Just on the outskirts of Las Cuevas, as we headed back down the valley toward Uspallata and Mendoza, I spotted this large rock slide that came up just short of both the highway and railroad. This one looked more severe than most of the slides that we observed along the journey. Due to the completely tree-less nature of the steep slopes, most landslides appeared to be more of a gravel nature, fanning out widely as they reached the valley bottom.
The valley holds other dangers as well. In 1934, a glacier blocked one of the valleys leading into the Mendoza River, backing up a huge lake behind the ice dam. Finally, when the dam melted enough to burst, a torrent of water was released into the Mendoza River valley, wiping out a resort hotel at Cacheuta, about 24 miles from Mendoza. The flood also destroyed 124-km (77-miles) of railroad tracks and tore steel bridges from their concrete emplacements, carrying them more than a mile in some cases.
Just a tip for people planning to walk from Puente del Inca to Aconcagua Park: this location is high enough in altitude (2900m I believe) that you may start experiencing some altitude sickness. The walk to Laguna Horcones is only about 4km from Puente, but if you're not in great shape (like I was!) walking this short distance will seem like a huge effort (as you will find yourself low on energy and perhaps out of breath)! Solution: plan to take your time, perhaps double of what would be normally required for that distance.
Also, I recommend getting to the park by hiking through the hills on the right side of the highway, not walking on the road itself which is very busy (lots of big trucks) and in my opinion very dangerous as there is not much shoulder on either sides. Walking along the railway track doesn't work as the bridges are crumbling and cannot be crossed anymore.
In the fall, winter and spring, dress warm. Plan to take along a good tuque (winter hat), warm mits, a winter scarf and a windproof jacket (don't forget to put a warm fleece or wool sweater underneath). Also, wear thick pants (even tights or thermal underwear) or otherwise your legs may get cold from the wind. We were there in the late fall (around the 1st of May) and experienced cold temperatures and a lot of wind. I estimated the temperature to be around -5 to -8 degrees with the wind when back in Mendoza, it was arond 18-20!
Finally, look for the iron cross on a hill (to your right, going towards Aconcagua park): this is where the entrance of the park is (there was no sign when we went). You will have to walk up that road to get to the guardaparque building.
After finishing our lunch break in Las Cuevas, I took a short stroll down the road to have a look around. These sturdy looking structures were only a few hundred feet away but, as I got closer, I could see that they were now deserted. The nearest building had a sign on it's front that said 'Chocolateria', so my guess is that they were probably restaurant/cafes associated with the railroad before it was abandoned in 1982 (due to a dispute with Chile, the same time period when the Argentinian generals decided to flex their muscles by their ill-fated invasion of the Falkland Islands).
The harsh effects of the climate at this altitude had done major damage to the roof of the furthest building, ripping off a large section of its eaves while the closer building only had limited damage. There must be some wild winds whistling through here during winter blizzards!
Also at Las Cuevas, we saw these old snow sheds used to protect the railroad tracks from deep snow in the winter. At 10,338-ft, this is the highest point of the Andes crossing, so it was common practise in the days when this route was built to try to do everything possible to prevent any delays to the trains.
Usually in places like this, where deep snow was common, there would be a small settlement for workers whose job it was to shovel the tracks clear if the snow blocked the line. Of course, in the very highest areas, where snow was a 'given', the design engineers tried to prevent blockages by installing 'snow sheds' to shelter the train tracks from the deep snow falls. These particular snow sheds now looked quite battered, with large chunks of them knocked away. At the very right of the photo is part of a newer and stronger section of inverted-U shaped sheds, but they did not appear to be in any better condition.
It was interesting to note that, because of the steepness of this final Cuevas River part of the 8,000 foot climb from Mendoza, the train engine was equipped with a special cog wheel that could engage a middle rail to allow it to pull itself up grades that normal locomotives could not handle.
This view from near the top of the Uspallata Pass, shows the Cuevas River valley with the main Pan-American Highway continuing onward into Chile via the 3080-meter Cristo Redentor tunnel (opened in 1980) under the peaks (the wider road beside the river at the bottom right disappears to the left into the mountain near the middle of the photo).
However, if you were headed for Chile in the old days, the only road for mules or vehicles was up the unpaved zig-zagging road you see in the foreground, with a few small specks of tour busses and cars visible. Of course, this old path was closed for months during the winter snow season. Because we had a small-sized tour bus, our driver was able to take us to the top, where we had some time to enjoy the rarified atmosphere at 3800-m (12,500-ft). There are no guard rails as you can see, but there are slightly wider sections every so often to allow one vehicle to pull over and stop while the climbing vehicle passes.
It is quite an exhilarating ride as long as you are not afraid of heights. The sad part is that my wife said she felt safer on this road with our bus driver than she did with me on our Portugal rental car trip!!
This is a good hotel, clean, friendly and well located. Staff are helpful.more
Hipolito Yrigoyen 774, San Rafael, 5600, Argentina
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
Ruta 7 Km 1141 / 1142, Uspallata, 5545, Argentina
Good for: Families