Conservacion Patagonica was founded six years ago by Kris Tompkins, Patagonia’s former CEO, to restore and protect critical habitat in the Patagonia region. In 2004, Conservacion Patagonica bought Estancia Valle Chacabuco in an effort to restore a critical area in Chile (considered the number one conservation priority by Chilean National Parks for over 30 years) overrun by intensive overgrazing, mining and oil drilling. Since 2005, small groups of Patagonia employees have traveled to Valle Chacabuco, at company expense, for three weeks to help convert what was a ranching operation into a national park. What follows is a dispatch from Lisa Pike, Director of Environmental Programs for Patagonia, who traveled there in the spring of 2006.
The first few days at Estancia Valle Chacabuco I felt a slight yet pervasive nausea. The landscape made me dizzy. When the van first pulled off the main road onto the one leading into the estancia, each of us looked wildly around, not only to take the land in but to give it a context. “It’s like Montana or the Yukon.” “Those rocks look like ones I’ve seen in Nevada.” We were straining to look through windows coated in dust. From Balmaceda, in the southern part of Chile, it had taken seven hours to reach Chacabuco; 45 minutes outside of town, the paved road had ended.
Looking back, I realize those vertigo-inducing early days were an essential part of forming my relationship with the landscape. Each day weakened my tendency to compare the land with someplace else and slowly forced me to let go of the crutch of the familiar. This 11th region of Patagonia, La Region de Aysen, was, indeed, like no place I had ever been before. From the simple floor covering of its steppes to the changing fall leaves of the high deciduous beech forests to the jagged snow-capped peaks always on the horizon in each direction, its combined attributes are unique in all the world.