The tour to Las Cuevas/Aconcagua Provincial Park is the milestone of any tour to Mendoza. The Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the American Continent, over 23,000 feet high. It is on the international road to Chile, so when you travel from Santiago to Mendoza, Córdoba, or Buenos Aires you will see it from the bus, although flying over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza is a fascinating experience.
The tour starts off early in the morning (about 7am) and goes through the residential district of Chacras de Coria, then crosses the Mendoza river, that now has crystal-clear water since the construction of the Potrerillos dam, and passes in front of the Lujan de Cuyo oil refinery. I should say here that Mendoza is one of the main petroleum producing provinces in Argentina.
The tour continues up to Potrerillos, where it makes a stop to have a look at the beautiful lake in the mountainside, and if we turn in another direction, we will see agriculture terraces in the mountain, constructed either by the Incas or the Huarpes Indians. The first irrigation channel was constructed by them over five centuries ago, practically at the same time as the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Beyond the agriculture terraces, we have a beautiful view of the peaks covered with snow of the Andes (Cordón del Plata). If instead of going on towards Chile we make a left turn on an earth road at Potrerillos, we will be taking the road that goes through Valle del Sol (Sun Valley) that arrives finally at the Vallecito ski center, one of the smallest ski centers in Argentina, but really enjoyable. The last time I visited Mendoza, the road was blocked by the snow, so I was only able to make it some 3 miles beyond Valle del Sol, but enjoyed it thoroughly. Of course, this alternative (Valle del Sol and Vallecito) is not included in the tour to Las Cuevas, so you will want to do it another day.
We have already started bordering the Mendoza river at Cacheuta, have passed Potrerillos, and our next stop is Uspallata, a beautiful valley and village with some 3,000 inhabitants. Upstream of the Potrerillos Dam, the river is dark, and fishing possibilities are minimal. Inside the lake and downstream from the Potrerillos dam, fishing is good. Some 15 miles beyond Uspallata we will find the historical bridge of Picheuta, constructed by the army of San Martin while crossing to Chile. It is not the original bridge, that was wiped away by a flood of the Picheuta river, but a replica of the original one. The Picheuta river in my opinion is too small for trout fishing, but you might want to give it a try, since it carries clear waters.
We start noticing a wide variety of colors in the mountainside, and this reflects the variety of mineral contents in the mountain: copper, iron, limestone.
Puente del Inca (Inca's bridge) a natural bridge over the river, will be our next stop. There are thermal baths here, and originally there was a hotel constructed a century ago by the British Railways. Today, only the ruins remain, but the place remains open to the public. There is an enormous variety of colors formed by the trickles of different mineral waters. Have a look at the photo. At Puente del Inca, there is also an artisan craft fair.
We still have to visit Polvaredas with its sort of Hippie Mini Museum, the Penitents ski center, Las Cuevas, and the Aconcagua National Park. Stay tuned. The whole trip is about 130 miles each way. Will continue in the next experience.