The Flowering of the Desert

The average annual rainfall in the Huasco Valley region declines as you travel north: in Vallenar it is 65 mm, in CopiapĆ³ 20 mm. Most years, the semi-desert appears to support only bushes and cacti and these become sparser as you continue north. However, in years of heavier than usual winter rainfall, this semi-desert breaks into colour as dormant seeds and bulbs germinate to produce blankets of flowers, while insects that normally hide underground emerge to enjoy the foliage.

Although the desierto florido (flowering desert) used to occur every seven years or so, changing climatic conditions have led to an increase in the phenomenon. The first traces of the desierto florido can be seen as far south as La Ligua and Los Molles, but from La Serena northwards, the Pan-American Highway is fringed with expanses of different colours: there are great stretches of violet pata de guanaco, yellow corona del fraile and blue suspiro del campo. Not all of these species can be seen at the same time: as the brief spring unfolds, the colours change and new species push through to replace others.

The phenomenon is particularly worth seeing around Vallenar, where the colours are more varied as different species compete to celebrate this increasingly frequent coming of spring. The Pan-American Highway north of the city as far as CopiapĆ³ and the coastal road north of Huasco are both recommended for a prime view. For further information, contact Vallenar tourist office.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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