Tierra del Fuego

All photos by Jim Reynolds


The inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego refer to their region as El Fin del Mundo, the End of the World. Ushuaia, the capital city of the Argentine side, is the southernmost city in the world. This rapidly growing town of more than 50,000 is pasted at the base of the Cordillera Darwin which rises up to 2,000 m, exhibiting rugged, glacially-carved features. 

The city of Ushuaia is nestled between the Beagle Channel and the Cordillera Darwin at 54º 30' S. Note how low the tree line is on the mountain slopes behind the city. Glaciers still occupy some of the cirques just outside of the city limits.

A westward view of the Beagle Channel and the Cordillera Darwin from near Estancia Moat at 55º S. The mountains on the right are on Tierra del Fuego, Argentina; those on the left are on Isla Navarino, Chile. The white in the distance above the channel are distant snow-covered peaks in the Chilean archipelago west of Tierra del Fuego. This photo must have been taken near a place described by Charles Darwin in Voyage of the Beagle.

Isla Navarino and the other islands on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel are the top of an ophiolite sequence. The rocks were thrust upward during transpression of the Scotia Plate as it slides around the South American Plate.


Bahía Lapataia is situated at the southern terminus of Ruta 2. It is located in the southwestern corner of Argentine Tierra del Fuego, just a couple of kilometers from the Chilean border.

In 2002, we carried some of Dottie Stout's ashes with us. She was to have co-led this trip with me but succumbed to brain cancer several months before we departed. It was at Bahía Lapataia that we released her remaining ashes into the waters. Since many of the participants on the trip were Dottie groupies, I said, during my part of the eulogy, "Many of you have said that you would follow Dottie to the end of the world. Now you have done it. Be happy; may she rest in peace."

Her ashes were sprinkled on the water and floated out into the bay, perhaps to the Beagle Channel beyond. My guess is that they are still floating out there, wandering to distant parts of our planet. Dottie would like that.


Estancia Harberton is situated near the end of the road along the eastern end of the Beagle Channel. It was founded by the first permanent European settler: an English missionary named Thomas Bridges. The ranch now makes more money from tourists than it does from sheep or cattle. We were led on our tour of the places by Thomas Bridges Goodall, a grandson of the founder.


In 2002, we took a cruise out on the Beagle Channel that departed from Ushuaia, seen as white on the shoreline in the distance. During the three-hour cruise the weather changed constantly with visibility ranging from 0-100 km.


One of the classic views in southern Tierra del Fuego is that of the Lighthouse at the End of the World. It is best viewed from the boat.


Thousands of birds make their homes ion the rocky rookeries that jut out of the Beagle Channel. Most of these are cormorants and petrels but we also saw gulls and several albatrosses.


Other denizens of the rocky roosts are sea lions which abound on some rocks. They reminded me a lot of loafing cats.


One solitary harbor seal sat with dozens of sea lions on one of the largest rocks. He seemed to realize that he was the object of every photographer's lens.


The Cordillera Darwin consists of several parallel west-to-east trending ranges. The rocks are predominantly Mesozoic quartzites, slates, phyllites, and low-grade schists. Each range is flanked by broad glacial valleys that developed along a series of left-lateral strike-slip faults. The faults mark former plate boundaries between the South American and Scotia plates. The introduction of the north American beaver, Castor canadiensis, has caused considerable destruction to the ambient environment.

The Hostería Petrel is situated on the shore of Lago Escondido, just south of Lago Fagnano. In 2001, we spent a splendid evening here.

Lago Fagnano is situated a pull-apart basin along the Fagnano Fault. The transform fault marks the current boundary between the South American Plate on the north (right) and the Scotia Plate on the south (left). It is dammed on the west end by a recessional moraine. Its western end penetrates deep into the Chilean side of the island. The lake is named after an Italian missionary who came to the island in the late 1800's, one of the island's first permanent European inhabitants. During the 1949 earthquake in the area, a large seiche inundated the east end of the lake, which recorded measurable subsidence, killing off more than 10 hectares of forest.

Lago Yehuin is situated at the northern base of the northernmost range of the Cordillera Darwin. It is located in the transition zone between the densely forested mountains and the stark, barren, grassy steppes that comprise the northern portion of the island.


The transition zone between the forest and the grassland hosts several large cattle ranches. A touristic detour off of the main highway is rewarded with numerous views of a lush terrain with the Cordillera Darwin in the background. Lago Yehuin is located on this route as is the ranch of a well known telecommunications mogul from Atlanta.


Bahía San Sebastián is a large, shallow bay located in the northern part of Argentine Tierra del Fuego. When the tide goes out, a broad tidal flat emerges revealing why there are no boats in the bay. The bay was gouged out by a large valley glacier that extended from the mainland Andes and the Cordillera Darwin to this part of the island. Both mountain ranges are the sources for the numerous, large metamorphic and igneous cobbles found all along the South Atlantic coast of the island.

Hydrocarbon resources play an important role in the economies of both the Argentine and Chilean sides of the island. Numerous oil and gas fields are exploited on land and offshore, particularly in the northeastern sector of the island. Nearly all of the Argentine oil and gas is sold to Chile. The vegetation in the foreground is typical of the steppeland throughout Patagonia.

Few people realize that Chile has an Atlantic coast. The northeasternmost part of Tierra del Fuego, where the Straits of Magellan enter the South Atlantic Ocean, and the coastline for about 15 km to the southeast are in Chilean territory. In addition, several Chilean islands on the south side of Tierra del Fuego, including Cape Horn, face the Atlantic. This photo was taken at Punta Catalina, the northeasternmost point of Tierra del Fuego. The Straits of Magellan stretch to the west.


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Last updated 9/15/2004