If you thought Washington was home to bigfoot, Patagonia was first. Ever wonder how the Patagonia got its name? When Magellan and his Spanish explorers discovered Argentina, they noticed giant footprints in the snow. Not knowing what sort of creature was creating them, he declared the place they had come to know as Patagonia, or land of big feet. Later, they would discover that these giants were just the native people whose custom it was to tie guanaco skins to their feet leaving the large footprints behind. In actuality, the native people were on average ten inches taller than the Spaniards thus taking their first impressions of the land from imagination to true story.
Patagonia is a very large region encompassing southern Chile and Argentina. It stretches from the temperate rainforests of Valdivia in Chile east across the Andes Mountains to Argentina where the forests transition to a much dryer climate known as the Patagonia grasslands and eventually meet with the Atlantic Ocean. In Argentina, Patagonia lies south of the Colorado River and extends all the way to the very tip of South America. There is much diversity here, much more than I could ever write about. What I do know is that natural beauty of this area is vast and stretches in every direction. Sheep and cattle ranching are the primary productive activity in this region and next would likely be tourism. At the height of sheep ranching, Patagonia's "white coal" became a source of great profitability.
Bariloche (as seen from my office window in the picture above) sits within Nahuel Huapi National Park, the third oldest national park in the world behind Yellowstone and Banff. There are many protected areas, but ninety percent of the land is privately owned. Pressures to develop oil and gas, build dams, and generate other forms of energy are pressures this region is now facing. Overgrazing by sheep and cattle, particularly in riparian zones around rivers and steams, also puts stress on the landscape. I am working with The Nature Conservancy to help offset some of these pressures so the landscape, and the livelihoods of the people that depend on it, can flourish well into the future. Tomorrow I am attending a freshwater workshop that will bring together a variety of community stakeholders including ranchers, fly fishing associations, environmental agencies, and government officials to discuss approaches to keeping Patagonia a healthy and productive region.
On the drive up to the workshop, we plan on making frequent stops to see the habitats and species of this region. I really want to see a guanaco! But first, I am going to lay my big feet down.