This is a small museum on the outskirts of town. Run by a man whose passion is minerals and geology. The museum shows each of the elements, their chemical makeup. He shows how one kind of rock can have so many different variations and what causes them. The owner is totally self taught but is apparently considered an authority on geology throughout the region. The owner will be there to answer questions about all of the exhibits and my guide was telling me that the owner looked forward to answering questions, the more complicated the better.
A side project is to show the variety of wildlife in San Juan Province. Set up in an easily understandable and interesting exhibit he shows much about animal life and fossils, which this region is well known for.
This museum probably wont appear in any map or guidebook but qualifies as one of the better small museums I have ever seen anywhere. Given the exceptional effort the owner put into this and the superior quality of the exhibition itself I consider this a must-see.
Ischigualasto is a place like few others. The Ischigualasto Formation (as it is referred to by geologists) is one of the most valuable and fascinating places on earth in that some of the oldest dinosours were found here, and the only intact bones from the Late Triassic Period (231-225 million years ago).
Your visit starts at the welcome center. In a tent off to the side you should go in and see some of the research that is going on here, they display mock ups of some of the dinosaurs found here.
For this visit, you will need to go in your own vehicle. The total time of the visit is about 3.5 hours. Make sure to go to the bathroom at the welcome center, there is nowhere else in the park that has facilities. A guide will accompany you throughout the visit, which goes for about 40 kilometres inside the park. During this visit you will get a good idea of the variety of the park, you will be passing through different geological formations and from one stop to the next you can often be skipping over several million years(if you can even conceptualize that!).
the next major formation you will stop at is called El Hongo (the Mushroom). Depending how the light hits it looks more like a face, but i suppose it could also be a mushroom (the magic variety perhaps?). Here you are still within the Ischigualasto formation, but now you cannot fail to notice the contrast with the red sandstone formation in the background. This is the easternmost part of the park, and here is where they have found the youngest remains from the Triassic era.
The next major formation you will stop at is called El Submarino (The Submarine). Here you will see in the background more fo the red canyons, which is a different geological formation, which is actually the border with Talampaya National Park.
It is around here that you start to notice life. The Valle Pintado was this strange, otherwordly sort of thing, you saw no animals, no plants, nothing. Now, you will start to notice cactus and you might see a guanaco passing.
the next stop on the tour is where you are going back in time. First you will see the red rocks. Gradually you descend into something resembling the badlands. One writer saw this and named it Valley of the Moon, a name that has stuck.
This is the Ishigualasto Formation proper, home to the purest, most undisturbed record of life in the triassic period. I am no scientist, so from my perspective its very difficult to even comprehend the fact that something is a million years old, much less the fact that it is over 200 million years old.
The tour will stop so you can get out of your car and the guide will explain things to you.
The stop is called Balcon del Valle Pintado (Balcony of the Painted Valley). It doesn't look painted yet, what you will see is mostly this lunar like vista, in shades of gray. The colors will start to appear as you go onward
In Ishcigualasto Park there is an amazing sight among many others. You see this field with what look like perfectly formed bowling balls. The guide told me they are naturally formed the result of the minerals and formed by erosion.
From Valle Fertile you can organize a tour of these two parks.
Ishigualasto, also known as Valle de la Luna, is a desert valley between two sedimentary mountain ranges that over a long period of time, wind and rain have erroded and carved out stange shapes and forms. It is reminicent of the Bad Lands of South Dakota, but with arches and balancing mounds of dirt and rock. It feels very much like a moon-scape.
Talampaya is a very different park very close, so it is possible to see both in one day.
This park has huge canyons with aboriginjal petroglyps and motors, with hovering condors above. You drive in four wheel-drive trucks through the bottom of the canyon and periodically jump out to explore. The eco chamber was my favorite. You can yell something out and here 3 or 4 times again.
The whole trip for both cost me about $35 US but this price will probably start to go up. I did both parks in one day. It was really worth. I stayed at the Ischigualsto Hostel in Valle Fertile and arranged the trip there. You can also do the trip out of Pagancillo.
Nicolas Nievas runs "Noas" tours from Valle Fertil which is by far the best deal in town. He has connections with Ischigualsto Hostel and is also at the following address:
Laprida 265 Valle Fertil
C.P. 5449 San Juan, Argentina
the next stop you will make is at a place where you can see a rock formation appropriately called The Sphinx.
This rock formation is called El Gusano (the worm).
The thin black and gray sediment (sandstone and coal) on the rock indicates the presence of a water/a lake here long ago.