The lunar-like landscape in the Cordillera de la Sal, or Salt Mountains, is like few places on earth.
Above the rooftops of San Pedro de Atacama, my base in the heart of Atacama, I can see the cones of Licancabur and Juriques. A cloud tinged pink by the dawning of the new day crowns both volcanoes. The heat of the coming day is already chasing away the chill of a starlit night.
I am on my way to the Valley of the Moon with Nicole, a local mountain guide originally from Switzerland. The landscape that unfolds before me as we drive is overwhelmingly beautiful, with the road running between mountains drawn in mysterious shapes across a plain covered in salt. “This valley is part of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountains), the floor of what was a lake about 20 million years ago,” says Nicole. “The layers of sediment were pushed to the surface by the same movements of the Earth’s crust which created the Andes.”
We get out of the car and climb to the top of the Great Dune, which offers one of the best views of the valley. The geomorphology is awesome, creating an arid and enigmatic landscape that takes its name from its resemblance to the surface of the moon. My imagination soars even higher before she brings me back down to earth. “These odd shapes are the result of erosion caused by wind and extreme temperatures,” she says. “Nature has shaped the place at will.”