Step into Another World: Valle de la Luna, Chile

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Everything was dark when we arrived. But as the sun started to creep over the horizon, the outlines of the jagged rocks stood out clearly against the skyline. A few minutes later, I could start to see more detail. Huge rocks, a cross between ochre and red, interspersed with gleaming white seams of salt, spread out as far as the eye could see.

We were surrounded, the small dirt road on which we were parked channeled between two long cliffs of red.

Welcome to the Valle de la Luna in Chile?s Atacama Desert. The Valley of the Moon, so called thanks to its otherworldly appearance, a bizarre and ethereal landscape shaped over millenia by geology and, over the last few hundred years, by human activity.

You may dream of visiting the moon. I certainly have! Walking in the footsteps of great astronauts such as Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin.

The Valle de la Luna is the Atacama?s way of fulfilling that dream.

Carved by wind and water, this is the kind of landscape that can only be made with one ingredient: time.

The valley?s history starts 22 million years ago. Large inland seas of the past left underground salt deposits in their wake as they evaporated away. Infrequent rains bring the salt to the surface, creating a terrain that looks like it?s covered in snow, but is actually crusted with salt.

We walked around , and, as we?d driven our campervan over for sunrise rather than for sunset, we were the only people there. We hiked along paths through narrow crevices in the rocks, or flanking the edge of giant sand dunes. The only sounds breaking the silence were the crunch of our booted feet crushing the salt and the infrequent crackle of the salt crumbling under the pressure of the rocks.

Everywhere we looked, there was another spectacular sight, another photo opportunity. The sun rising over the Licancabur Volcano, the first shafts of its light slicing their way through gaps in the rocks.

Content to amble around, we almost missed the Anfiteatro lookout, from where you could see the vast expanse of a section of the valley, studded by the enigmatic Tres Marias rocks. It was a fitting end to our time in the valley. An unforgettable sight at the end of an unforgettable experience.

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