The Volcano World team was at it again in 2010.  Lead by Dr. Shan de Silva, a new team of graduate students headed out to the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex.  This year the focus was on the Pastos Grandes caldera, Laguna Colorada ignimbrite shield, and the Guacha caldera in southwestern Bolivia.  The map below shows a general view of the route that we took during the field season that spanned roughly 6 weeks in October and November of 2010.  We started in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and travelled South to Uyuni, on the banks of the Salar de Uyuni.  From Uyuni our trip took us to the small towns and villages of Alota, Villa Mar, Quetena, and Huayajara.  There were "roads" between many of the towns that accomodate many of the tourists to the region, but many times we found ourselves forging new paths in each of the complexes.  Click on the links to the right to see detailed maps of each of the field areas as well as photos of some of the great volcanic features of the area.


The red line is the major route that was taken, though smaller roads are shown in each of the field pages to the right.

La Paz

La Paz, Bolivia

We flew into La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, before embarking on our altiplano expedition.  La Paz has a population of nearly 900,000 with a metropolitan area of 2.3 million.  The city is built in a large canyon sprawls upward onto the altiplano, from 9800 ft near the base to over 13,000 ft in the neighboring city of  El Alto.  Unlike many cities where wealthier people live at higher elevations, the wealthy districts in La Paz are also the lowest.  Affluence decreases up the canyon walls.

La Paz lies on the western edge of the Cordillera Real of the Andes.  From the city you can see Illimani, a 21,122 ft peak at the southern end of the cordillera fittingly named the Guardian of La Paz.  The city is built on unconsolidated glacial deposits from the past ice age through which Choqueyapa River has cut to form the steep sided canyon.  Because of high rainfall, unconsolidated sediment, and steep slopes landslides are a common occurrence in La Paz. 


The city embraces its cultural Quechua and Aymara history.  We were lucky enough to catch a very colorful parade.

We met our drivers for the trip and stocked up on supplies in La Paz.  While we would be able to buy essentials (like toilet paper) in other cities along the way, there are some things (such as peanut butter) that you can only find in La Paz.  We also met with Mayel Sunagua at Sergeotecmin, the Bolivian geologic survey, to get permits for transporting our samples back to the states. Finally, we were ready to set off on our altiplano adventure!

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni [20 11'43.75"S, 67 22'24.81"W]

Salar de Uyuni is al that remains of ancient lakes of the region.  The salt flats cover over 4000 mi2 (25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats of the US!) and contains a large portion of the world's Lithium reserves.


The Bolivian equivilant of the Autobahn.  Hmm, needs more salt.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni Group


Uyuni [20°27'54.99"S, 66°49'24.15"W]

Founded over 100 years ago as a trading post, the town's primary purpose now is to serve the thousands of tourists visiting the world's largest salt flats.  The elevation is roughly 3700m and water is scarce so tourism is vital to the town.

Uyuni Square

Much of our time was spent in the main square, which is filled with shops, restaurants, and hostals, which means lots of tourists.

Uyuni Square 2

Uyuni Train

A relic of one of the many trains that used to support trading in the region.  Trains are still a great way to travel here, just make sure to get in line early!