Traveling Solo in Patagonia: Torres Del Paine by Mark Andre

The day that I spent driving from El Chalten to Torres del Paine was one of the more difficult drives I’ve done. Not because of traffic – there was none of that. Not because of the weather – it was a beautiful clear day. Only because of the endless hours of being concerned that I would miss a gas station and run out of gas. I made three stops to make sure that I had enough gas over a 250 mile trip. It took me 6 hours to make it to the Chilean border and another two-and-a-half to get to Torres del Paine National Park.

As I got close to Torres Del Paine, I began to understand why this national park is so popular. Its like the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone put together (without the volcanic features). I checked in at the Ranger station and made sure all of my paper work was in order. I should have taken this opportunity to go deeper into the park and take some photos. I was so tired from the drive that I just wanted to get to the hotel.

I spent my two nights in the park at the Hotel Las Torres. It was the most affordable of the hotels in the park. It was a good jumping off point for all the moving around the park that I did, but I would have preferred to stay in one of the other hotels closer to the main hiking areas.

I woke up on my first morning to find everything socked in. Low, grey clouds obscured the mountains directly behind the hotel. I headed out to explore around the park and get the lay of the land, hoping that the clouds might break during the day. The immediate drive out from the hotel took me across a single lane bridge and then up the dirt switchbacks to get higher into the mountains south of the Paine Massif.

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As the road leveled off, I found myself driving in the clouds. sometimes the road felt like it was falling away into the clouds, with only a hit of mountain peaks beyond. The local wildlife – mostly Guanacos – darted along the road as I passed and at one point I did catch a glimpse of Andean Condors.

Later in the day, the clouds broke and gave me a view of the iconic Cuernos through the broken clouds. None of the iconic views of the mountain were made clear that day. As a result of the weather, I had to look for more interesting compositions and find the beauty among the clouds and the peaks.

Searching among the peaks, I was able to find some beautiful compositions. The craggy nature and the transitions of the ice and snow to stone made for some beautiful moments.

Aside from the challenging weather, It was a huge disappointment to leave the national park. After the beautiful weather I experienced in El Chalten, it could not have been more opposite. Torres Del Paine left me wanting more and is begging for me to return one day.

Check out the other blog posts from the rest of my trip:

Glacier Perito Moreno

El Chalten & Fitzroy

Traveling Solo in Patagonia: El Chalten & Fitz Roy by Mark Andre

After leaving El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier behind the three-and-a-half hour drive to El Chalten was shrouded in clouds and intense rain. After turning off Ruta Nacional 40 the final two hours of the drive were supposed to be approaching with the magnificent view of Fitz Roy. I was quite disappointed to find that the clouds still dominated the sky. Just a few breaks in the clouds revealed the mountains I was driving between.

Driving the road to El Ehalten. Mountains breaking through the clouds

Upon arriving in the small town of El Chalten, I found the rain I had been driving through all day had been falling as snow. The small town at the base of Fitz Roy seems positioned as a town for travelers visiting one of the most iconic peaks in the world. While not as well know as the W-Trek around Torres Del Paine, there are numerous multi-day treks hikers can do around the mountain. After jumping from town to town from Punta Arenas, I was looking forward to getting back into a hint of civilization. El Chalten was a welcome break. No cell service and very slow internet was a wonderful forced break from the rest of the world for three days.

On my first full day in El Chalten, I took a look out of my hotel room window at 5:30 in the morning and saw stars. My heart leapt and I gathered my gear for a pre-dawn hike up to an overlook to catch my first glimpse of Fitz Roy.

The hike was no easy task. The route to the overlook I was thinking of was only two miles, but the first mile-and-a-half shot up nearly 1,200 feet. Doing this in the pitch black darkness only lit by my headlamp and the bouncing head lamps of the other hikers made for an amazing feeling of intimacy with the landscape. Only being aware of the landscape to the fringes of the beam of my headlamp made me excited for the hike back down when I would see it in the daylight. A few breaks in the forest allow me some broken views of the surrounding mountains as the sky began to glow before dawn.

As I grew close to the overlook around 8:00 I caught my first glimpse of Fitz Roy. It stopped my in my tracks. After my brief moment of joy that the mountain wasn’t shrouded in clouds and that I had a shot at catching alpenglow lighting up the face of the dramatic peak, I immediately got to work searching for a composition. It was more difficult than I thought, but I was able to find the image above and catch it just as the light began to strike the clouds above the peak.

As the wonderful glow of sunrise faded, I took off to continue around the trails in the area. The short, scrubby trees were sometimes so thick that it was barley wide enough for my to walk the trail.

I was searching for a waterfall that promised an amazing photograph, but the light was just to harsh and the rocks too slick to allow me to get to the vantage point I was looking for. Continuing around the trail, heading back along a different spur than the one I hiked up Lago Capri was almost perfectly still. The reflection of Fitz Roy in the lake was irresistible.

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I spent the next hour returning back down to town. The snow turned the trail to mud in the intense Patagonian sun. This hike took more out of me than I thought it would. My initial plan was to repeat it the next morning to catch the waterfall at sunrise. My legs had other plans. The following morning I headed out to the to road into town to catch the view I missed because of all the clouds.

Heading out along the road in the dark, I planned two spots the night before. the first was the iconic shot with the straight road heading to the mountain. As I was waiting for the sunrise, I kept an eye on a small cloud that was hover over a different peak far in the distance. Luckily, I was able to capture both images at the perfect time for the morning light.

As the color began to fade, I headed for the second spot. There was a singular s-curve that lead straight to Fitz Roy. luckily I caught this as the first full ray of the sun struck the mountain. The light in both of these spots lasted just for minutes. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to catch both in the same morning. Especially as my final morning in El Chalten was an absolute dud for sunrise.

I spent the rest of the day exploring some of the other sites around town. I didn’t initially plan to visit Chorrillo del Salto because I assumed the ease of access would mean it would be swamped with people taking the easy 1km hike. I couldn’t have been more wrong,

When I made my way down the dirt road from El Chalten I found the parking lot empty and had the falls all to myself. It took some searching, but sneaking down a small path led me right to the edge of the river and a wonderful composition including one of the dead trees. The spray from the waterfall made my usual process a bit more complex, constantly covering and uncovering my lens and filters.

This waterfall was a complete surprise. I was not expecting to get anything here. All the scouting and planning I did indicated that it was going to be a tough place to shoot. It’s a great lesson is always taking the camera with you, even when there might be nothing to shoot.

Instead of turning right down the gravel road that led back to El Chalten, I turned left. I knew that an hour and a half away there was an amazing lake, but I had no intention of going that far. However, the same river I had just photographed crossed the road several times and I was hoping there would be a cool bridge to see. I didn’t expect to see a completely different view of Fitz Roy.

After spending almost an hour out and back being shaken along a very rough dirt road, I turned back to El Chalten.

I was enjoying a great meal at one of the great restaurants in in El Chalten when I came out to a sight I didn’t expect to see. I had almost entirely written off sunset shots because the entire view of Fitz Roy was looking to the west, into the setting sun with the mountains back lit. The lenticular clouds that occupied the sky begged me to head out quickly to find a shot that I might be able to capture the extraordinary clouds.

I was flabbergasted by the sky on this evening. Even as everything was backlit, the mountains were a beautiful sight to take in. It almost looked like flying saucers descended on the town. Many of these clouds seemed to hover in place longer than I thought they would.

On my last morning in El Chalten, I woke up in time to catch the sunrise on my way to Torres Del Paine National park in Chile. The 8-hour drive ahead of me was rather daunting, but I was hoping for one last morning of amazing light. It wasn’t to be, but I was able to capture a moody, black and white image from the road.

I cannot say enough good things about this place. I could have spent my whole trip here and not finished everything I had on my list. The dramatic landscape transition from flat, scrubby steppe to hearty forest to mountain in such a small distance was something to behold. If you’re going to be in this part of the world, make the detour!

Check out the other blog posts from the rest of my trip:

Glacier Perito Moreno

Torres Del Paine

The Marfa Pilgrimage by Mark Andre

Marfa, Texas may seem like an odd place for a trip for 45 architects and designers but the small town in the West-Texas desert is something of a dream trip for any lover of modern art. Home to the Chinati and Donald Judd Foundations, the small town is home to some of the greatest examples of the late artist’s work.

The water tower in Marfa, Texas

The barracks buildings of the former Fort D.A. Russell

Arriving in Marfa I was reminded of the beauty of small towns. Its history was tied most notably to an army base that was active starting in 1911. The town exploded in the 1920’s and is strongly evident in some of the Art Deco details in some of the buildings.

We made our way to the Chinati Foundation to tour the unparalleled collection. Robert Irwin’s “Dusk to Dawn” blew me away. I was so excited to see the work of Donald Judd I wasn’t even thinking about this building. Irwin placed his scrims in black and white around the former Army Hospital. We started in the dark side, walking down the long axis in the dark painted wall flanked by the long black scrim. Upon turning the corner, you’re greeted by a progression that is the closest to a sunrise I’ve ever experienced in a man-made space. Saying it is a nearly religious experience is an understatement. The utter simplicity of the installation combined with the subdued light on the day we visited created an experience second to none.

Robert Irwin’s “Dusk to Dawn”

Robert Irwin’s “Dusk to Dawn”

Among the other artists that dot the Trans-Peco desert in the abandoned barracks is none other than Dan Flavin. His piece, Untitled (Marfa Project) 1996, is made up of six tunnel installations within six adjacent former army barracks. The light tunnels are installed in the central end of the U-shaped barracks allowing the viewer a long view of the most impressive part of any Flavin. His ambient light. The color of the fluorescent tubes alternates between warm and cool tones constantly begging your eyes to adjust to the brilliant colors and always leaving the world looking a different hue as you leave each barrack.

Dan Flavin’s Untitled work in 6 Barracks Buildings

The courtyard of one of the barracks buildings complete with an artfully placed tree

The simple Architecture of the barracks buildings (and frankly all the other buildings) compliment the art perfectly. The fit into the town and the surrounding landscape in a way that doesn’t feel like a military installation.

Peeking into one of the Flavin buildings

In the only rotating exhibit, Bridget Riley installed a wall painting that she calls an abstract landscape. Based on the time she spent in Egypt, the colors and lines are reminiscent of the landscape she witnessed there in her visit during the 1980s. She installed this piece in this location due to the similarities between the Trans-Peco desert landscape of Texas and the landscapes in Egypt. It’s amazing how much these horizontal bands of color move you through the space and draw your eye around the corners.

Bridget Riley’s Royal Liverpool University Hospital as a Wall Painting, Bolt of Colour

The highlight of the Chinati Foundation: Donald Judd’s “100 Boxes in Milled Aluminum”

The one part of this trip that I was most excited about was finally getting a chance to see Donald Judd’s “100 Boxes in Milled Aluminum.” The craft and incredible simplicity of this piece blew me away. Judd was one of the first artist to use other craftspeople to help realize his vision. Using a fabricator in Connecticut, he was able to create objects that are a close to perfection as one can get. The pieces are finished just as they came out of the mill. No polishing or protecting has been done. The only piece that had to be replaced after being shipped was one that was accidentally polished.

These boxes are an exercise in simplicity. They are an exploration in a small set of rules that resulted in 100 boxes, set in no particular order fill two former artillery sheds surrounded by the west Texas desert. These pieces have served as a huge source of design inspiration for me and they did not disappoint. This series of boxes was the highlight of the ‘pligrimage’ to this small Texas town.

The Chinati Foundation’s John Chamberlain Collection

Another stop was the Chinati Foundation’s collection of John Chamberlain sculptures. Housed in 3 former warehouses that Donald Judd connected for Chamberlain, I noticed something I’ve never seen in any of the works that I’ve see of his before. They appear to float. The pieces appear to effortlessly touch the ground on the smallest of points.

Not far from Marfa is the instagram-famous Prada Marfa. It’s certainly a strange site to see on the side of the two-lane highway. It was a wonderful welcome and goodbye on the way into and out of Marfa.

For anyone who loves design or contemporary art, Marfa is up there as a one of the sites to see at some point in your lifetime. I can only describe it as a pilgrimage because of the nearly religious quality of the art and its legendary status within the art world.

Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Prada Marfa”

Traveling Solo in Patagonia: Glacier Perito Moreno by Mark Andre

My first 36 hours in Patagonia would give me a taste of the variable weather I would experience throughout my trip. Upon landing, the wind was so strong they had to turn the plane 180-degrees to be able to open the cargo door on the aircraft. Waking up the next morning the sky was beautifully broken with clouds. After the 6-hour drive across the Argentinian border to El Calafate I found myself at the shores of Lago Argentino looking forward to the next morning’s adventure at Glacier Perito Moreno.

I awoke to a low ceiling of thick grey clouds dumping rain down on the beautifully saturated landscape. I struck off on the 75-minute drive into the southern end of Argentina’s Glacier National Park. Still adjusting to to locals’ habit of driving excessively over the speed limit, I made it to the parking lot in scarcely over an hour. I’ll share some stories of driving in Patagonia in another post, but needless to say, speed limits and lane markers seemed only to be suggestions.

I stepped out of the car to the sounds of ice calving off the end of the glacier and immediately struck off to find a spot to make the best of the grey day.

Walking the paths looking for the perfect view

The saving grace of the rain and low clouds was the fresh gradient of snow on the mountains surrounding the glacier. You are immediately struck by the scale and vastness of this place. The terminus of the glacier rises an average of 240 feet above the surface of Lago Argentino.

This sheet of ice is constantly in motion. It’s one of the only glaciers in the world that is still advancing and about every four to five years the glacier blocks the waters moving from the southern arm of lake, building up pressure and eventually rupturing in dramatic fashion. The last time it ruptured was in March 2016.

The glacier and the mountains beyond

the end of the glacier (about 240 feet tall for scale)

Clouds surrounding the terminus of the glacier

The glacier covers some 100 square miles and is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field which forms the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. It also helped give Lago Argentino a deep aqua color that cast the clouds above it in a wondrous blue hue. I’ve seen glaciers in Iceland, but never this close. The beautiful peaks and crevasses looked like miniature versions of the mountains surrounding them. I was taking in the glacier on the way between El Calafate and El Chalten so I didn’t have a hug amount of time to wait for the weather to clear.

This was definitely not what most would call ideal day for photography. The light was flat and the rain made keeping the lens clear quite difficult. It forced me to search more for compositions and literally reach out with the longer lens and create more interesting scenes with in the vast landscape.

This might just have been the perfect way to start the trip. It helped me get outside of my comfort zone and search for more interesting compositions in the windswept Patagonian mountains.

Stay tuned for images from El Chalten an Fitz Roy in my next post.

The 5km wide glacier squeezing through the mountains

Check out the other blog posts from the rest of my trip :

El Chalten and Fitz Roy

Torres Del Paine