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Patagonia – Condor Bones

Patagonia – Condor Bones

We’ve been here for a little over two weeks and our time has been more than well spent. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have been greatly impacted by the magnitude of the mountains that surround us everyday. We’ve been at Los West Winds (a.k.a. Los Alamos) for a little over a week and we continue to explore the park and discover that, despite the adventure, 20 degrees (F) will always be cold in a tent. Still, no one is complaining and it makes us that much more appreciative of the beautiful weather we’ve been having. There was one fine morning we woke up to the west winds whipping our tents and the hail pattered against our “lean to” for the majority of the day. But hey, trials and tribulations build character. The dark clouds were broken up by moments of sunshine surrounding the tallest peaks, which we enjoyed by playing soccer, throwing the frisbee, or watching the guanaco males chase each other through the hills (springtime causes the males to fight for the female “harems”). We watched, in real and exciting time as one particularly feisty male chased another and rammed into him on the slope, all the while emitting a screeching neigh. Certainly better than any Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy.

There is still mystery that envelopes Los Alamos, not only due to the stillness and quiet nature of the mountains, but also the noisy crepuscular creature that has eluded our sight. This mysterious creature emits a noise likened to that of a squeaking rusty wheel that draws nearer, louder and suddenly softer and further away. Every evening and dawn this creature has evaded our sight and thus disabled our ability to identify it. This noise, accompanied by fading dusk or early dawn, has added a little bit of mystery to our home at Los West Winds.

On our first excursion in the park we hiked up the Las Lagunas Altas trail to observe and take note of the animal sign that lined the trail. The group was thinking that some of the scat might be from puma, based on the amount of Guanaco hair, but we failed to come to a precise conclusion. When the group split up for solitude time, I wandered across some tracks that resembled either a large dog, or puma. Although it was difficult to tell, the potential of it being a puma brought a great sense of excitement. Each clue or sign of different animal life brings us closer to understanding the ecosystem here. It also enables us to feel closer to the animals that we wish to study as scientists and as curious human beings.

Our group also successfully climbed Tamanguito, the 4800ft snow covered peak overlooking Los West Winds. The group went in two different groups, one last Friday and one on Sunday. The first crew climbed the peak in a little less than 3 hours, and took the road less traveled on the way down. The ascent was a beautiful hike on the Las Lagunas Altas trail and into a forest which resembled “Fangor Forest”. The light green lichen covers the trees and hangs from the limbs like a beard, and is justly called “Old Man’s beard”. There’s a break in the forest and you step onto loose gravel and rock, which quickly turned into knee deep snow in some places. I felt like a great explorer as I climbed the snowy slope. Making it to the top felt like an unbelievable feat and the 360 degree view from the top was remarkable. Snow covered mountains in every direction. On both trips, condors flew below us instead of above. In those moments we were a part of the landscape which so often rises far above us. The trip down was far quicker, as most of us took advantage of the snow and “glissaded”, or slid down on feet or arse (both methods were successful). Safe to say we all felt greatly accomplished and sufficiently tired after the hike and slept well that night despite the cold.

The past two days we’ve spent camping at “The Stone House”, a campsite further east from Los Alamos and a little more remote. Our intended destination had been a different campsite which was strategically located to do bird surveys, but alas the dirt roads got the best of one of our trucks. Fortunately our group was down to get a little muddy and pushed the truck out of the muck. The first field day on this side of the Valley started with vizcacha surveying and we hit the “ROUS” (Rodent Of Unusual Size) jackpot. At the first mapped point from last years’ surveys, two vizcacha perched precariously in the crevice of a cliff face. Our group observed for a while, watching as a condor flew overhead. Immediately the vizcacha retreated, and the condor perched on the ridge. We watched again as a black-chested buzzard eagle flew at the perched condor and a mid-air scuffle ensued. We combed the hills for signs of vizcacha, whose presence was apparent though there were no more visual sightings. Instead we found the bottom half of a well-preserved fox and most of a condor skeleton. Finding the remnants of these great animals is like finding another piece of a puzzle that is infinite. I find I feel humbled even by their bones as their lives were entirely different from what I understand.

Class time here has brought forth a lot of meaningful and informative discussions. The group has discussed the importance of conservation, restoration and how humans and the environment interact. How can we, as students and future scientists, psychologists, geologists, and teachers make a meaningful change in favor of a healthy environment? Can we become more connected to nature, as we are innately connected as human beings? Our work here means improving the natural landscape, but what service does it provide to the people who have lived here for hundreds of years? Our hope as curious beings and students is to learn from the environment around us – the grass, the bugs, the guanacos, the pumas, the vizcachas and, of course, the human beings.

 Contributed by Avery Lavoie

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