Route 68 heads north towards Salta and rather than take a bus tour out to see the rock formations on this scenic road, we rented bikes. The temperature was already up when we loaded them onto the bus and headed for the drop-off point at Garganta del Diablo (the Devil's Throat), from where we would cycle back to Cafayate.
Not to be confused with the waterfalls of Iguazu, the Garganta del Diablo was a brutal tear in the landscape, hewn by seismic activity and weathering over many centuries.
We turned our bikes in the direction of Cafayate and set off into the heat.
The next stop on the route is the amphitheatre, equally impressive as the throat but fully accessible on foot so a much more immersive experience. The heat and drama of the valley quickly lets you know your place in the world, there being no question of who was in charge here.
The next stop was on an outcrop called Tres Cruces that gave sweeping views down into the fertile river bed that is surrounded by bare rock on all sides.
La Yesera was the mid-way stop where we decided to take the 30min walk up the valley to a lookout beyond the road. We had the entire valley to ourselves (only one other group were cycling today). The riverbed here was expansive, with some roads partly washed away hinting to the regions sporadic but dramatic rainfall. As a result the flora and fauna seem adapted to storing water for long periods in large quantities.
The colours and again the scale of this valley kept revealing themselves in new ways. Greens, blues, oranges, yellows and purples all present in the one valley. While the English Lakeland will always have a special place in our hearts, this place had a harshness that made even the highest and craggiest fells of the Lakes seem pastoral.
The scene reminded me of David Hockney's great landscape studies of the Grand Canyon, proving to me that the artists choice of colour was expressive but also shrewdly accurate.
It was hot, dry and the wind offered little relief, but we were in no doubt that this was the best way to see the Quebrada de las Conchas.