9th January 2004
The next morning we got up early, had a wander around the other highlights - Monte Leon island which you can see from the headland, with its cormorant colonies, and the Lion's Head, a supposedly lion-shaped reef.
Then we headed back to RN3 and continued our drive north. We passed through Gran Bajo de San Julian, with the lowest point on the continent (105m below sea level). The road continued to stretch for miles upon miles of flat pampa - not the most exciting views, but at least we were making good progress on the smooth tarmaced road.
Eventually there is a road off to the left, RP49, which took us to the Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, well worth the 50km detour. It is an isolated, 15,000 hectare park, which 150 million years ago was full of dense, humid forest and now consists of specimens of petrified Proaraucaria trees. A massive volcanic blast blew all of the trees down ( they all lie in the same direction) and buried the trees in ash. The resulting petrified trees were uncovered by later erosion. The area has been protected since 1954 - a necessity after years of people plundering the area.
There is a good concentration of fallen trees as you follow the interpretive trail from the park headquarters. When we were there, a guide was sitting outside, constantly viewing people through her binoculars to ensure no specimens were stolen.
It was incredibly windy, so not the most ideal conditions for taking steady photos, but we managed to take quite a few shots in the end. Some of the trees were huge - see picture of Sue below for scale.
As we headed back to the landy we got the sense from the conversation of the guards at the headquarters that the people from another landy which had been parked up when we arrived, had taken a few souvenirs from the park. They seemed to be alerting the police on the radio and we just hoped they had given them an accurate description of the land rover - we didn't want to be stopped and searched by mistake.
It was now late afternoon and we intended on camping nearby. No camping is allowed in the petrified forest itself, but according to our guidebook, it was possible to camp at La Paloma, halfway along the road we had already driven between the RN3 and the park headquarters. Pulling up at the campsite, it looked like a very run-down farm. But we weren't to be put off, as we were tired and just wanted to cook up some food and relax for the rest of the afternoon/evening. There is a small shop, and we knocked on the door to find out about camping: 8 pesos/$2.50 per person.
The area we were directed to was enclosed by a wire fence and there was already a large static caravan type structure there. There was also a building with toilet and showers. We chose a spot and Sue headed off to the toilets. To put it mildly, you are much better off camping in the middle of nowhere than pitching up here. The toilets were disgusting and the showers were even worse. We would definitely not recommend this campsite. Just drive on and find somewhere else! We wished we had. If you are going to camp there, make sure you have your own water supply.