My wife and I had crossed the border from Chile into Argentina in northern Patagonia the evening before. We decided to set up camp near a small lake not too far from the border. When we woke up in the morning the lake was covered in thick fog. As the rising sun increased its power, the fog slowly burned off and opened up a glimpse of the lake and the high mountains behind it.
Patagonia, semiarid scrub plateau that covers nearly all of the southern portion of mainland Argentina. With an area of about 260,000 square miles (673,000 square kilometres), it constitutes a vast area of steppe and desert that extends south from latitude 37° to 51° S. It is bounded, approximately, by the Patagonian Andes to the west, the Colorado River to the north (except where the region extends north of the river into the Andean borderlands), the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Strait of Magellan to the south; the region south of the strait—Tierra del Fuego, which is divided between Argentina and Chile—also is often included in Patagonia.
The name Patagonia is said to be derived from Patagones, as the Tehuelche Indians, the region’s original inhabitants, were called by 16th-century Spanish explorers. According to one account, Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese navigator who led the first European expedition into the area, coined that name because the appearance of the Tehuelche reminded him of Patagon, a dog-headed monster in the 16th-century Spanish romance Amadís of Gaul.
Desert and semidesert cover the Patagonian tableland that extends from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. The general aspect of this tableland is one of vast steppelike (i.e., virtually treeless) plains, rising in terrace fashion from high coastal cliffs to the foot of the Andes; but the true aspect of the plains is by no means as simple as such a general description would imply. The land along the Negro River rises in a series of fairly level terraces from about 300 feet (90 metres) at the coast to about 1,300 feet at the junction of the Limay and Neuquén rivers and 3,000 feet at the base of the Andes. The tableland region rises to an altitude of 5,000 feet.
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