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Violas & Volcanoes: Tour to Northern Patagonia & Mendoza

The Andean Mountains and adjacent steppe of northern Patagonia and Mendoza support a rich flora set in spectacular landscapes. See the amazing scenery and plants our group have seen on their three week tour.  
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The first two nights were spent in Zapala (a city in Neuquén Province, Argentina). From here, the group made their first visit to Laguna Blanca National Park. The reserve is home to a rich steppe of flora around a large lake.

Continuing their plant hunting quest, they travelled west and into the mountains. Here, they saw monkey puzzles and beautiful scenery. Plants included Viola coronifera, Primula magellanica, Jabrosa volkmannii, Oxalis adenophylla carpeting a sandy area and Chloraea magellanica. 

On Sunday, the group took in the views from Volcán Batea Mahuida (Neuquén Province). They also saw Viola cotyledon, Tristagma spegazzini and Codonorchis lessonii.

On Monday, the group enjoyed a scenic drive through monkey puzzles. They saw orchids aplenty as well as huge basalt lava flows cooled into pillars. There was more interesting flora to see: Chloraea speciosa, Argylia bustillosii, Tropaeolum incisum, Famantina maulensis, Oxalis nahuel-huapensis.

Next up was Volcán Copahue (locate in the Andes, on the border of the Bío Bío Region in Chile and Neuquén Province, Argentina). They even witnessed a small volcanic eruption!

Some of the flowers seen here were Viola pachysoma and Viola cotyledon – including a very special form.

Then it was time to travel north to Caviahue (a town on the slopes of the active Volcán Copahue). Plants spied here include Valeriana boelkei, Caltha appendiculata and Calandriana graminifolia (pink and white).

In Tromen Pass, there was a good variety of flowers to see: yellow Benthamiella, Senecio and Viola escondidaensis was a particularly exciting find.

From here it was time to travel towards the border with Chile. The Pichachén Pass connects Argentina and Chile. The group had the opportunity to travel to the top of the pass, where they enjoyed the views of Volcán Antuco (Chile).

The next stop was Lago Epulafquén, a glacial lake in Lanín National Park. A walk to the head of the lake allowed our explorers to take in the amazing scenery. They also saw wonderful violas and orchids.

A short drive took the group to Los Molles Ski Resort (Mendoza, Argentina) where they saw cacti en route. Plant hunting on the slopes led to some wonderful finds: a single Rhodophiala, Jaborosa laciniata, Viola trochlearis and a tiny Loasa with stinging hairs. They also came across a giant sink hole formed by a collapsed cave!

Next, it was a long drive to a remote mountain area with incredible scenery along the way. The lengthy journey was worth it: Viola atropurpurea, Tristagma sociale and Barneoudia major were among the plants seen in Lago Escondido.

Paso de las Damas (Mendoza) was the next stop. This is a remote area rarely visited, even by Argentinians. There were a couple of obstacles to battle: a delay caused by a large herd of cattle and horses and a deep river towards the end of the road which couldn’t be crossed. There were still plenty of flowers to be seen on the way back, including a rock-hard Azorella cushion and Olsynium bodenbenderi which was only described a few years ago.

Next up on the itinerary was Aconcagua. With an elevation of c.6,960 metres, it is the highest mountain in the Southern and Western Hemispheres. The bus made it to within 1.8 km of the top and from there the group continued on foot. Plants seen include Barneoudia major patagonica and Calandrinia caespitosa. 

On Sunday it was time to travel through the tunnel to Chile. Here, they found a fabulous Viola atropurpurea.

The last day was spent exploring Portillo (Chile). The trip ended on a high with some wonderful plants seen: Trichocereus, Alstroemeria pallida, Mutisia subulata and Viola.

Photos: David Haselgrove.