Pullman – wheat fields, lentils and a college. Yep. That’s pretty much it. As much as we love the rolling Palouse hills, summery sunsets and occasional odor of cow pies, Pullman’s cultural attractions leave much to be desired.
Lucky for the slightly limited college town that we students choose to immerse ourselves in, there is an entire world out there to accommodate enough thrilling explorations to last until the money runs out. Because we are in college, this is probably a lot sooner than our dreams reach. But hey, why stop planning? My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and so far other than a few unnecessary sugar comas and a flat tire in the French Alps, I seem to be doing swimmingly.
I was going to be extraordinarily predictable this week and choose some European city with ruins from the time when wearing a wreath on your head marked you as a leader, but I was inspired by Hurricane Irene and the water damage along the East Coast. A lot of east coasters are probably wishing for their lives to be dry again, so why not highlight the driest place on Earth in this time of dampness?
According to National Geographic, the driest place on Earth is the Atacama Desert, which goes from the bottom of Peru to northern Chile. It is 600 miles long, starts at a coastal shelf and ends in the pampas, which are plains that fall into river gorges and rise up to the Andes’ foothills. We are going to avoid the Andes today because I am reminded of the book “Alive!” where a South American soccer team crash lands in the mountains and has to survive by eating human flesh. I don’t believe we are prepared for such extreme adventures at the moment, and frankly I hope no one ever has to be.
Back to the Atacama Desert, National Geographic said although some desert parts have not had any rain since the beginning of recordkeeping, people still live there. They use coastal cities, aquifers and snowmelt streams as sources of water. Farmers even have livestock and grow olives, tomatoes and other crops.
Other than exploring the city culture in places like San Pedro and Antofagasta, according to the Atacama tourist website attractions surprisingly include the Tatio Geyesers, Puritama Hot Springs and Altiplanic Lagoons. However, for the foreign planet lovers out there, there are two valleys called Mars and Moon Valley, named for their unique landscapes.
Mars Valley, or Valle de la Muerte, is characterized by the salt mountain range and rocky formation. However, Moon Valley is the true attraction to experience.
I’ve heard about the dunes here in Pullman, but when the Chileans refer to the dunes in Moon Valley, they are referencing the scars left from the Andes Mountains warring with the Atacama Desert. The Moonscape is marked by slope changes and rock formations littered along miles of sand. The valley even has dry lakes, which allows for a sensational show of prismatic colors when the sun reflects off of the remaining salt deposits. Finally, the Chilean people say that when the moon is full at night the valley is chillingly silent, yet still commands a presence.
While I am aware that many may not be motivated to jump on a plane to South America right now, consider this: the world is becoming increasingly diverse and what better way to keep up with the diversity than to explore the cultures yourself? There are too many places in the world and simply not enough time to make adventurous mistakes in all of them.