Introducing Parque Nacional Lihué Calel
In the local indigenous language of Pehuenche, Lihué Calel means Sierra de la Vida (Range of Life), and describes a series of small, isolated mountain ranges and valleys that create unique microclimates in a nearly featureless pampean landscape.
This desert-like park is a haven for native cats such as puma and yagouaroundi. You can spot armadillo, guanaco, mara (Patagonian hare) and vizcacha, while birdlife includes the rhea-like ñandú and many birds of prey such as the carancho (crested caracara).
Lihué Calel receives only about 400mm of rainfall per year, but sudden storms can create brief waterfalls over granite boulders near the visitors center. Even when the sky is cloudless, the subterranean streams in the valleys nourish the monte (a scrub forest with a surprising variety of plant species). Within the park’s 10 sq km exist 345 species of plants, nearly half the total found in the entire province.
There are a few walks in the area, including the hour-long hike to the 589m peak Cerro de la Sociedad Científica Argentina; watch for flowering cacti such as Trichocereus candicans between boulders. From the summit, there are outstanding views of the entire sierra and surrounding marshes and salt lakes.
About 8km from the visitors center is Viejo Casco, the ruins of the old house of former Estancia Santa María. It’s also possible to make a 9km walking circuit via the Valle de las Pinturas, where there are some petroglyphs.
More information is available at the visitors center, where there’s a small museum. Spring is the best time to visit the park, when flowers are blooming and the temperatures aren’t too hot.