Hiking in El Morado National Park

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

While my nephew Caleb was visiting us from the States, we decided to take him to a beautiful slice of nature just outside of the city of Santiago. Cajon del Maipo is one of the many steep and rocky canyons that run from deep within the Andes... spilling out a tumultuous river into a green and leafy valley on the edge of the city.  Less than an hour drive from our home, this area is well known for it's river rafting, whitewater kayaking, horse riding adventures, mountain biking, camping, vineyard touring, and our chosen activity for the day, hiking to one of the glaciers spilling off one of the mountain peaks that tower above the canyon walls.  

The drive through the canyon was bucolic as we had decided to venture in during a weekday and not during the crush that most weekends bring to this nearby nature sanctuary.  After driving through a few colonial villages, some still graced with single story adobe homes with thatched roofs, we entered onto a dirt road that headed deep into the canyon... passing through massive rainbow colored cliffs ranging from many shades of yellows, reds, browns, grays, blues and greens, due to the high levels of minerals found within the fossil encrusted canyons.  After passing by the aged and abandoned silver mining town of El Volcan, we came upon a green valley filled with grazing mares and colts, carefully being watched over by a Huaso (Chilean cowboy) and his dusty canine companion.  After stopping for a quick picture of a few feral burros that roam the canyon we arrived at a small bridge crossing a wild stream, whose source was the glacier that we were ready to hike up to.    
 
Monumento Natural El Morado is a vast nature sanctuary that protects a beautiful canyon that starts at the base of Ventisquero San Francisco, a stunning glacier whose runoff rushes by the small glacial lake of Laguna El Morado before running downstream into the Maipo river.  The hike up to the glacier is about a 2-4 hour jaunt depending on ones' speed... with an almost constant view of the glacial bowl with it's jutting peaks... it's beautifully dramatic as each step of the way brings more of the surrounding mountains into view... eventually enveloping one into an almost 180 degree embrace of surrounding peaks.  

Cal seemed to really enjoy the hike up to the alpine lake, where we stopped and munched on a few granola bars and crackers, sharing them with numerous green hued birds that accosted us as we pulled a seat on a nearby boulder.  Cal and I wanted to push another kilometer or so to reach some of the glacial caves that are found at the base of the San Francisco glacier, so we headed up a bit further into a dripping cave.  After a few more explorations of the area we headed back down the canyon.   
 
We all took advantage of a trail run/walk down the canyon...   it was an awesome opportunity, with a little help from our good friend Gravity.  I prefer running uphill to be honest, but the gentle grade of the trail made for a perfect run down that didn't jar my knees or splay my hips... in the least.

After arriving at the car all dusty, sweaty and with a few sore muscles we decided to grab our swimsuits and towels and take a soak in the Banos Morales natural hot springs on the edge of the village. The pools were shockingly colorful, steeped heavily in a concoction of various minerals, that the owner had proudly posted on a hand drawn sign.  They were also not as hot as we would have liked, but the alka seltzer like bubbles puncturing through the sandy bottom of the pools provided a bit of a massage. The best part of the springs was the view of the richly hued canyon walls that seemed to hang in the distance like a modern painting of randomly splashed paint on canvas.   

Our last stop in the canyon was at a highly recommended restaurant, Trattoria Calipso... a bizarre Gaudi like construction of rounded curves surrounded by sweeping patios, nestled in a forest of fruit trees, growing around a duck filled pond.  The food... fresh and authentic Italian gourmet. The ingredients are concocted into masterpieces, using a gentle blending of organic ingredients crafted into exotic Italian dishes like spring lamb filled ravioli, pesto lasagna, fungi fetticcine... framed by slices of warmed focaccia bread... topped off with a rich glass of Chilean carmenere wine.  
       

 
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