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    La PortadaLa Portada Antofagasta, Chile
    La Portada or the Gateway in English is a natural arch that lies off the coast of Chile, about 11 miles north of Antofagasta, and one of the fifteen natural monuments that have been included in the protected areas of Chile. There seems to be a smaller version of similar appearance in the spa town of Pucatrihue, Osorno province. The beautiful La Portada National Monument spans an area of more than 77 acres that shows geomorphological features so that the remaining fossils look as this natural phenomenon appears. The arch is 140 feet high, 75 feet wide and 230 feet long, with a base of black andesite stone that is encompassed by marine sedimentary rocks, then a strata of yellowing sandstone and layers of fossils of shells that date as far back as 2 million years ago. The arch is close to coastal cliffs that had also been formed by the marine erosion, going up some 160 feet in the sky. In 1990, it would be declared a natural monument and was closed in 2003 after a landslide on parts of its cliffs that would require some reconstruction of the path to the beach. The arch has become a favorite spot for birds to sit and watch for any fishes they might get, and include the guano birds like the Peruvian booby, Guanay cormorants, Belcher's gulls, Inca terns, pelicans, grey gulls and kelp gulls. The South American fur seal has been spotted on occasion and would be a great sight to see if you should visit; and often there are dolphin seen swimming in the surf.

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    Pan de Azucar National ParkPan de Azucar National Park Antofagasta, Chile
    This national park in Chile straddles the border between the Antofagasta region and the Atacama region, with its name meaning "sugar loaf" and was founded in 1985. There is such a diversity of life located here that is has been preserved and numerous cactus species can be seen along the road to the park; and it passes by the Yellow beach and the White beach. Some people will make a trip of it and bicycle the route, staying all night as the Caleta Pan de Azucar or camp in the mountains. Part of the park is located on the Isla Pan de Azucar that has become a significant breeding ground for the Humboldt penguins, and can only be reached by boat, but, you are not allowed to leave the boat because of the pristineness of the island and the breeding grounds. Caleta Pan de Azucar is a small fishing village that caters to the local tourism traffic and had been the site of a working copper mine. There are many areas for divers to explore, along the wharf, the loading crane and other areas underwater that offer beautiful views of the ocean floor and its inhabitants. Leaving this cove, you can head north and eventually come to the Pan American highway with outstanding geological formations along the way. The park itself is divided into two ecosystems that include the coastal desert of Taltal and the steppe desert of the Sierra Vicuna Mountains. There isn't much rain received here, but much of the landscape is watered by the coastal mists that are locally called Camanchaca. The guanaco is the main mammal found here, with other animals including the culpeo fox, European hare and chilla fox, while the shoreline offers homes to marine animals like the marine otter and the South American sea lion.

May 4, 2011