The team left Antofagasta this morning in a convoy of 3 pickup trucks, one mini-bus and one truck loaded to the top with our gear. The drive took us north along the coast and through Tocopilla into the first (northern) region of Chile, where the government has imposed a tax-free zone to encourage people to live and work there. For this reason, there is a customs inspection point for travel within the country of Chile where one must declare the goods that are being brought into and out of this controlled economic zone to avoid double taxation on departure. The mountains rise up sharply to the east, leaving only a narrow strip of land sloping down to the sea. Steep alluvial fans remind me of features I have seen on satellite imagery of the Martian surface. The origin of these features on Mars, however, remains unknown.
At Iquique, we turn inland and begin climbing up a steep road into the Coastal Range. The landscape is extremely barren and dry. It is dotted with active quarries and mines. The country of Chile is mineral-rich and encompasses a range of climates from north to south. We pass a few surface mining operations and turn off on a road into the gently undulating desert hills.
We reach camp late in the day and start setting up immediately to take advantage of the fading daylight. There is a mess tent, a kitchen tent, a science tent and double tents to sleep in. Exposed polygons and salt nodules are easily accessible here. We get to work testing our equipment and attempt to drill some cores in loose chunks of salt. The salt flats crack underfoot in places, very reminiscent of ice. After drilling holes for the tent stakes, we hook up our portable power inverter to one of the car batteries and begin recharging the drill batteries in preparation for tomorrow’s work.