Driving Cañón del Atuel

Cañón del Atuel (Atuel Canyon). This has been called the world’s second Grand Canyon, as they were both formed at the same time, and their coloring is quite similar. To traverse the photogenic, 160-km (99-mile) route with its four hydroelectric stations along the Atuel River, start at the top of the canyon in the village of El Nihuel, 75 km (47 miles) west of San Rafael. Take Ruta Provincial 144 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 energy for the growing population and the vineyards of Mendoza Province. At Valle Grande the water is collected behind 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 that rent rafting and kayaking equipment line the road before it returns across the desert to San Rafael.

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