DixPix Photographs

     

SOUTH CORDILLERA

 
     
  Terrain - THE ATACAMA COAST  

 

There is bound to be something magical about the line where the world's driest desert meets the Pacific Ocean.  The ocean here is cold, due to the Humboldt current, but it is also prolific in sea life.  Yet the coast is as harsh as the desert itself, with the added insults of being often stormy or foggy.  Natural harbors are few.  The cities and towns along the Atacama coast mainly originated with the salitre (potassium nitrate) boom, and are now flourishing as centers of fishing, tourism and transport hubs for a number of important mines.

 

First some scenes to show the nature of the coast.  Along a good portion, the waves beat against cliffs Click to see big picture (640x405 pixels; 97 KB)
Or more typically, against a ragged, rocky terrain. Click to see big picture (640x374 pixels; 97 KB)
Even on coasts such as this, teenagers will find a place to do their thing. Click to see big picture (640x371 pixels; 90 KB)
Although it is not always clear just what that "thing" might be Click to see big picture (615x480 pixels; 116 KB)
But there are many reminders, that both the ocean and the land are hostile by nature.   Click to see big picture (533x480 pixels; 90 KB)
And coastal vultures always seem to make a good living.
Click to see big picture (640x363 pixels; 68 KB)

Although there are few natural protected harbors, there are many small bays, this one is likely near Caleta Cifuncho

Click to see big picture (627x431 pixels; 94 KB)
And this typical headland is probably Punta Chipana. Click to see big picture (597x431 pixels; 64 KB)
Amid all this there are many friendly beaches.  This one is in Pan de Azucar (sugarloaf) Park, to the north of Chañaral. Click to see big picture (640x413 pixels; 103 KB)
Farther north, some of the beach sands are composed entirely of shells, a tribute to the productivity of the Atacama coast. Click to see big picture (640x409 pixels; 132 KB)
This productivity is also evident in the huge colonies of sea birds.  Favorite roosting rocks are stained white with an accumulation of guano, which at one time was mined as a source of phosphate. Click to see big picture (640x432 pixels; 102 KB)
The cold waters spawn a common fog, known as the camenchaca.  This allows certain areas to support xerophytic plant life near the coasts in both Chile and Peru. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 45 KB)
And in a few localities there are actually fog forests (bosque hidrofilo), here in Parque National Fray Jorge Click to see big picture (640x429 pixels; 126 KB)
In the Peruvian desert coast north of Lima, areas of common fogs create lush meadows.
One of the more famous coastal localities is the La Portada area to north of the city of Antofagasta. Click to see big picture (606x442 pixels; 79 KB)
La Portada is a striking wave-carved arch.  It has been declared a national monument, and while a popular site, swimming off, or climbing on, the structure is strictly prohibited Click to see big picture (640x374 pixels; 104 KB)
Jutting from the coast of southern Peru near Ica is the Paracas Peninsula, both a National Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
A view of the city of Coquimbo from the air. Click to see big picture (640x434 pixels; 119 KB)
A view of the town of Tocopilla from the air.  This was once a major port for the export of salitre. Click to see big picture (640x383 pixels; 55 KB)
As late as 1975 when this photo was taken, small boats were ready at the town of Taltal to transport salitre (potassium nitrate) out to the last few foreign customers.  Once prized as the main ingredient in gunpowder, it is now pushed locally as a fertilizer. Click to see big picture (640x340 pixels; 48 KB)
Now the Taltal wharf is mainly used for local fishing, and sometimes as a social gathering place. Click to see big picture (640x331 pixels; 62 KB)
The Atacama coast faces west, and barring a fog, the one thing that can be guaranteed is a sunset. Click to see big picture (640x340 pixels; 38 KB)