Stromatolites of Tierra del Fuego

If you are just seeing this post, this is the continuation of my bloggings about a trip to Patagonia. You can read about Torres del Paine National Park in Chile at the following links:

After several days in Torres del Paine, we made our way to the town of Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego. Porvenir is the largest town on the island and provides access to a couple of places for sightseeing. You can drive from Torres del Paine to Porvenir, but it is a rather long journey that involves a ferry crossing. To avoid wasting all this time, the group I was with took a bus to the airport in Puerto Natales and from there a chartered plane to Porvenir.

It was a nice and unusually calm day so the flight was very smooth the entire way. I am told that the wind can often be very bad making the flight miserable for the passengers, but good weather luck was still favoring me on this journey. While flying past Puerto Natales, the sun created a rainbow halo around the airplane’s shadow in the clouds below. I had never seen anything like it, so I took a photo with my phone and I like the way it turned out. The body of water in the distance, is el Golfo Almirante Montt, which eventually connects to the Pacific Ocean. I wondered what it would be like to explore the channels and islands along the Pacific coast.

We eventually made it across the Strait of Magellan and down to Porvenir. The Porvenir airport is small and not very busy. Ours was the only plane there at the time and the terminal was empty. We took a quick bus ride to our hotel, got checked in, and prepared for an excursion to a nearby lake to see the stromatolites. Lago los Cisnes (Swan Lake) near Porvenir is unique in that it has areas of large stromatolites along its shoreline. This seems to be an under-appreciated feature of this area and apparently it is a seldom visited or remarked about natural feature. I didn’t find much about this particular place online, but I enjoyed visiting it.

Stromatolites are sedimentary formations made by micro-organisms, like cyanobacteria, that form mats and leave behind a layers of sediment that get built upon to form columns. These sorts of micro-organisms were some of the earliest lifeforms on earth, existing before there was sufficient oxygen and ozone in the atmosphere for plant and animal life to colonize the land. So, the shores around this lake may provide a glimpse of what the landscape looked like on the shores of shallow seas a billion years ago when land was mostly devoid of life. Below is a wide shot showing the stromatolites along the lake shore.

The guide parked the bus near a gate in a rancher’s fence as he had negotiated permission from the rancher for us to enter and hike down to the lake. It was a nice walk across a grassy field down to the shore. There were no fences or markers of any kind around this area and sheep and foxes roamed freely along the shoreline. We wound our way down close to the stromatolites, walking on the dried muddy areas to avoid damaging the crusty living structures. It may be difficult to determine the size of the stromatolites in the pictures but the tallest of them was about five feet tall using myself as a measuring stick. In the photo below there is a duck in the water for scale and you can see the airport in the distance across the lake.

Stromatolites at Lago los Cisnes, Tierra del Fuego

The photo below was taken much closer to the columns. They did look a bit delicate and poised to fall over. I didn’t dare try to touch any of the columns, but apparently the sheep are free to roam around them and I guess they don’t knock the things over. It is nice that we were allowed to carefully walk around the stromatolites in the natural environment. I fear a large regular crowd would probably result in a lot of damage, but I got the idea that most tourists come to Porvenir for birding.

Stromatolites at Lago los Cisnes, Tierra del Fuego

In the limited time that I had, my main compositional ideas revolved around the beautiful contrast between the warm orangish tones in the stromatolites and the blues of the sky and water. The afternoon sun was not directly overhead and provided some shadows to add depth and texture. In the photo below, there is a low-lying stromatolite shape that leads the eye toward the taller towers in the background. I waited around for quite some time for people to clear the scene so I could take this photo and I am happy with the result.

Stromatolites at Lago los Cisnes, Tierra del Fuego

We had just a short time in this area before making our way back to the bus. It would be nice to have time to work on some compositions at different times of the day, maybe with some clouds in the sky as I think these structures would photograph well at sunset. Or maybe even a night sky image with the stromatolites forming an alienesque landscape. After ten or fifteen minutes of wandering around, studying the landscape of the stromatolites for compositions, I had to catch back up to the group.

The next day, it was off to see a penguin rookery on the island. More on that next time. I hope you enjoyed the stromatolites and thanks for reading.

A Gray Fox roams around Tierra del Fuego

21 thoughts on “Stromatolites of Tierra del Fuego

  1. I was chscking yesterday to see if you had posted yet, but this didn’t show up until this morning. WP can be quirky!

    How cool to capture a rainbow halo in the clouds!
    Hmmm….I would be as tall as the stromatolites. Yes, it would have been fun ro capture them in a sunset. They are quite unique.
    So the sheep roam freely among the foxes?
    Oooh, clever on your last line about the 🐧 penguins..I was ready to scroll down and see them, but … LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The foxes wander freely and judging by the feathers scattered all over the place, I’d say they primarily eat birds. The sheep are quite a bit too big for a fox to tangle with.

      Don’t worry, I think you are definitely taller than most of the penguins.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. You are ducking right? Emperor penguins would be shorter than me. I guess you will have to change that typo in your other comment about me being taller than “some” of the penguins, to ALL. 😛


  2. The stromatolites are fascinating! Makes me curious about the geologic history of the area. I’m also impressed that humans haven’t destroyed them.

    Have a few of those plane-shadow/rainbow shots. A couple, I thought at the time, might be among the last things I see.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really nice, Jason. Great trip and thank you for sharing. But I must say, you sound like you are quibbling with one set of penguins being shorter than the others. Just hope they “measure up”. You are still seeing them in the wild. Which some of us never will. Most excellent adventure.

    Liked by 2 people

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