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A Recreational Drive
Cañón del Atuel (Atuel Canyon). The best way to dive into this very photogenic, 160-km (99-mi) canyon with its four hydroelectric stations along the Atuel River is to start at the top of the canyon in the village of El Nihuel, 75 km (47 mi) west of San Rafael. Take RP144 from San Rafael in the direction of Malargüe, turning south at el Desvío onto 180. At the dam, Ruta 173 descends into a labyrinth of red, brown, and gray sandstone rock formations. Unfortunately, the river disappears into underground pipes—supplying much-needed energy for the growing population and the vineyards of Mendoza Province. At Valle Grande the water is collected in a large dam, after which the river runs freely between sandstone cliffs, beneath shady willows and poplar trees. Swimming holes, sheltered picnic spots, and rafting adventures offer escape from the city on hot summer days. Small hotels, cottages, campsites, and shops renting rafting and kayaking equipment line the road before it returns across the desert to San Rafael.
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