The Atacama Desert, Northern Chile.
Driving through the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is one of the most isolating and otherworldly experiences I have ever had out on the road. As the miles of empty highway undulate through the spectacular mountain scenery, the ‘Valley Of The Moon’ unfolds before your eyes. As you pass through these vast desert landscapes you see the occasional signs of life; sparse cactus vegetation, wild desert foxes, old rusted cars from 1950’s America, hand built stone boundary walls and huge trucks rolling up and down the Pan American Highway.
As you drive along the seemingly endless stretches of highway, the relentless miles of dessert roads transition into an even more severe and unforgiving landscape, The Valley Of The Moon.
In all it’s severity you are treated to staggering views that cause you to lose all sense of scale and direction. Many of the routes I travelled, both on and off the main roads provided me with an amazing variety of rocky, untouched cratered landscapes throughout the day, followed by mountainous silhouettes defined by the clear, star lit night skies. Camping in the car was possibly some of the coldest nights i’ve ever spent but when you’re rewarded with a light pollution free night sky of stars followed by golden desert sunrises a little frost covering your sleeping bag at night is a worthwhile price to pay.
As the last breath of desert sunlight diminishes and once again submits to the rising moon you’re treated to a slow motion shadow and light show set in and amongst desert views that could have been designed to purely illustrate the textures of the landscape. Long shadows stretch across the craters edges and outcrops as sunlight’s golden glow fades to twilight, then dusk foreshadowing the encompassing night sky and emerging stars.
After following miles of black tarmac ribbons throughout the razor sharp rocky landscape I finally arrived in the ‘Valle De Luna’ – The Valley Of The Moon. I think one of the advantages of solo travel away from the guided tours is that you get to experience these wild and inspiring places as you imagined you would; just you and the scenery – alone with your thoughts watching the shadows and light flow over the jagged rocks and lethally sharp edges of these age-old craters.
Unfortunately once in a while you have to succumb to the fact that the tourist busses come to these places for the very same reasons you have; to watch the spectacle of shadows and light dancing across the valley surface.
Sharing these views with busses of tourists taking photos and chatting changes the whole experience into a much more grounded one.
However, it isn’t very often that these tour groups stay for long, they have schedules to keep and the next viewpoint to visit, so as you sit back and watch the tail lights of tourist busses fade into the night you are once again treated to your very own spectacular view of this incredible and aptly named Lunar landscape.
The daylight fades away into the cold night sky and once again the Valle De Luna is softly illuminated by it’s very own namesake.