|Tierra del Fuego, Argentina|
|Rain mixed with snow, |
spring in Ushuaia
The next morning featured a hike at Tierra del Fuego National Park. The park is slightly north of the city of Ushuaia. The international borders snake around, so sections of Chile, including the town of Porto Williams, are south of southern Argentina. The seaways are equally serpentine, the channels used by ships to avoid sailing around Cape Horn form an complex maze. (see Google Map)
It was cool but the sun came out and stayed out: a lovely day. Tierra del Fuego National Park was very pretty. Nice weather is rare. Mostly it is a cloudy rainy place. Because of all the ocean, it rarely freezes hard, but the temperatures often hover around freezing.
|Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina|
Tierra del Fuego refers to the southernmost part of Patagonia, which is the southern part of South America. It is called Tierra del Fuego because at the time of European contact, the natives burned a lot of fires, using the plentiful wood for warmth, cooking and communication. That made it recognizable from the sea as the “land of smoke.” The King of Spain, who had to approve the official name, decided fire was more impressive, so it became “land of fire” Tierra del Fuego.
|box-leaved barberry, Berberis buxifolia|
Some of the plants were related to plants of similar extreme environments around the world. One example of that was box-leafed barberry, Berberis buxifolia (in the photo) one of the most common shrubs. It is indeed closely related to the barberry used in hedges all over Europe and North America.
Other plants were unknown to me because they were related mainly to Southern Hemisphere plants. Not having been to South Africa or Australia, I was unfamiliar with them. Flowering plants evolved during the Age of Dinosaurs, and during that time the earth was one united continent. The southern continents (Australia, South America, Africa, Antarctica and India) broke off from the northern continents (North America, Europe, Asia) some 150 million years ago (video). In the long period in which oceans have separated the northern and southern continents, many plant groups diversified, both north and south. I have seen many typically Southern Hemisphere plants as cultivated plants and in botanic gardens, but this was my chance to find them under natural conditions. When I could identify them, I was excited to see them.
|forest, Tierra del Fuego|
|forest, Tierra del Fuego|
I read Darwin's book about the trip, The Voyage of the Beagle, long ago but images such as that one stuck with me. I had no opportunity to track out through the dense and unfriendly Patagonian forest, but I did enjoy seeing it. The Voyage of the Beagle is online: Here is the description that I remembered, of Tierra del Fuego in December, 1832 (Ch. 10, 11th paragraph):
Finding it nearly hopeless to push my way through the wood, I followed the course of a mountain torrent. At first, from the waterfalls and number of dead trees, I could hardly crawl along; but the bed of the stream soon became a little more open, from the floods having swept the sides. I continued slowly to advance for an hour along the broken and rocky banks, and was amply repaid by the grandeur of the scene. The gloomy depth of the ravine well accorded with the universal signs of violence. On every side were lying irregular masses of rock and torn-up trees; other trees, though still erect, were decayed to the heart and ready to fall. The entangled mass of the thriving and the fallen reminded me of the forests within the tropics -- yet there was a difference: for in these still solitudes, Death, instead of Life, seemed the predominant spirit. I followed the watercourse till I came to a spot where a great slip had cleared a straight space down the mountain side. By this road I ascended to a considerable elevation, and obtained a good view of the surrounding woods. The trees all belong to one kind, the Fagus betuloides; for the number of the other species of Fagus and of the Winter's Bark, is quite inconsiderable. This beech keeps its leaves throughout the year; but its foliage is of a peculiar brownish-green colour, with a tinge of yellow. As the whole landscape is thus coloured, it has a sombre, dull appearance; nor is it often enlivened by the rays of the sun.
I didn't find it bleak, in fact, it was endlessly fascinating. Simple, chilly forests of exotic southern beeches.On this trip I failed either to see strange stars or clockwise drains. It was cloudy every night I went out to look and the conditions to see water rotate the "wrong way" are tricky (see Huffington Post article). I had a grand time, but those simple goals went unmet.
Comments and corrections welcome.
Devereaux, Evelyn. Flora del Archeielago Fueguino. Buenos Aires: Grafica LAF. 2004.
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