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A journey to the insanely cool and photogenic Atacama Desert

Wikimedia Commons- Francesco Mocellin

The world is a crazy, beautiful place. Sky high mountains and sweeping savannahs, winding rivers and stark tundras. Just one minute of “Planet Earth” on BBC is enough to have me shriek “Oh. My. God.” at least five times.

But even among all the jaw-dropping sceneries out there, the Atacama Desert stands out. A 1,000 km (600 mile) strip of land stretching through Chile and parts of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, the Atacama is the largest non-polar desert in the world.

Filled with stunning salt flats, giant stone formations and even lava, parts of the Atacama look like they’d be better suited for Mars.

And speaking of outer about STARS. The desert is famous for its ridiculous star gazing potential.

I was lucky enough to visit the Atacama with my family a few years ago. Swimming in the salares (home to the Andean flamingo!) and walking through the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), every minute was a reminder of all the natural awesomeness out there. Awesomeness that is worth protecting.  

Just check it out:

Atacama desert.JPGImage: Nicki Fleischner

atacama 8.JPGImage: Nicki Fleischner

Atacama 5.jpgImage: Nicki Fleischner

atacama 9.jpgImage: Nicki Fleischner

atacama 10.jpgImage: Nicki Fleischner

Atacama 6.jpgImage: Nicki Fleischner

And don't just take my word for it: 

Atacama 1.jpgImage: Wikimedia Commons- Francesco Mocellin

Atacama 2.jpgImage: Wikimedia Commons- Frodosleveland

Atacama 3.jpgImage: Flickr- European Southern Observatory

Atacama 4.jpgImage: Flickr- Tom Goskar

A photo posted by giakristel (@giakristel) on

A photo posted by ANA (@pensamientosabs) on

A photo posted by P. 🌙 (@piapie__) on

A photo posted by stevieees (@stevieees) on

And this year, the desert added yet another feature to its impressive, diverse roster: a carpet of bright pink, lavender and mauve flowers. 

A photo posted by @jetxset on

Is it just me, or does it bare more than a passing resemblance to the poppies leading up to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz?

As the Washington Post explains, a year of record rainfall in the Atacama led to the “most spectacular blossoming in 18 years.”     

But while the flowers are undoubtedly spectacular, they are also evidence of climate change. The Atacama is located next to the warmest ocean waters in the world. This means that as El Niño (a weather pattern with some troubling consequences) strengthens, the warm water near the Atacama could fuel some extreme rainfall. The rains may have brought a photo-worthy landscape, but it also caused flooding, which killed at least nine people in one day.

Plus, as the town of San Pedro de Atacama, located in the desert, becomes an increasingly popular tourist destination, the threat of pollution and contamination of the pristine region looms ever larger.

The Global Goals call for us to protect life on land, for climate action, and for more sustainable approaches to tourism. All of these goals are connected, and they have everything to do with keeping the Atacama Desert, and all of the world's amazing landscapes, picture perfect.