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    Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 18 (Mar.-Apr. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Plains and mountains of La Rioja

Plains and mountains of La Rioja

Dusty mountains and dry earth in an eerie calm, La Rioja is a province located in the north-western part of Argentina, bordering with Chile to the west and surrounded by the provinces of San Juan, San Luis, Córdoba and Catamarca. Similar in area to Portugal, La Rioja is crossed by several mountain ranges. To the northeast lies the Andean mountain range with summits of more than 22,000 ft such as the Monte Pissis or Pillanhuasi, the Cerro Bonete Chico and the Cerro Veladero, all of them extinct volcanoes and some of the highest volcanoes in the world. The area immediately to the east of this range is a high plateau with salt water lakes (over 11,000 ft) that comprises the Provincial Reserve Laguna Brava; and further to the east the slopes of the pre-mountain range, including the Sierra de la Punilla and the Sierra del Toro Negro, descend to the valley of the River Vinchina, which crosses the province north to south.

The Sierra de Velasco (whose highest peak is Cerro El Cotao) and the Sierra de Famatima are roughly located in the middle of the province (north to south). The southernmost part of the Sierra de Famatima includes the Cerro General Belgrano (permanently snowed, is the highest outcrop of the Andean precordillera), and areas of lower mountains and foothills (Sierra de Sañogasta, Sierra de Paganzo and Sierra de la Morada). In between both Sierras stretches the valley of Famatima, also named valley of Antaco or valley of Chilecito.

The semi-arid plains extend south-eastward dotted with isolated mountain ranges such as the Sierra de los Llanos, Sierra de las Minas, Sierra de Malanzán and Sierra de Chepes. Curiously enough, the area has one of the largest dams in the province (Anzulón, situated in the Sierra de Malanzán). To the east of the Sierra de Velasco lies a region known as "Llanos de La Rioja", which comprises several salt lakes (Desagües del río Salado, Desagües de los Colorados), La Antigua salt-plain and part of the Salinas Grandes salt dessert. Heading southward there is a hilly area and another salt lake (Salinas de Mascasín).

Monte Pissis (extinct volcano), in Wikipedia.
Cerro Bonete Chico (mountain), in Wikipedia [es].
Provincial Natural Reserve Laguna Brava, in Wikipedia [es].
Sierra de Velasco (mountain range), in Wikipedia [es].
Cerro General Belgrano (mountain), in Wikipedia [es].
Sierra de los Llanos (mountain range), in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 01. Monte Pissis (extinct volcano).
Picture 02. Cerro Bonete (mountain).
Picture 03. Cerro Veladero (mountain).
Picture 04. Laguna Brava 01.
Picture 05. Laguna Brava 02.
Picture 06. Cerro General Belgrano (mountain).
Picture 07. Sierra de Famatina (mountain range).
Picture 08. Valley of Famatina.
Picture 09. La Rioja plains.
Picture 10. La Antigua salt lake.

Plains and mountains of La Rioja

The climate is semi-arid, with scarce rainfall and long periods of drought (temperatures are among the highest in the country). The natural landscape is dominated by xerophila vegetation, including different cacti, carob tree, aguaribay (pepper tree), mistol (spiniferous tree), piquillín (perennial shrub), chañar (small deciduous tree), tala (medium size deciduous tree), and molle.

This landscape is a refuge for a wealth of high mountain fauna: guanacos (camelids native to South America), vizcachas (rodents), red foxes, some cougars and wild cats, and condors.

There are humid forest plots (yungas) on the slopes of the Sierra de Velasco. However, water resources are limited and few rivers have a more or less constant flow of water throughout the year (Vinchina, Sanagasta or Abaucán).

Picture 11. Vegetation of La Rioja 01.
Picture 12. Vegetation of La Rioja 02.
Picture 13. Vegetation of La Rioja 03.
Imagen 14. Vinchina River.

The villages of Chamical, Chepes, Olta, Malanzán, and Ulapes are scattered among the south-eastern mountain ranges. The province's capital city, La Rioja, is situated in the middle of the province, on the eastern side of the Sierra de Velasco. The Sierra splits in two branches (eastern and western), and nestled in between lies a valley known as "La Costa" (the coast) or "Costa de Arauco", with small picturesque villages such Aimogasta, Anillaco and Aminga. Located in the neighbouring valley of Famatina is the town of Chilecito (at the foot of the Cerro General Belgrano), and a number of villages such as Famatina, Nonogasta, Vichigasta, Sañogasta, and Los Sarmientos.

In pre-Hispanic times, this territory was inhabited by a number of indigenous groups who were part of the Diaguita peoples (mostly Capayanes and Olongastas, nowadays extinct), and who left many cultural traces behind.

La Rioja's economy is largely based on grape and wine production and, to a lesser extent, on olive and oil, walnuts, some fruit and vegetable production, and irrigated agriculture. In recent years tourism has seen steady growth and the exploitation of different environments, either natural (Talampaya National Park) or cultural (the Festival of the Chaya).

Picture 15. "Coast" of La Rioja 01.
Picture 16. "Coast" of La Rioja 02.
Picture 17. "Coast" of La Rioja 03.
Picture 18. La Rioja landscape 01.
Picture 19. La Rioja landscape 02.
Picture 20. La Rioja landscape 03.
Picture 21. La Rioja landscape 04.
Picture 22. La Rioja landscape 05.

La Rioja province (Argentina), in Wikipedia.
Article. "La Costa", in Secretaría de Turismo de La Rioja [es].
Article. "Corredor Valle de Bermejo", in Secretaría de Turismo de La Rioja [es].

Picture A | Picture B

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