30 July 2008

A New Cave Discovered -- Cueva de Roberto

Originally drafted 29 July 2008

The approach to Cueva de Roberto. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Pete and I worked with Roberto again today. Roberto is a very solid person, and he’s quickly becoming a good friend. We have a lot of fun in the field together. Also, he has been quite helpful in helping me improve my Spanish. Whenever I say something incorrectly, he’ll repeat the correct phrasing in Spanish. This is definitely helping me improve.

When I first arrived in Chile, I quickly realized I had forgotten quite a bit of my Spanish. I’ve studied Spanish off and on for the past several years. At first, this was bothering me quite a bit. When I was here in 2006, my Spanish was much better than it is now. However, as I’m being forced to work with colleagues who only speak Spanish, this is forcing me to use my Spanish and even rely on my Spanish in the field. So, I feel my Spanish is slowly improving. I’m hoping that over the next three years, I will obtain fluency. I’ll be returning to Chile in October-November, and then I’ll be here again in June-July 2009 and then twice in 2010. With all this time in South America, I’m hoping my Spanish language skills will dramatically improve.

Roberto, a CONAF Official that we've been working with the past several days. He also discovered Cueva de Roberto. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Back to today’s progress…our first stop was the Traga Luz Grande region. However, before we left for the caves, I met Edwardo, Frank and Lorreto. They are Valle de la Luna officials, and were planning to explore the Traga Luz Grande area today. I noticed Edwardo had a “casco” (in English, “helmet”) attached to his backpack. When I commented to Roberto regarding this, he told me that Edwardo has all of his own equipment, and that he had quite a bit of experience caving. We chatted for a while before we started our day.

We first climbed up on a high bench to investigate a small cave looking feature that had intrigued me back in 2006, but due to time, I never investigated this feature. We climbed up to this high bench and determined it was a shallow mine. The feature was very alcove-like, so I decided to use this as one of our non-cave anomalies.

Deploying sensors in the small cave-like feature above Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Once done, we went to Cueva de Roberto. We had planned to deploy sensors in this cave. However, we were met by a big surprise. Yesterday, when I went into this cave, I did not push this cave. I went back about 20 meters and then returned to the surface. Today, we planned to push the entire cave. I was leading the push and after about 50 meters, I noticed the cave opened up considerably. I went a few meters more and saw it dropped off vertically. I approached the edge of this drop off, and observed it was a large dry fall dropping approximately 20 meters down. Beyond, this cave opens up into vast passage. This cave could contain HUGE volume. We were all totally stoked!

This cave is truly impressive. However, because of the large dry fall impeding our exploration, we stopped at this point and discussed how we would rig this section for rappel. Pete and I devised a plan, and then we all returned to the surface. We plan to rappel this section on Saturday, and then we hope to push the entire cave – provided, of course, we don’t encounter another massive dry fall.

Saturday is when Roberto is available. So, we want to be sure he is with us when we explore “his” cave.

We then left the Traga Luz Grande area and headed to Cueva Paisaje de Sal (Salt Landscape Cave). This is a very crawly cave, and we wanted to determine the location of the other entrances, and then deploy sensors within this feature. Unfortunately, this didn’t go as planned either. We were unable to locate all the entrances. We spent about two hours hiking across the salt landscape, and up and down through this very hilly rugged country. Knutt and his team walked through this area last week, and they collected GPS coordinates for three entrances they believed to be associated with Cueva Paisaje de Sal. They did not explore these entrances – rather they simply collected the coordinates for Pete and I to fully explore at a later date.

We encountered once entrance, which actually contained bat guano!!! This was huge for me. I’ve been working in this area for the past two weeks, and I haven’t seen any evidence of bat use until today. The bats were using the entrance of a cave. However, we still don’t know if this is part of Cueva Paisaje de Sal. Tomorrow, we plan to fully push this cave starting at the one known entrance. We’ll make this determination tomorrow.

In addition, Knutt and his tame GPS-ed an entrance. This was a large sink feature enclosed to about 350 degrees. We walked down the open portion of this sinkhole and found a plunge hole. Upon peering into this hole we found this would involve a 10 meter rappel. However, we don’t know if it’s part of Cueva Paisaje de Sal. This could be another cave.

We have more rope work to do now. Unfortunately, we did not get to deploy sensors in this cave either, but plan to do so tomorrow when Pete and I push this feature.

Once we were done with Cueva Paisaje de Sal, we returned to Cueva Sin Nombre (we do plan to name this within the next few days). Pete and I wanted to go back to this cave and determine exactly what additional equipment we needed to purchase to rig Cueva de Roberto, Cueva Paisaje de Sal, and Cueva Sin Nombre.

This was essentially the end of our field day. Once we sussed out rigging equipment for Cueva Sin Nombre, we went to the hardware store to look for and see if we could purchase concreting bolts (which we will can also use for setting bolts in rock). We will use these bolts as additional protection when riggin some of the sections of the rappels we will likely do on Saturday. We plan to have three plus points of protection for each rappel. These bolts will give us a little more assurance that the ropes will hold when we rappel. Obviously, this is rather important.

The cartography team did incredibly well today. Cueva Lechuza de Campanario has been mapped! Our expedition team has our first cave completely mapped using the techniques we developed last week. Knutt’s team finished this cave with a high level of detail. They feel that they captured at least 85% of the volume.

Also, we are holding daily debriefings. This has proved incredibly well with our expedition. We are able to discuss the progress of each day, place individual and group concerns on the table, and find solutions to any problems encountered in the field and with the expedition in general. When working together in a remote area for long hours, and for an extended period of time, it is critically important that everyone communicates well with each other, that everyone is satisfied with the expedition thus far, and that no one becomes irritated or irate with the way the project is being conducted and/ or another team member. I have been incredibly lucky here. My team is great. I could not have asked for a better group of researchers. In addition to our debriefings and laundry airing (which there has been very little in the past two weeks), we also take this opportunity for each team member to provide summary reports of their work. Also, Christina uses this forum to discuss safety concerns, and discuss how we can continue to retain the highest degree of safety in the field.

So, the expedition continues to go well! We have two and a half weeks before we leave the Atacama and head for Rapa Nui!

Another beautiful view of Licancabur. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

28 July 2008

PS -- No work on 25-26 July 2008

John taking it easy on one of our days off. This is another view of our backyard. Credit: Dan Ruby.

We did little more than relax this past Friday and Saturday. We'd been working nonstop since our arrival to Chile on 15 July. So, it was good to have some down time.

Cañon Catarpe and Cave of the Bones

Originally drafted 27 July 2008

Finished exploring Cuevita de Catarpe, and about to down climb to ground. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Today, Knutt’s team continued to map Cueva Lechuza de Campanario, while Pete and I deployed sensors. Knutt has indicated they expect to spend about two more days mapping this cave. There after, they plan to further refine their mapping techniques. The mapping station interval was too small resulting in the team spending a lot more time at this cave than they would like. We feel by increasing the mapping interval slightly will still provide us with the volumetric information required to best model cave thermal behavior. I am purposefully being vague here because we plan to publish a paper using these new volumetric mapping techniques. So, for those who may be interested, you’ll have to wait for the paper to be published.

Christina taking a break from mapping Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Pete and I deployed sensors at two cave-like features. These features were small piping caves – neither of these had a dark zone. The purpose of monitoring both caves and non-cave features is so we can ultimately differentiate between the two by interpreting thermal imagery.

Cuevita de Catarpe.

Our first stop was Cañon Catarpe. This canyon is incredibly picturesque. To get to the upper reaches of this canyon, you must cross the Rio San Pedro several times. This canyon has been cut by the Rio San Pedro, and historically it likely saw quite a bit of water. At the lower reaches of the canyon, it contains the small village of Quitor, as well as Ruinas de Quitor and Caverna de Quitor.

With Cuevita de Catarpe rigged, I can now ascend this 15 foot climb. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

The view of Cañon Catarpe.

Pete attempting to rig a rope to ascend a 15 foot nuisance rappel to get into Cuevita de Catarpe.

Cañon Catarpe also contains one of our non-cave features Cuevita de Catarpe. A photo of this small cave was published by Shane Fryer in the 2005 issue of the NSS News. This is a small pipe about 50 meters in length with the upper end of the pipe terminating in a sinkhole. The entrance of this feature faces the canyon floor. It required a short climb up about 6 meters before I reached walkable passage. Because the rock in this canyon as well as in the Cordillera de la Sal is incredibly brambly and unconsolidated, there were little to no reliable hand and foot holds. So, Pete and I had to rig a rope so that I could have a belayed climb.

Image of ungulate bones observed in the walls of Cuevita de Huesos.

After spending about two hours working this area, we left for another small cave-like feature we were calling “Casa de la Araña.” Well, we’ve decided to change the name of this small piping cave. We found hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls eroding out of the cave walls. So, we’ve renamed this small cave Cuevita de Huesos (or Small Cave of the Bones). While we didn’t need a rope to get up to the upper reaches of this piping feature, we did need to free climb up about 4 meters to get to horizontal walkable passage. This is where we found all the bones mixed in with tree branches.

Another view of bones from Cuevita de Huesos. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

I’m not certain whether these animals were dumped into this small piping cave by prehistoric peoples or whether these animals were trapped in a flood and accumulated in the portion of the unconsolidated sediment, which is now the piping cave. Whatever the mechanism for their deposition, this find was incredibly cool and rather exhilarating. Pete and I had a blast marveling over the extent of this deposition as well as discussing what could have possibly lead to the deposition of these bones. Once the sensors were deployed in this feature we moved on.

It was late in the day, and we had planned a climb up a steep ridgeline to another possible cave. However, given the time we chose to investigate a large sinkhole located on a highway outside San Pedro. We spent about an hour at this feature discussing how we would rappel into it. We determined the best method would be to anchor off the truck, and that it would involve about a 120 foot rappel. We plan to do this within the next few days.

It will take some time to do this and we will also need our safety officer to be present during this part of the project. There has been mention of bad air within this sink; however, we don’t believe this to be the case. Just to be on the safe side, we will be lowering an O2 sensor prior to rappelling into this feature. There is a good possibility there is lateral passage at the base of this sinkhole. However, we won’t know until we get down there! If not, it will make an excellent non-cave study feature, and may be an analog for the pit craters on Arsia Mons, Mars.

Cañon Catarpe and Rio San Pedro. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

26 July 2008

Mapping Cueva Lechuza de Campanario and Evaluating Cave and Non-cave Feature for Study

Originally drafted 24 July 2008

The start of the day. Hiking into the canyon containing Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Yesterday, the entire team went to Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Knutt’s team began mapping, while Pete, Dan and I were deploying sensors. The sensor deployment team placed sensors on the surface and the main entrance of the cave, and within the cave dark zone, and within the second and third entrances. Knutt’s team went directly to the other end of the cave and began mapping back towards the main entrance.

Hiking through a small saddle to get a better look at another cave lead. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

As the sensor deployment team was working our way towards the cartography team, we quickly learned that Dan was desperately needed on the cartography team. It took Knutt, John and Christina 2.5 hrs to map the cave exterior and one of the entrances, when I asked how they were doing, they indicated that it was going slow because they needed Dan. Pete and I decided we could do sensor deployment with two people and Dan returned to the cartography team.

Deploying sensors outside Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Once Pete and I deployed sensors in Cueva Lechuza de Campanario, we reconned two areas that Knutt’s team went to a few days ago. We first went to a cave the cartography team discovered. We have not named this cave yet. This cave is characteristic of a small lava tube or vent. It has incredibly smooth walls and is a classic cylindrical pipe feature.

Scouting out new caves. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Pete and I had to scramble up a small dry fall within this cave. We then encountered another dry fall. This one was about 8 meters high. Neither one of us was going to attempt this climb without protection. Pete and I spent about twenty minutes discussing how to set up this section of the cave with protection so we can ascend this dry fall. We don’t know if there will be additional dry falls, but we know we will be able to set some bolts and aiders for this first pitch. We’ll deal with the next pitch when we encounter it. Tentatively, we have concluded this will be another study cave.

A shot of me scampering up the first pitch of the new cave. The second pitch will require ropes and aide gear. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

We quickly departed this cave, and inspected a sinkhole feature that will serve as a non-cave feature for this study. Thereafter, we went to Cueva Paisaje de Sal (Salt Landscape Cave). We determined this will also be one of our study caves. This feature is quite crawly with low ceilings and very mazy. It will take a while to fully explore this cave. The cartography team indicated this will be rather difficult to map, and they are not looking forward to mapping this feature. The good thing is the cave has low ceilings and we should be able to derive a good estimate of cave volume.

Pete and I then left Cueva Paisaje de Sal and we headed back for the truck. Our day was done. We looked across the Cordillera de los Andes and saw the cartography team had departed. We’ll meet them back at the casa.

A Dry Run on Cave Volumetrics

Originally drafted 23 July 2008

Dan viewing into Cueva de Salon. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Today, Pete and I had to launch sensors before we could leave for the field. The mapping team left before us, and were going to a large chimney effect cave called “Cueva de Salon.” The mapping team is using this cave to test the new cartographic and volumetric techniques that we developed last night. Knutt wanted a large cave that would be easy to move through and apply these techniques. Obviously, it is better to be able to move around in a larger structure, than to apply new techniques in crawly passage.

John sketching the outside entrance. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Once Pete and I arrived, we met briefly with the mapping team, and then we began to deploy sensors at this cave. We had also planned to use this cave as one of our study sites. Unfortunately, there was miscommunication in the field. I had thought the mapping team had pushed all passages of this cave, and they knew the extent of this feature. As Pete and I were deploying sensors, we found an additional passage that opened up into a series of several entrances within a large alcove overhang and then the cave continued for a few hundred more meters as an open canyon with numerous bridges creating small cave-like structures. Consequently, I quickly determined this would not be a good study site. This feature was merely too complex and we could easily use half of our sensors at this one cave!

Christina exploring Cueva de Salon. Credit: Dan Ruby.

So, I decided to pull the sensors we had deployed. It was the end of the day and the mapping team was in the process of heading back to the house as well. Fortunately, this was not a day lost. The mapping team was able to refine and perfect their volumetric and mapping techniques for this project. Consequently, they will be ready to start mapping caves tomorrow. However, we discussed what we had learned from this, and we all feel future communications between the sensor deployment team and mapping team have improved as a result.

Tomorrow the mapping team will go to Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Pete and I will deploy sensors in this cave, and we will evaluate three others.

Winding down another day in the Atacama. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Cueva Lechuza de Campanario

Originally drafted 22 July 2008

Crawling out of a tight entrance. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Pete, John and I evaluated Cueva Lechuza de Campanario (Barn Owl Cave). We wanted to see if this feature would be a suitable candidate. We quickly realized that it would be. We entered this cave at the lower entrance which involves a scramble up a dry falls to enter the cave. This cave is characterized largely by one large mazy passage. Once we were about 20 meters into the cave, the cave became quite warm. This was quite a contrast from the cooler entrance we encountered at the box canyon. This temperature contrast suggested to me that the cave was maintaining a near constant temperature at the center point. In other words, this was a buffered environment, and would likely serve as an excellent study site.

Pete viewing the delicate salt formations.

A delicate salt helicite.

As we walked through this mazy cave we saw numerous incredibly impressive salt formations. We arrived at the other entrance, which opened into another box canyon. This canyon was a true “box canyon.” It was enclosed on either side with the piping cave draining to the lower elevations and off the Cordillera de los Andes.

The salt landscape of the Atacama.

At the end of the day, the entire team received quite an incredible treat. The Cordillera de la Sal and the mountains containing Licancabur (the largest shield volcano in the region and the one I’ll be climbing in October) were enshrouded in cirrus clouds.

A rare glimpse of a cloud-covered Licancabur.

Musica de Charango and 60 mph Winds on the Rim of Volcan Poruña

Originally drafted 21 July 2008

La Música Andrea. Credit: John DeDecker.

Today, we had to go into Calama and pick up compasses. We are also using this opportunity to pick up several things for the house. Our hot water heater has not worked since we arrived, and Knutt and Pete are going to fix it. We also need to purchase some additional groceries. So, all and all, a trip to Calama will be worthwhile.

As we were leaving San Pedro, a woman with a guitar strapped over her back was hitchhiking at the edge of town. Her name was Andrea and she was a Charango musician. She needed a ride to Calama, and well…we were going, so we obliged. As I was driving, I asked John to show her how to make a music selection from my iPod…a few minutes later I heard an incredible guitar. Pete mentioned how good the music sounded, and I looked in the rearview mirror, and she was playing for us. Andrea is incredibly talented, and plays at several clubs in San Pedro. Charango is the folk music of the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. This was quite a treat!

John and I on the summit of Volcan Poruña, while struggling with 50-60 mph winds. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

We continued driving across the stark Atacama Desert, and I turned her on to Bill Monroe and Doc Watson. Andrea had never heard of Bluegrass; she asked if I would make her a disk of these musicians, and I told her that I would.

Andrea, Jut and Raul chatting. Here I learned the difference in my poor pronouncation of pegar and pagar. Pegar = to hit or strike, while pagar means to pay. I thought I was supposed to pay Raul for bringing us compasses, but I said pegar. I learned that I told Raul that Guillermo told me that "I needed to hit Raul." We all got a big laugh out of this. Credit: John DeDecker.

Climbing to the summit of Volcan Poruna. Credit: John DeDecker.

We had to meet one of Guillermo’s employees at the edge of town. He had arranged to get us several compasses from Antofagasta. Once done, we were able to go to the hardware store, and pick up some additional supplies. Andrea assisted us in finding the Calama Mall, and once we were there, she left. We had hoped that we could give her a ride back to San Pedro, but our trip to Volcan Poruña took us a lot longer than anticipated.

View of interior of small cave, Volcan Poruña. John and I are scale. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

We finally got all of our errands done in Calama, and it was time to head north. We were off to Volcan Poruña. This volcano contained a small cave, and we anticipated it would be a volcanic vent.

Our drive across the desert was most picturesque. We skirted along the Rio San Pedro for a considerable portion of our journey. We passed through the small town of Chiu Chiu. I believe this is what San Pedro de Atacama looked like before the tourists found it. It was a small adobe village and was a postcard town.

Pete skirting the summit of Poruña. The cinder cone that he is traversing is 11,000 ft dwarfed by a 19,000 ft. volcano.

It took us an hour and half driving on an unimproved single track road to get to Volcan Poruña. When we arrived, the winds were howling. We grabbed our gear and packs and headed up the volcano. This volcano is a large cinder cone, and was quite challenging to summit especially in 50-60 mph winds. I was wearing three layers of tech shirts and the winds cut right through all layers. As we slowly climbed the volcano, we had a bit of difficulty locating the cave. We decided to summit the volcano and then peer down onto the side of the shield where the cave was located. The summit was at 11,700 ft. and with the winds howling, and the sun was beginning to set, we were ready to get off the volcano. As we were walking around the caldera, John spotted a depression, and we realized this must be the cave. We headed to the depression, and we were right. We found it!

John and I at the entrance of the small cave on Volcan Poruna. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Unfortunately, our joy of locating the cave was waylaid by the fact that the cave was incredibly shallow. It was about 10 m in depth, and nothing to write home about. If this shelter cave was located near San Pedro and our other study sites, then we would probably study this feature. However, it was over three hours out of our way; so, I could not justify including this as a site.

A cactus that we encounterd at top Volcan Poruña.

Once we investigated and evaluated this feature, we headed for the truck. Then, we were off to San Pedro. As we were driving, Andrea called and inquired about a ride back to San Pedro. Unfortunately, we were not going to arrive in Calama until 1930hr. So, she decided to take a bus back to San Pedro. And, we were slated to drive across the desert at night…

Looking down from the rim of Volcan Poruña. We are making our descent at this point.

Cave Search and Rescue Training and More Reconnaissance

Originally drafted 20 July 2008

Exploring one of the many canyons of the Cordillera de los Andes. Credit: Dan Ruby.

This morning, we had our cave search and rescue/ safety training. Christina our new safety chief stepped right up to the plate and is doing an outstanding job! She proposed several injury scenarios that we may encounter underground, she demonstrated how to evaluate a person with a suspected neck or back injury and practiced our knots relevant to extricating an injured person. We also discussed and shored up several aspects of the projects safety plan. The entire team agrees that this exercise has definitely upped our overall cave safety.

The salt landscape. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Knutt, Dan, Christina and John left for the field after the safety meeting. Their objective was to chase a cave lead they found yesterday. If this pans out, they will begin mapping. Otherwise, they will continue cave reconnaissance.

Standing in the entrance of Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

I have been tasked with dealing with several logistical aspects that have cropped up since we have been here. It appears that I will be spending the next few days between San Pedro and Calama ironing out all these details and getting several issues resolved. I spent most of today looking for topographic maps and compasses. We could not purchase topographic maps in the states because we did not have coordinates, and we did not know where many of the caves were located. We now have coordinates for only a few places – so, obtaining the right maps will likely remain challenging. To date, I remain unsuccessful at locating compasses and topographic maps. Hopefully, this will change. I will go to Calama tomorrow.

Loading up the trucks and headin' home. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Cave Reconnaissance with Local Guides

Originally drafted 19 July 2008

A majestic shot of Licancabur.

Today, we plan to scout out caves. We are not going to scoop passage – rather we will just determine the locations of each cave, obtain GPS coordinates and assemble these locations so that we may begin the mapping and deployment of sensors in earnest.

En route to another cave lead. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Prior to our departure, we had our first field training – cave cartography. While conducting the training, we learned something both interesting and disconcerting. Most of our compasses don’t work down here. Compasses must be balanced for both hemispheres. If not, the needle will canter toward the top of the viewing plate, and will stick on the top of the plate as you are trying to take a bearing. So, I will likely go to Calama tomorrow to purchase new compasses. I just hope they have the right equipment there.

Rolando, one of our Quechuan guides. Credit: Knutt Peterson.

Once we completed our training, both groups went searching for caves. Knutt, Dan and Christina used the article written by Shane Fryer in 2005, as well as some rough descriptions provided by Joel DeSpain on work they had conducted here. This information was partially helpful in relocating the caves. However, when they arrived at the main gate to Valle de la Luna National Park, they met Rolando. Rolando is of Quechuan descent, he works for the park, and he has been trained in speleology in Santiago. So, Knutt and his team were very fortunate to meet him.

Hernan and I exploring Casa de la Arana. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

We also hired a local guide, Hernan to assist us in locating caves. Christian Tambley provided us with this contact. Hernan is a guide in the Atacama and knows the caves perhaps better than most in this area. Pete and I worked with him. We went to several areas outside Valle de la Luna but within the Cordillera de la Sal.

One of our pits we evaluated with Hernan.

Hernan took us to a few sinkholes and some dry falls. Hernan showed us two large sinkholes, and I discovered another one. Generally, these were located on the south side of the road on the way to Calama. Upon inspecting these features, Pete and I discussed rappelling strategies for getting into these features. Rappelling in is not the problem, we both feel we can do this safely. However, the material here is not very consolidated and collapse is certainly a possibility. We both determined that climbing out of these sinks will be a bigger problem. We would likely dislodge a lot of the material upon our ascent.

If this happens, we may bury our sensors under a significant portion of the cave wall. So, we don’t know if we will be able to use these pits as some of our study sites. However, we will likely overfly these features when we return in 2010.

In addition to these three pits, we also found three dry falls with sheltered features that are excellent candidates for our non-cave feature category. One dry fall that we named, Casa de la Araña contained owl pellets, one spider, several spider webs and some parts of this dry falls were partially sheltered and contained a twilight zone. Of the three, this is our best candidate non-cave feature.

Unknown spider observed in a dry falls near a large drainage. It was observed within a large concentration of owl pellets.

When I saw the spider, I decided to pick it up. This evoked quite a response from Hernan. I think I may have freaked him out by handling the spider. It was rather funny to watch his response though. I’ve handled many venomous insects. The key is to pick them up gingerly and let them do their thing. If you try to constrain their movement using your hands you’ll likely get stung or bitten.

After Casa de la Araña, we walked back down trail and noticed one large cave-like entrance high up on an escarpment. This may be our most promising feature for this reconnaissance trip. It actually has a horizontal entrance. Pete and I plan to check this one out in a few days.

Hernan indicated the cave has “bad air.” However, the team has collectively come to conclusion that the locals equate “bad air” to dusty. It is also possible that this is simply used as a deterrent to keep people out of caves. We’ve been in several of these caves now, and we have not encountered “bad air.”

Hiking out of one of our possible study sites. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Nuestra casa nueva en San Pedro de Atacama, Down Time and Sensor Assembly

Originally drafted 18 July 2008

View of the house. Credit: Knutt Peterson.

Today will be a down day in San Pedro. We are settling into our new house, organizing everything, and our safety chief and cartography chief will be developing their training materials.

Eating our first breakfast at Tierra Todo Natural in San Pedro. Credit: Knutt Peterson.

We slept in, and then went for our first breakfast in San Pedro. We ate at Tierra Todo Natural. This is an excellent restaurant that serves freshly blended juices and vegetarian meals. If you ever travel here and you don’t want your juice extra sweet ask for tu jugo sin azucar.

Thereafter, we spent several hours assembling sensors. We have 45 HoboPro data loggers which collect barometric pressure and temperature data. We have to place batteries, and connect these sensors to each data logger. This took quite a while. Fortunately, it became a team effort and we completed this task rather quickly.

Despite how tough Negro is, he is very tolerant of Negra. He pretty much allows her to climb all over him.

Well, our new house is great! We have three bedrooms, a full kitchen and refrigerator. The house is situated on a large parcel of land that contains a garden, as well as an orchard. Our yard is nothing less than a bird sanctuary. We have hundreds of birds using our yard. It is very pleasant to wake up each morning to the bevy of birds chirping. There is even a small herd of sheep kept in a corral near the house.

We have seven sheep living on our property.

Despite the extent of our gear and our belongings, we feel that our equipment and computers will be very safe here. Gabrielle and Ana live in a small house behind us, and we also have two dogs that live here – Negra and Negro.

It was great to return to San Pedro de Atacama. It has been two years since I have walked the dirt roads of this town. Despite the immense dust, San Pedro is a beautiful little oasis town. However, the secret about this place is out, and it is a tourist Mecca. Having grown up on St. Simons Island which is a big tourist town, and living in Flagstaff, another tourist town – tourism is a mixed blessing. It brings revenue that would be otherwise largely unavailable to the town, but at the same time it tends to limit the vast majority of the population to service-based jobs.

Negra. Our cute little sick puppy. We are deteriming what is wrong with her and we plan to start her on meds within the next few days.

We are also here at the height of the tourist season. So, the town is flooded with Americans and Europeans.

Our good boy Negro. He is both the protector of the property and the one that can't get enough attention.

Our kitchen. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

This also places an additional strain on my team. We are here as researchers and not tourists. But we still have to pay the same higher prices for everything, and the exchange rate is not very good here. We have managed to find several stores that cater to the locals, and we are buying our groceries, fresh bread and baked chicken directly from them. We’ve also noticed that if you get away from the main square, then prices are somewhat cheaper. So, we’re slowly learning how to live like locals and less like tourists.

View of the street where we live. Credit: Knutt Peterson.

A view of our orchard.