over previous formations.
The flora and fauna likewise underwent mutations. The first seed-plants
appeared as well as a wide variety of medium-sized reptiles, like the
Cynodonts or Dicynodonts, two types of herbivores, and the Saurosuchus,
one of the carnivores.
THE MOON VALLEY The
Ischigualasto Formation, which forms the central part of the valley, belongs
to this period. Some of these grey-green rocks were eroded into strange
formations, which today are known as Alladins Lamp,
the Parrot , the Mushroom, and the Painted
The meteorological alterations continued. By the conclusion of the Triassic
Period, this rift valley was a windswept desert inhabited by even larger,
more advanced reptiles, than those which had previously lived there.
Los Colorados Formation, the imposing red cliffs of the Moon Valley,
extending into Talmpaya, La Rioja province, is the culmination of this
Finally much later, perhaps some ninety million years ago, the movements
geologically known as orogenesis andina, or mountain formation,
actually began. These movements in turn, produced balancing movements,
fractures, folds, landslides, and the ascension and descension of ancient
crystal blocks, forming the hills that today surround the region and the
most recent layers of sediments. Since the large reptiles had already
disappeared in the Holocene era, some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the
valley was populated by pumas, guanacos, Creole hares, and a new type
of animal--the birds. Descendants of the dinosaurs-the most spectacular
birds of this valley are the condors and the South American ostrich. On
the contrary, of the true reptiles, only the small lizards
and some poisonous snakes (the coral and yarara) remain.
Man arrived here only a few million years ago and decorated the zone with
his rock-paintings or petroglyphs and scattered his arrowheads in the
area. Bear in mind that the first scientists only appeared in the valley
in the second half of the last century whereas, approximately one decade
ago, the recording of the last mutation of fauna coincided with the arrival
of the first tourists, who came to see this mysterious Valley of
The existing infrastructure consists of nothing more than a small house
for the park rangers and an onsite museum. Travelers may, and it is strongly
suggested they bring their own provisions, beverages, sunblock, etc. or
whatever they feel necessary.. The tour around the park (40 km). Visitors
are accompanied by a park ranger in their own vehicle, in a caravan with
other cars, taking about four hours. Travelers can find lodgings in the
charming village of San Agustin of Valle´ Fertil, or Pataquia, and
Thanks to APN - Administración
de Parques Nacionales