The Atacama Desert is known, among other things, for having lithium-yielding salt flats, consistently clear skies for astronomers, and the world’s driest climate. What was supposed to be a quick stopover on my way from Santiago, Chile to Salta, Argentina ended up being an extended stay due to the area’s heaviest snowfall in twenty years. The town of San Pedro is not a bad place to be stranded – I enjoyed the expansive views of badlands (including the Valley of Death, where JPL tested Mars rover prototypes), sandboarding, and flamingo tours. As the forecast for the opening of the pass over the Andes kept worsening, I decided to admit defeat and take the 23-hour bus ride back south to Santiago.

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