The slideshow ‘tells the story’ of Los Alerces National Park with a portfolio of photos by Peter Howard from a visit in January 2020. It illustrates the landscape features of this outstanding place, together with some of the typical plants and animals. Visitor access is relatively limited, with three entrance gates at strategic locations along the park’s eastern boundary, while the higher western two-thirds of the park is designated a strict scientific reserve and is off-limits.
The slideshow starts with a series of photos from the extreme south-eastern part of the park, where a short self-guided vehicle route includes a number of viewpoints and sites of interest. It continues by illustrating the diversity of features along the main park access road (Route 71) starting at the central entrance and proceeding north along the shores of Lake Futalaufquen and Lake Rivadavia to the northern entrance. The vegetation varies considerably from east to west across the park, the wettest parts lying along the Chilean border, with areas to the east (around the central entrance) lying in a semi-arid rain-shadow cast by the Andean cordillera. Here the vegetation is more characteristic of the dry Patagonian Steppe, but this soon gives way to Patagonian Forest vegetation communities across most of the park, with Valdivian Temperate Rainforest in the wettest parts along the Chilean border in the west. There are a number of short roadside trails to visit waterfalls and other features, and an opportunity to follow a picturesque forested trail crossing a wide pedestrian suspension bridge and following the banks of a glacial-blue river to a boat jetty (Puerto Chucao) at the south-eastern end of Lake Menendez. In mid-summer, the park is busy with visitors, most of them relaxing on the lake-shore beaches, while others enjoy some fishing, or take to the water in a canoe. For those looking for more strenuous activity there are 130 km of hiking trails through the forested mountains in the eastern part of the park.
The next part of the slideshow features a walk through some magnificent mature Nothofagus beech forest to a high viewpoint overlooking the small picturesque Lago Verde. Finally, the slideshow illustrates the park’s most popular excursion – a boat trip from Puerto Chucao to the north-western corner of Lago Menendez to see a gigantic Alerce tree, 2.2m in diameter and 2,600 years old. On the outbound journey the boat trip makes a short ‘diversion’ into the southern arm of the lake to view the face of a glacier, below the 2,253m peak of Cerro Torrecillos. The ancient Alerce tree is growing, with other smaller specimens nearby, in a multi-layered (Valdivian) temperate rainforest environment, with an understorey of bamboo and an abundance of lianas, mosses and epiphytes. This rainforest grows along the Chilean border where annual rainfall exceeds 3,000 mm, and is noticeably wetter than the other types of Patagonian Forest that grow in the drier rain-shadow conditions further east.