World's Driest Place

  toddler13
  karma level 73943





Parts of Chile's Atacama Desert haven't seen a drop of rain since record keeping began. Somehow, more than a million people squeeze life from this parched land.



Stretching 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Peru's southern border into northern Chile, the Atacama Desert rises from a thin coastal shelf to the pampas— virtually lifeless plains that dip down to river gorges layered with mineral sediments from the Andes. The pampas bevel up to the altiplano, the foothills of the Andes, where alluvial salt pans give way to lofty white-capped volcanoes that march along the continental divide, reaching 20,000 feet (6,000 meters).

At its center, a place climatologists call absolute desert, the Atacama is known as the driest place on Earth. There are sterile, intimidating stretches where rain has never been recorded, at least as long as humans have measured it. You won't see a blade of grass or cactus stump, not a lizard, not a gnat. But you will see the remains of most everything left behind. The desert may be a heartless killer, but it's a sympathetic conservator. Without moisture, nothing rots. Everything turns into artifacts. Even little children.

It is a shock then to learn that more than a million people live in the Atacama today. They crowd into coastal cities, mining compounds, fishing villages, and oasis towns.


Some Images:


Dust flies as shepherds herd goats above an irrigated valley near the Atacama Desert, a 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) stretch of northern Chile squeezed between the Pacific and the Andes. Irrigation soaks up about 15 percent of available water in the Atacama.



An Aymara woman rounds up her llamas in a blur of color and motion. The Aymara—Andean herders and farmers whose culture predates the Inca—raise llamas for meat and wool on the Atacama's high plateau (here at about 16,000 feet [4,900 meters]). At night they pen their animals in stone corrals to shelter them from marauding mountain lions.



Strong enough for a man to stand on, the llareta of the Atacama—a rare native plant—grows one centimeter a year in dense mounds that spread along the ground. Llareta is nearly extinct in parts of the desert, where local people dry it to use as firewood.



A chilla in Pan de AzĂșcar National Park in the coast of Atacama Desert.



Atacama Road.



Scene from Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) near San Pedro de Atacama.



Solar Evaporation Ponds in the Atacama Desert.



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