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COMING DOWN THE VILLAVICENCIA ROAD, MENDOZA, ARGENTINA

By Jim Davis

I grip the door handle of the Land Rover, ready to fling the door open and jump as Carlos attempts to down shift into a lower gear, a maneuver made difficult by a disconnected clutch pedal. Finally, after a screaming protest of grinding gears he crams the gear shift with both hands and the vehicle slows before we reach the next switch-back. I breathe deeply, glad that Carlos can switch the steering from his knee back to his hands. As we make the turn, skidding only slightly, I release my grip on the door, being able to look almost straight down the almost vertical hill-side to our continuing road several hundred feet below. There could be no jump to safety.

The margin of safety to the road edge narrowed alarmingly as the vehicle swerved to miss a boulder that had rolled down onto the road. Carlos seemed unperturbed as he waxed eloquently about the lithology of the rocks along the cliff on the upper side of the road, using both hands to frame his description. Once again his knee was doing the steering as he detailed the outcrop geology. The next switchback was moderately wide and I was able to keep my eyes open. Carlos's arm went out the window to describe the vista of the far off mountains. Unable to do the job adequately with one appendage, his knee went back to the bottom of the steering wheel and with both arms he re-enacted the Andean tectonics. Suddenly one arm darted back to the steering wheel to make a quick adjustment around a wash-out that dropped a hundred feet. We swerved around that part but the extended erosion across the road gave our vehicle a severe jolt which crammed my head against the roof. I glanced back at the rear seat, wondering if the two geologists there had maybe jumped out while they had the chance at the last switchback, but they were still on board, one appeared to be napping while the other was calmly looking out the window. Alternatively from jumping out, I had expected to see them sneaking a swig from bottle of wine in the cooler that sat between them and then offering me a companionable draught - but no salvation was forthcoming there.

Charles Darwin traveled this road during a side trip from his epic voyage on the HMS Beagle 160 years before my travel on this same road. The road is nick-named the Ruta del a¤o, the `route of the year' for its 365 turns (and 7 colors). The loupe from Mendoza, up through a torturous canyon to Uspallata and across the barren hills of vivid colors from white to brilliant red to a monument marking Darwin's stop on the eastern rim of the Andes is quite awesome. With little or no vegetation, it is like the bones of the earth to the geologist.

Back on the mountain-side, Carlos, in his enthusiasm, sometimes switches to Portuguese to adequately describe the engrossing scene of geology, topography, history and occasional fear. I nod vigorously, not wanting him to watch my face for understanding while he repeats his colorful descriptions. Skidding around another hair-pin curve I am once again on the down-hill side. Carlos leans across me and with his arm out my window points down. "See that alteration?" I prepare to grab the steering wheel but Carlos quickly leans back to the piloting position and with a great grinding of gears and adroitness of his knee whips around another 180 degree curve, leaving my stomach hanging in space.

Back in Mendoza I order a double margarita and try to remember what Carlos had told me about the geology on the Ruta del a¤o.


DREGS Announces the 2017-2018
Distinguished Lecturer
Dr. William A. "Bill" Rehrig


Presenting
"New Discoveries, New Questions - 60 Years in Exploration Geology"


May 14, 2018 - DREGS monthly meeting
7:00 p.m., with refreshments at 6:00 p.m.

Open to DREGS members, guests and interested friends
Berthoud Hall - BH241
Colorado School of Mines

Refreshments graciously are being sponsored by:
Brooks and Nelson, Executive Recruiters
 



 

The DREGS collection of memoirs from this page can be found at www.dregs.org/memoirs.html