The Desert Leaf October 2016 : Page 69

PATAGONIA continued Colorful tents dot the Paine Grande campsite near a trailhead in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile. demanding anywhere. Even its lower trails, where we hiked for three days, proved challenging, especially in Patagonia’s infamously fi erce 60-mile-per-hour winds. Still, the scenery made it well worth it. From our midhike picnic site near a glacial lake, we gazed at plunging waterfalls and ancient beech forests. The occasional Andean condor soared above the canyons. My husband noticed several glaciers perched high above us, too far away to reach on our day hikes. “I’d like to see one at close range,” he said. He got his wish. Perito Moreno Glacier, a three-hour drive away in Los Glaciares National Park’s southern zone, was easily accessible. A series of terraced platforms off ered us a panoramic view of its three-mile-wide river of ice fl owing down the mountainside, ending dramatically in a sheer 180-foot-high wall. We spent hours watching massive ice chunks, cleaved from the glacier, crash into the lake at its base. 250,000-acre working sheep ranch—near the park’s eastern entrance. A decade ago, the owners of the estancia elected to supplement their ranching income by off ering rooms formerly occupied by employees. We stayed in what was once the manager’s house, built circa 1916 and updated with comfortable handcrafted furnishings. On day hikes, we climbed the pristine trails of the national park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, along with a surprising number of trekkers. Gauchos, once known for their solitary lives herding livestock, were leading horseback-riding excursions up the mountainside. Other gauchos pulled packhorses with supplies destined for a refugio providing meals and dormitory-style rooms. Back at our estancia, the gauchos were busy tending some 50,000 head of sheep grazing miles away in the hills. But we ate like the gauchos, I suspected: every night a diff erent cut of house-raised lamb appeared on our dinner plates. Asado (grilled over an open fi re), lamb shanks, and rack of lamb were favorites. And with the Torres del Paine Massif’s spiky silhouette framed by the restaurant’s picture windows, we had no reason to complain. Breathtaking Andean peaks, glaciers, and abundant native wildlife, once just a scenic backdrop for the estancias, are at the core of Patagonia’s new ecotourism phenomenon. Our wilderness hiking experience, with a taste of estancia life, made for a memorable adventure in the Wild South. Linda Smalley is a local freelance writer and photographer. Comments for publication should be addressed to JOIN THE CELEBRATION Sunday, October 30, 2016 • St. Philip’s Plaza Great Food • Local Wine • Silent Auction This year, Mobile Meals of Tucson will serve more than 100,000 meals to homebound adults in our community. Join us as we celebrate with great food and lots of fun at our fantastic Fall Fare fundraiser. DL Staff work in the bar at the fi ve-star luxury hotel The Singular Patagonia, near Puerto Natales, Chile. The hotel is housed in a former slaughterhouse and cold-storage plant dating from the heyday of the estancia economy. When: October 30, 2016, 4:30 – 7:00 pm Where: St. Philip’s Plaza • Tickets: $40 * Why: Celebrate 46 years of feeding Tucson’s homebound Visit or call 520-622-1600 for more information. * Ticket prices $50 at the door Chilean Patagonia Near Chilean national parks, like Torres del Paine, there is little infrastructure—not even a village. And lodging is scarce, testament to just how recently tourism has caught on. Budget travelers choose from tent camping or hostels, called refugios . In the luxury category, a handful of all-inclusive resorts can command well over $1,500 a day per couple. We opted for a cultural experience: a stay in historic Estancia Cerro Guido—a October 2016 l DesertLeaf 69

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