Question: Where in the world did children get so tired of the view that they changed it by hand?
Answer: Cerro de los Siete Colores, Purmamarca, Argentina
Locals call it the Hill of Seven Skirts. Guidebooks call it the Hill of Seven Colors. Whatever you call it, the vivid backdrop to tiny Purmamarca, in northern Argentina, is a mountain slope with ribbons of earth seemingly painted in distinct hues: brown, purple-brown, pink, red, white, yellow, and green.
The geological explanation is that there are seven types of rock involved, each formed in a different era. Green is oldest of all, dated to 600 million years ago, while the muted brown is youngest at a mere one million years. What confuses the matter is how the colors are arrayed on the earth itself: Green is smack in the middle, with white (second oldest, at 400 million years) on top, and the youngest color lies at the base.
For the locals of Purmamarca, the answer to that conundrum has nothing to do with science. As the folklore version tells it, the mountains used to all be dull brown, and the local children complained to their parents, who laughed them off, since there was nothing to be done. One morning, villagers woke to find a stripe of color on the hills. The next morning it happened again. This happened all week, to the mystification of the adults, until one night, they noticed that all the children were missing. Frantic parents started a search party and found the children descending from their last night of hand-painting the mountains.
During the annual festival marking the day the grown-ups finally got wise to what was going on, dancers swirl about in colorful Andean skirts (which inspired the local nickname for the hills). Year round, adventurous visitors seek out the town to admire the legendary paint job. Thank Mother Nature or magical children, these hills are boring no more. The same can be said of the entire region …
Northern Argentina Is:
- Salt flats: Beneath wide blue skies, Salinas Grandes is a stunning contrast: a 200-square-mile slick of white salt as much as 18 inches thick, which even the slightest amount of precipitation turns into a giant mirror.
- Gorges: Quebrada de Humahuaca, the “broken” gorge, roars with the flood waters of the Rio Grande in the winter but is bone dry in summer—the season in which the ancient Inca used it as a caravan highway.
- Andean peaks: The second tallest active volcano on earth, Mount Llullaillaco reigns over the landscape at 22,000-plus feet and is home to the globe’s highest archaeological site (the final resting place of a trio of child mummies).
- Cliffs: Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop's Slope) offers the best view of the Argentinian countryside, but it’s not for the faint of heart: The 12-and-a-half-mile route follows the breathtaking outline of switchback cliffs across the mountain at a peak elevation of 11,000 feet.
- Cacti: The old west has nothing on Los Cardones National Park, a protected area where cardon cacti, which can rise up to 20 feet in height, fill 250 miles of desert.
- Canyons: Both Canyon of the Shells and Canyon of the Arrows are named for their terrain, one full of chambers deeply cut into the earth, the other for its jagged rocks that seem to point at the heavens (perhaps indicating the UFOs that locals claim to see here).
- Vineyards: The province of Salta, and the lush Cafayete wine region in particular, are famed for vineyards growing grapes at elevations over 5,000 feet, including at the world’s highest at 9,800 feet.
When you join our new Across the Andes: Chile's Atacama Desert & Argentina's Northwest adventure, you’ll see dramatic landscapes most Americans never witness.