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Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal - National Park - Chile

La Pampa de Tamarugal stretches across the arid lands of Chile’s north, from Quebrada de Tana to María Elena. Across these sterile plains are vestiges of ruined civilizations: rock paintings by ancient peoples and abandoned salitre towns. This is an absolute desert, with 250 clear days per years. Lows reach -5 to -12ºC (23-54ºF) and highs soar to 36-40ºC (97-104ºF). The soil is burdened with salts. The only moisture that wets the sands is camanchaca the mists that drifts up from the Pacific Ocean. Few things can live in such an environment. One plant that does grow is the endemic tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo). When the Spanish arrived, a forest of tamarugo – or tamarugal – covered this plain. But by the mid-20th Century, this tree of prized wood was almost extinct. Thus was born Reserva Natural (RN) Pampa Del Tamarugal in 1987, to Project the last copses of tamarugo and to reforest the region.


The tamarugo is perfectly adapted to this desert. Its canopy captures camanchaca and its long taproot reaches to the brackish ground water deep beneath the surface. Aside from its precious wood, the tamarugo also produces a pod with eight to 10 protein-rich seeds that are used mostly as cattle feed.


In the Pampa de Tamarugal are few animals. Lizards and snakes proliferate. Zorro culpeo (Andean fox, Lycalopex culpaeus), zorro chilla (South American grey fox, Psuedolopex griseus) and quique (lesser grison, Galictis Cuja) are the few carnivorous mammals that also find a home in this aridness. Rodents, such as tuco tuco del tamarugal (Ctenomys fulvus robustus), ratoncito andino (olive-colored akodont, Abrothrix olivaceus), lauchón orejudo (Darwin's pericote, Phyllotis darwini) find refuge here. Flitting around the thickets are Lechuza Blanca (Common Barn Owl, Tyto alba), Aguilucho (White-throated Hawk, Buteo polysoma polysoma) and the Comsebo del Tamarugal (Tamarugo conebill, Conirostrum tamarugense).


The 100,650 hectares of RN Pampa de Tamarugal is divided into three sectors. Near Huara is Zapiga, with 17,650 hectares along Ruta 5, north of the Iquique turn-off. There are no offices or services here. South of Humberstone and Pozo Almonte are two other parts of the reserve. Amidst Salar de Pintados salt flats is Sector Los Pintados. This is the largest section, conserving 79,289 hectares of forestlands, of which 2500 hectares is tamarugo. Other species represented here are algarrobo (Prosopis alba) and other trees. The park administration and regional Conaf offices are in this part of RN Pampa de Tamarugal. There are campsites and a refuge as well. Within the reserve is Los Pintados, the largest panel of geoglyphs in the world. Across approximately four kilometers (2.4 mi) of hillside are over 900 drawings of humans, animals and geometric designs (Km 1766 Pan-American Highway / Ruta 5, 80 km / 48 mi south of Pozo Almonte). The smallest sector of the reserve, La Tirana, has only 5225 hectares. It is off the Pan-American Highway, near the village of the same name. All sectors of the park are free.

National Park

Here are other activities in and around Norte Grande that may be of interest: Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos and Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga.

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