When we went to sleep, we could see stars shining brightly in the sky, but now that light seeps to the earth, it is clear that a thick layer of clouds hangs low above us. A disappointment: we are going to drive the Quebrada de las Conchas which is best seen with sunlight. A short drive through some of the wine estates for which Cafayate is famous takes us to the beginning of the gorge, and when we see some strange rock formations on our right, we park the car, and walk. Despite the lack of sunlight, the rocks are still red, but take on a different hue under the grey sky. From here, we frequently stop on the quiet road, to take in the views. There are higher mountains a little further back, grey, with crowns of clouds hanging on top of them.
Most of the sights are well signposted, and after admiring the Castillos (or Castles) formations, we scramble to the Window, we stop at the Obelisk - a weird mound of earth which was sculpted by wind, rain and erosion. Meanwhile, the gorge through which we drive on the RN68 is at turns lovely, and then rugged and dark. It has red mountains, but also grey and black ones. Recent excavations show that the Ruta del Inca ran close to the actual road; fossils of fish and traces of dinosaur have also been found in the region. But today, we concentrate on the beauty of the landscape. There is the strange formation called El Sapo, or The Toad, which indeed has a striking resemblance of the animal, albeit on a much larger scale.
Near the end of the Quebrada de las Conchas is a viewpoint, from which you get striking panorama of the Conchas river below, the green river bed, and the red mountains defining the gorge. We are now getting close to some of the highlights of the gorge. First, the Anfiteatro, or the Amphitheatre, which can be reached by walking through a narrow opening in the soaring rocky mountains. Once inside, a group of musicians and singers is taking advantage of the acoustics here, performing for a crowd of people who just arrived in big touring cars. Close by, we find the Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil's Throat; another narrow opening in the rocks leads to a wider formation sculpted out of the patient rocky mountains over many centuries. It is tempting to climb into the Garganta, but unfortunately, this is not allowed. The valley is still beautiful as we drive further north, but there are no more spectacular rock formations, and gradually, the gorge dissolves into the plains south of Salta.
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