Before taking off on our adventure to Patagonia, a colleague mentioned she had done a hike at Estancia Cristina and that it was very long. Gulp. That hike was in our itinerary. Add a 7 hour glacial hike the day before and very sore quads, and I wasn't sure what to think.
Knowing me (if you do), how exciting do you think a fossil hike sounds? About half of that phrase is interesting to me, and the fossil part is not it. It's not that I don't think fossils are cool, but a long hike to observe them sounded a bit dry. So my enthusiasm level was a little flat to start the day. Our morning on the iceberg lake had revved up my engine a little, though and we were ready to be on dry land and start our trek.
But, when we reached said dry land, the winds wanted us to get back on the boat.
Upon disembarking from the boat, we were funneled into two groups: the "trek group" and the "discovery tour" group. There must've been 60-70 people on the boat and only 10 of us were doing the trek. We had the advantage of my in-laws doing the discovery tour being able to learn vicariously through them, so when we reunited at the end of the day, they told us the story of the ranch, and how a British pioneer had, against the odds, settled this remote, barren land in the 1800s.
We got into our 4x4 to discover the only others on our tour were a group of Italian friends. They were exuberant and fun, and we all bounced along, nearly hitting our heads on the roof of the 4x4 up the hill.
The view changed quickly as we drove about 20 minutes up the hill, the wheels clinging to the shifting gravel under them.
At the summit, we opened the car doors. Well, we unlatched them and then the wind yanked them open. Did I mention the winds were strong?
We walked about 5 minutes and then literally all gasped when we saw this in front of us.
The path was situated just a bit below a ledge so the reveal literally took our breath away, the color shockingly bright.
But it was hard to focus because the winds were so, so incredibly strong. At one point, Walker found me hiding behind a boulder with our guide helping me zip up my second hood. I could easily have been pushed to the ground by the wind alone.
And I wasn't the only one! I asked the guide and I believe he said 90 kilometers an hour, which is around 55 mph, but Walker heard an estimate closer to 75 mph. Either way, our guide Sergio was legitimately worried about us staying together and safe. The Italians were having a blast, and not exactly rule followers.
From the windy outlook, the hike progressed down in a canyon that we'd discover was full not only of fossils, but the most interesting history of rocks, layered by epoch, colors ranging from burnt orange to gold to red.
The hike's colors changed every ten minutes, and there was just so much to look at, the mountains endless into the distance.
I had to watch my steps though, because the broken crust was like a layer of gravel on top of everything that felt slippery. I kept thinking I would slide down it, but my steps held.
Sergio showed us how the different mineral compositions of the rocks demonstrated different time periods; I can't tell you which meant what now, but it was like walking through a treasure chest of sparkles and cuts of rocks.
And don't forget, the whole time, winds shot through the canyons. They weren't always as fierce as at the top, but the gusts came quickly and I'd often reach out to the closest stone for support. Luckily the temperature itself wasn't cold.
There were moments when the texture of the land, and the deep mustard hues reminded me of the Grand Canyon.
Slowly, we started seeing fossils in the rocks--thin white marks the width of a pencil. Sergio said the word squid a few times and the Italians scratched their heads for a minute until one of them translated, "Calamari!" There were also quite a lot of 18-inch shell shapes from what were called ammonites, like octopi with snail shells. The volume of the fossils was incredible, so many we were walking over crushed fossils.
And just as soon as we emerged from the golden canyon,
we came into bubbling, clear rivers and wildflowers.
Still in a bluster!
The back end of the hike was through a long, barren, and mostly flat meadow, with just a few hills. Walker calls this photo "the rule followers" because me and one other girl stayed with the guide while the whole string of Italians laughed and stopped behind. In my defense, he said about every 2 minutes how the group was 'challenging'. And we knew we had to book it to make the final boat back.
From this meadow, saw our first condor of the trip, and perhaps some of its work below.
The walk back through the meadow felt long. I was feeling the burn and ready to be out of the wind. But the views were still changing.
At last, in the distance sat the camp. You can stay in these homes at the ranch, which really would feel remote and off the grid. The guides on the land are all Estancia Cristina guides and I believe all live on the property as well.
Rule follower again!
This may have been our longest hike of the trip, but its variety and surprises made it one of our top three. We boarded the boat back down the lake to dinner at Eolo feeling grateful for the fresh air, blowing us straight home!