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Comet ISON Tour November 11, 2013, Atacama Desert

As noted in my last entry on Chile, visiting the Las Campanas Observatory required travel in the Atacama desert, as did a few of our other excursions.

The Atacama is considered to be one of the driest deserts in the world. How dry? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Atacama Desert is commonly known as the driest place in the world, especially the surroundings of the abandoned Yungay town[9] (in Antofagasta Region, Chile).[10] The average rainfall is about 15 millimetres (0.59 in) per year,[11] although some locations, such as Arica and Iquique receive 1 millimetre (0.04 in) to 3 millimetres (0.12 in) in a year.[12] Moreover, some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. Periods of up to four years have been registered with no rainfall in the central sector, delimited by the cities of Antofagasta, Calama and Copiapó, in Chile.[1] Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.[5]

If you don’t take Wikipedia itself seriously, follow some of the references above or at the end of the article. If you do take Wikipedia seriously, consider making a donation to keep it free and ad free.

On our way back from Las Campanas, we stopped in the desert to contemplate the dryness and solitude. Due to traffic delays we didn’t get to our designated spot till almost sunset, but that probably added to the experience. Here are a few photos that give you a flavor of the desert without doing it anything close to justice:

Atacama desert in Chile-006

Non-identifiable human provided for scale purposes.

Alaskan Librarian in the Atacama Desert-001

Me in the desert.

Atacama Desert in Chile-011

“Get back on the bus – if you want to live.”

Desert road in Atacama Desert Chile

No relief in sight

The desert is not entirely lifeless, especially near the coast where fog rolls in and provides a tiny bit of moisture. A few examples of life:

Flowers in the Atacama


Atacama burros by bus


Here’s a couple of examples of the Atacama fog:

Atacama fog-001

Atacama fog-002

The above pictures of the fog were taken the next morning. After we had spent some time in the desert with our thoughts and the miracle of life in some of the harshest conditions the planet had to offer, we piled back into the bus for the trip back to La Serena. As mentioned in the last entry, we were scheduled to be back at the Hotel Club de La Serena around 7pm, where a leisurely dinner would be followed by bed at a decent hour because on the 12th we’d have to leave by 6am for our wildlife tour.

We got back to the hotel around 10:30. The hotel restaurant was scheduled to close at 11pm. And we had not checked in yet. None of us 40 or so people had checked in. And we had parked in the back of the hotel and faced the prospect of crossing a large courtyard and heading up stairs in order to register.

Thankfully, the staff of the Hotel Club de La Serena went truly above and beyond the usual good standards of customer service. They had people right next to the parking lot with a tour roster and room keys. We were checked in and assured that the restaurant would be held open for us as long as it took to feed us. We were able to check our bags and at least have a leisurely dinner. I was able to help several of my dinner companions order thanks to my Spanish. I think I finally crashed in my room around 1am.

If you need to stay in La Serena, I think the Hotel Club de La Serena would do you well. Another good choice by Anjali.

My next entry will be about our great wildlife tour, and one last close encounter with Bob Berman. Then I’ll have one more wrap up post.


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