Our day-trip into the High Andes was a part of our 4-day package tour to Mendoza. For US$500 each, we had jet transportation for the 1.5 hour flights between Buenos Aires and Mendoza, airport transportation, four nights accommodations with breakfast and guided tours of Mendoza, a local winery and the 12-hour High Andes trip (leaving one day free for us to wander around in Mendoza).
Here, our mini-bus (run by Huentata Servicios Turisticos) has pulled over to let us stretch our legs about 45 km short of Uspallata on Highway 7 into the Andes. We had a fun group of fellow passengers including 9 Argentinians, a German and 2 young Frenchmen from Strasbourg. In addition to the driver, there were two tour guides who could both speak English to make sure we 'gringos' knew what was happening! Actually, the guys from France were happy to see us because they were able to have a few halting conversations with us, thanks to our rudimentary French!
This photo gives you an idea of the corridor used by the highway and railroad (now abandoned) snaking their way up over the Andes between Mendoza and Santiago, Chile. Taken only about 20 km from Puente del Inca and from a height of just over 12,000 feet above sea level, it shows the small town of Las Cuevas far below, virtually on the border with Chile.
Of all the places that I have travelled in the world, the long drive up to here most impressed me for the total domination that nature imposed. It is a dry desert-like landscape with gravel riverbeds totally gouged out by mud-brown fast flowing rivers with 100+ foot sheer banks. Towering above all are the mountains in all their weird shapes and with numerous fans of debris and rock falls that have flowed down into the valley over the years. We saw many cases where the old railroad tracks had been swept away or covered in huge boulders. And that is not even counting what it must be like in winter!