Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, May 28, 2010

Extant "extinct" Patagonian ponies

Today I came across (always looking for more information on the subject) a book which mentions the possible existence of native American horses.

I had already posted on this subject:

- pre-Hispanic horses and their resemblance to donkeys.
- possible survival of supposedly extinct megafaunal horses.
- "Onagers" (wild ass) in Southern Patagonia

As you must surely know, according to the currently accepted natural history of horses, they originated in America, but became extinct here until they were reintroduced by Europeans during the discovery and conquest period (1500s). I am bewildered by the possibility that they may have survived in the southern tip of South America.

A book published by Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1927) was a British naturalist and professor at Cambridge and Oxford Universities. In a book published in 1910, he wrote the following:

It is also said that the Araucanian Indians of Patagonia have a peculiar breed of ponies, which may be derived in part from a native South American stock. I have never been able to procure a skull of this breed[1]

Unfortunatley, Lankaster does not mention his sources! So I must keep on digging through books till I find them.


[1] Lankester, Edwin Ray, Sir. (1922). Science from an easy chair. Methuen. pp. 89.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

The Royal Navy does not believe in sea monsters

Another blow for those (like me) who would like cryptozoology to become a "real" scientific discipline; according to an article in the Telegraph [1] It seems that the British Royal Navy does not keep any centralized files on "sea monsters". It appears that they do not consider it worth while.

A marine biologist inquired whether the Ministry of Defence held records about "abnormally large or dangerous sea monsters hundreds of metres under the sea" that had not been revealed to the public.

In reply an official wrote: "The RN (Royal Navy), and MoD in general, does not maintain any form of central repository of information purely devoted to sea monsters...

There are records of course, but they are kept at different locations. This is in sharp contrast with what the MoD did regarding UFOs, where they did have a central repository with all the sightings.

Strange criteria, filing the UFO stuff but not the cryptozoological ones.

Anyway, the article mentions some sightings close to Saint Helen's Island in the South Atlantic, which may be of interest. Alas, no hope for us in Argentina to check a centralized archive on strange sightings along our Patagonian shores.


[1] Royal Navy 'does not keep sea monster sighting archive. Telegraph. 16.05.2010.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Canadian lake monster

A few days ago, the media [1] reported that a strange and ugly lake monster washed ashore. The photographs (see [1] below)taken at the site show a mammal that may be a bear cub (puffy due to its submersion in the lake) or a beaver, otter, etc.

It is definitively not a "monster", just a normal mammal's carcass.

Which goes to show that not all strange sightings are actually lake creatures. And this is valid not only for Canada, but for all places, including Patagonia and its Nahuelito cryptids.


[1] Mystery surrounds creature found in Ont. creek. CTV, Ontario. 21.05.2010.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Map resource

Zoomble map of the world.

I was not able to get it in English.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Patagon, a bicentennial stamp

Patagon, a stamp
Bicentennial Stamp - Patagon (15 pesos), 2010. Copyright © 2007 by Austin Whittall

A new "stamp" depicting a pair of Patagon natives. It is a copy of a copperplate engraving showing two native Patagonians. It is from the "Description d'Univers" dated 1683 prepared by Allain Manneson Mallet, a French geographer and engineer (1630 - 1706).

It is the first of a "Bicentennial Series" which will depict different Patagonian scenes.

The Patagons (Tehuelche) seem to be a man and a woman (left). She is fair haired, which is quite surprising. I have not seen any reports on blond Patagons. For more on these people, who were described as Giants, see my post on the Giants of Patagonia.

Click to see my previous "Patagon" stamp.

Note: This stamp like all the Argentine mail stamps that I have published in this blog, is not official, it was designed by me for my blog.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lake monsters are Dakosaurs not Plesiosaurs

A likely candidate for Patagonian lake creatures. All of the cryptozoolgy articles that I have read about gigantic cryptid lake Creatures always suggest that they are Plesiosaurs. I have come across another more likely candidate (though, we would still have to explain how it managed to survive the massive dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago).

The creature by the way lived in Patagonia in the late Jurassic Period some 135 million years ago, it was a strange and entirely new species of crocodile, the Dakosaurus andiniensis . The name Dakosaurus means ‘tearing lizard’. It is the first discovery of a croc looking dinosaur.

click for larger image
Dino-Croc Dakosaurus Andiniensis Click on image to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Clarin

It had a bullet-shaped skull with a high and flat head (with T-Rex like snout) . Its teeth were large and had a serrated-edge, all of which is very different from the other crocs (which have long narrow muzzles and thin teeth).

Unlike the crocodiles we know today, the Dakosaurus lived entirely in the water, and was well adapted to its habitat: it had fins instead of legs and a fish-like tail. Its size and shape earned it the nickname “Godzilla.”

Its remains were discovered in 1996 at Pampa Tril in Nequén province by Argentine scientists Sergio and Rafael Cocca.

“Godzilla” measured roughly 4 meters long (13 ft.) and its interlocking 10 cm long (4 in.) teeth show that it was a predator that fed on other big sea reptiles.

It was, according to Diego Pol (one of the team who worked on the remains) “an abundant and evolutionary successful group that occupied many ecological niches currently occupied by other species such as mammals…” this would indicate a relatively adaptable and smart creature that could have survived beyond the Dinosaur Age.

In the late Jurassic, the Andes had not yet risen out of the ocean, and Nequén was a tropical region. Pampa Tril was a warm deep bay along on the coast of the ancient Pacific Ocean. [1][2]

So we have the right creature in the right place, all we need to do is get the right time frame.


[1] Iglesias, M. Descubren en Neuquén un fósil de cocodrilo con aspecto de dinosaurio. 11.11.2005. Clarin. Buenos Aires.

[2] Gasparini Z., et al. An Unusual Marine Crocodyliform from the Jurassic-Cretaceous Boundary of Patagonia. Science 6 January 2006: 70-73. DOI: 10.1126/science.1120803

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Cryptozoology, Bogus Science and Knights Templar

Yesterday's posts about dragons, plesiosaurs and Knights of the Temple were "tongue in cheek", however the notion that there may have been Patagonian rivers that simply vanished in "recent" times is interesting.

The Patagonian hideout of the Knights Templar surprised me. It showed how some poorly researched "pseudo-historic" events can be taken as factual by many (I googled the phrase 'Patagonia Knights Templar' and found 5959 pages! and the Spanish language equivalent: 'Patagonia Templarios' brought forth 78.000 pages).

Disbelief and science.

That reminded me of an article that I read in the March 23, 2010 issue of Time magazine (page 47), that stated that "only 57% of Americans think there's evidence of [global] warming (down from 71% last year), and just 36% think it's because of human activity (down from 47%)".

So it seems people are gullible and swallow the paranormal (i.e. UFOs, abductions, ESP, astrology, Kabbalah, and Knights Templar in Patagonia) but don't believe in real hard science such as climate change!

Note that I don't include "serious" cryptozoology as bogus science. I googled 'cryptozoology' and came up with 3.47 million pages.

Creationism vs. Evolution

Theory of Evolution

A nice thought; Creationism should be kept inside the churches.

However my view is not shared by all: "Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time," while only 61% of the public agrees...".[1]

Furthermore, on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a Gallup Poll revealed that only 39% of Americans 'believe in the theory of evolution', and 25% don't believe in the theory. The remaining 36% are undecided.[2]

Fortunately the younger and the better educated have a stronger belief than those who are older or did not have the benefit of going to University (see the poll clicking below reference [2] for all the juicy details).

Googling gave me 1.68 million pages on "Creationism". So it seems that cryptozoology is roughly twice as popular on the web than creationism.

Maybe on his 300th birthday science may prevail over superstition. And creationism be a topic for historians.


[1] Views on evolution among the public and scientists. National Center For Science Education. July 9th, 2009


[2] Newport, F., On Darwin’s Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution. February 11, 2009.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vanishing Rivers of Patagonia [Part 2] the Maps

Early Patagonian cartography was sketchy, ill informed and cloaked in secrecy. After Magellan’s voyage of discovery (1520), several Spanish expeditions sailed past the Patagonian coast along the new route to the East Indies Spice Islands, some capsized or were disbanded by the “roaring 40s” at the Strait of Magellan, a few managed to sail through the Strait. English privateers later followed by the Dutch in the late 1500s early 1600s navigated the Patagonian coast en-route to loot the rich Peruvian and Mexican Spanish possessions.

The outcome of these expeditions was published as journals and also maps. These maps depicted some geographical features that have since vanished, mainly islands and rivers. The Bahia Sin Fondo River is one of them.

It would not be until the late XVIIIth and early XIXth centuries that serious scientific explorers would visit Patagonia (Bouganville, Cook, Fitz-Roy and Darwin) and with them, a more clear picture would take shape.

Bottomless Bay

Bahia Sin Fondo (which in English means “Botomless Bay”) was discovered by Magellan’s expedition on February 24, 1520, the day that Saint Matthias is celebrated (who was chosen to replace Judas as one of the twelve Apostles). Being very Catholic, the Spaniards named the bay after him. Francisco Albo, pilot of Magellan's ship, the “Victoria”, (the first ship to sail around the world) recorded it in his diary (Spanish text is below):

On the 24 of that month […] we went straight into a very big bay, which we named Bay of Saint Matia [sic], because we found it on his day; and we went well into it and we could not find bottom till we went all the way into it, and we found 80 [Spanish] fathoms [approx. 133 m or 435 ft.]… [1]

San Matias discovery
San Matías discovery 1520. [1]

Nearly three hundred years later, English Captain P. Parker King published his account:

St. George's Gulf, called in the old charts ‘Bahia sin Fondo,' or Deep-Sea Gulf, was formerly considered to be a deep sinuosity of the coast, into which a river emptied its waters after winding through a large tract of country; for, until the Descubierta and Atrevida's [*] voyage of discovery, very vague accounts had been given of this, or indeed of any other part of the coast. The Gulf, upon that examination, was found to possess no river or creek in any part excepting on the north side, where there are several deep bays and coves, which are, and have been frequented by our sealing vessels. [2]

The two ships mentioned above (Descubierta and Atrevida) were part of Alessandro Malaspina's scientific expedition, commissioned by the Spanish Crown and undertaken between 1787 and 1794. Note that King calls the bay “St. George’s Gulf”

The missing river

So, in 1794 Malaspina proved that there was no river flowing into San Matís Gulf,

The myth persisted until one hundred years ago, the Encyclopedia Britannica in its 1911 edition, stated the following (bold font is mine):

To the south of the Rio Negro [river] the Patagonian plateau is intersected by the depressions of the Gualicho and Maquinchau, which in former times directed the waters of two great rivers (now disappeared) to the gulf of San Matias, the first-named depression draining the network of the Collon-Cura and the second the Nahuel-Huapi lake system. In 42° S. there is a third broad transverse depression, apparently the bed of another great river, now perished, which carried to the Atlantic the waters of a portion of the eastern slope of the Andes, between 41° and 42° 30' S […]Among the depressions by which the plateau is intersected transversely, the principal are the Gualichu, south of the Rio Negro, the Maquinchau and Balcheta (through which previously flowed the waters of lake Nahuel-Huapi, which now feed the river Limay); [3]

The above echoes what I wrote in my previous post (Vanishing Rivers), quoting Clemente Onelli regarding the native myth on a river the formerly drained Lake Nahuel Huapi through Makinchao into the gulf of San Matís.

The Gulf itself, golfo de San Matías is located between 40°47' S and 42°13' S on Argentina's Atlantic coast, with an area of approximately 18 000 km2 (6,950 sq. mi.), is the second largest in Argentina. Its Bottomless name is well earned, as its maximum depth is over 200 m (655 ft.) and approximately 55% of the gulf is over 100 m deep (322 ft.).

The Knights Templar in Patagonia

While reading and doing my research for this post, I came across several maps published by different websites that support the notion that the Knights of the Order of the Temple sailed across the Atlantic to Patagonia bringing the Holy Grail with them (perhaps some medieval dragon swam behind them and that is the origin of Nahuelito).

Jokes aside, the Knights Templar (Order of the Temple) was a Middle Age organization that arose around 1130 and was disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. Most of its members had been imprisoned, tortured and burned alive in 1307.

Those who believe in Patagonian Templars contend that a hill (as far as I can see, a natural hill, that is, not man-made) by the coast at San Matías, known as “El Fuerte” (The Fort) was actually a Templar castle and that as it appears in several “old” maps described as an “ancient” fortress, it must be one (perhaps it was a Spanish outpost, but I have not found any evidence to support that theory).

The interesting thing is the “ancient” map part, which I copy below, and have taken from these esoteric sites (In case you want to know, I do not believe in their theory, as far as I am concerned the Knights of the Temple never sailed to Patagonia).

lost river San Matias

Missing river
Two "ancient" maps ca. 1800s showing the "missing rivers" at San Matís. From [4].

The two maps shown above depict rivers flowing int Golfo San Matías (St. Mathew’s Gulf), they also show Cerro "El Fuerte" (The Fort Hill). The top one is said to date to 1780. I don't know who drew the bottom map.

In one map, the river flows into the sea just south of the "fort", in the other it flows straight into the San Antonio Inlet, and is named curu leuvu. These are Mapuche native words and mean: curu = black and leuvu = river. Coinciding with the Spanish name of the river (which in the map is drawn above -i.e. to the north- of curu leuvu as R. Negro (or Rio Negro - Black River).

Below is another map by de Moussy dated 1865. Check it out online it is zoomable (see [7] below). It has the caption "Ancien F. Abandoné" or "ancient abandoned F[ort]" and the symbol of a fort. This later map lacks a river flowing into the Gulf.

de Moussy Fort Patagonia
Ancien F. Abandoné (Ancient abandoned Fort). Detail from de Moussy's 1865 Map. From [7]

Another map, dated 1838 and published in England, [8] also shows a "fort" at San Matís.

The following text [6] published in 1867, mentions the "fort" as a hill that resembles a fortification. It also mentions "Escondido" (hidden) creek, which in my opinion may be a relict river bed belonging to the "missing river".

Regarding the "fort" (i.e. natural hill) and the other features mentioned in this post, the following map which I prepared based on Google Earth material will give you a clear idea of the location of the rivers and the gulf. (Fuerte is located at 41°06'S, 65°10'W).

Vanished River at Golfo San Matias
The Geographical setting at San Matias Gulf, El Fuerte, Negro River and the "missing river". Click to Enlarge.Copyright © 2010 Austin Whittall.

Valcheta River

Besides these, there is another map, published which shows Valcheta River flowing into the Gulf at San Antonio Este (it runs from the upper left corner parallel to a range of hills and then bends towards the Gulf).

olascoaga map valcheta
Valcheta river flowing into Golfo San Matís. Detail from Olascoaga's Map. From [5]

This map was drawn around 1879 just after the military Campaign (Campaña al Desierto) which concluded the long war with the natives of the Pampas and northern Patagonia. It was prepared by Argentine Colonel Manuel Olascoaga in 1881. [5]

Valcheta, nowadays is a small stream that drains into a closed basin and has no link to the sea. It is quite close to San Antonio (75 km - 47 mi.) and perhaps did drain into my "Elpalafquen River" on its way into the Atlantic.

Should I come across more maps, I will post them here.


[1] Fernández de Navarrete, M., (1837). Coleccion de los viages y descubrimientos que hicieron por mar los españoles desde fines del siglo XV: con varios documentos ineditos concernientes a la historia de la marina castellana y de los establecimientos españoles en Indias. VoI. iv. pp. 229. Madrid: Imprenta Nacional
[2] King, P. P. (1839). Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the first expedition, 1826-30, under the command of Captain P. Parker King, R.N., F.R.S. London: Henry Colburn. Page 581
[3] the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica
[4] Fundación DelphosThe Holy Grail’s arrival in Argentina Online (English language) also click here
[5] Olascoaga, M. (1974) Estudio Topográfico de la Pampa y Rio Negro (1881). Buenos Aires: Eudeba. Map.
[6] Findlay, A., (1867). A sailing directory for the Ethiopic or South Atlantic ocean, including the coasts of South America and Africa. R. H. Laurie. pp.423.
[7] Carte de la Patagonie et des archipels de la Terre de Feu, des Malouines et des cotes occidentales jusqu'au Golfe de Reloncavi. Par le Dr. V. Martin de Moussy 1865. Grave par L. Kautz, r. Bonaparte 82 - Paris. Paris, Imp. Lemercier, r. de Seine 57. (Paris Librairie de Firmin Didot Freres, Fils et Cie., 1873)
[8] South America sheet V. Patagonia. (with) Isle of Georgia. (with) The South Shetlands… Chapman and Hall. London (1838)

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Vanishing rivers and Plesiosaurs

I previous posts (List of my plesiosaur entries) I have discussed Nahuelito the "reptilian" cryptid that is said to live in Lake Nahuel Huapi. I have dismissed the possibility that the creature (if it exists) is an extant Mesozoic reptile, but I never gave a detailed explanation or proof to support my position. Until now.

Today we will look into the origin and evolution of Lake Nahuel Huapi and the mystery of a "lost" river in Patagonia. Both of which may shed some light on the plesiosaur business.

First there was fire

The mighty Andes are a mountain range that span the entire west coast of South America. They are being pushed upwards by the subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the westward moving South American Plate. This is the longest subduction zone in the whole world and is over 7,000 km (4,350 mi.) long. This mighty collision shortens and crumples the South American Plate and forces the Andes constantly upwards.

The subduction process began during the late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic eras (at about the same time or shortly after the dinosaurs disappeared) and has continued since then. In the Patagonian Andes, which extend from roughly 39°S to 52°S, the uplift began during the Miocene period (23 to 5 Million years ago).

It was in this period that the area where modern Lake Nahuel Huapi lies was folded and driven upwards. Mighty mountain ranges were formed. These run with a North to South orientation and this conditioned regional drainage. Massive volcanos were also formed, and are still the highest mountains in the area (i.e Mount Tronador and Mount Lanin, both over 3,500 m – 11,500 ft.). These new mountains were much higher than they are nowadays, erosion had not yet worn them down. They had steep slopes and sharp "V" shaped valleys separated them.

Then there was ice

Regular snow melt in summer and rain began the erosive process that created the first streams and rivers, which ran eastwards towards the Atlantic on the oriental side of the Andes, and west into the Pacific ocean on the occidental side. The continental water divide rested on the highest summits.

A proto-drainage system was formed. After several millions of years, a gradual cooling began, and the mountain tops began gathering more and more snow, which turned to ice and formed glaciers which then flowed downhill from these steep mountains into the valleys that separated them.

The glaciers, like gigantic bulldozers crunched the rock with their tremendous weight and abraded the valley floor and mountain slopes, making them wider and deeper and giving them the characteristic “U” shape of glacial valleys.

Ice age chronology at Nahuel Huapi

The first recorded Ice Age is the Pichileufu Glaciation named after the Pichileufu River which runs some 20 km south east of Bariloche city in a northern direction towards Limay River.

Remains of glacial drift (drift is any kind of rock transported by a glacier) have been found 350 to 500 meters above modern Lake Nahuel Huapi (up to 1,200 m above sea level – 3,900 ft.).

These glaciers were probably ice “lobes” that extended beyond the mountain range into the steppe, they were not very thick.[3]

This glaciation was followed by a long interglacial period during which the recently hewn glacial valleys were eroded by rainfall and rivers resulting in deeper and wider trenches. These would later serve as conduits for the glaciers during the following Ice Ages.[3]

The Andes in the meantime kept on pushing higher (1 – 0.8 million years ago) causing more ice to accumulate and defining the gradient along which ice would flow.

At about that time, the second glacial period (El Cóndor began. It reached eastwards towards the Atlantic Ocean, along the steppe and west right up to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Warming caused the glaciers to melt and retreat once more.

The final ice age or Nahuel Huapi glaciation began some 75,000 years ago; the ice sheets reached their maximum coverage some 20,000 years ago, when once again warming caused the ice to melt. Sporadic “Tardiglacial” advances some 10,000 years ago (during the period known as Younger Dryas in the Northern Hemisphere) puncutated the ice’s retreat.

Since then, the global warming trend has melted the valley glaciers in this area and permanent ice coverage can only be found on Mount Tronador (with several glaciers) and on the summits of other high mountains.[3]

glacial extent Nahuel Huapi
Map showing extent of glacier coverage at Lake Nahuel Huapi. Copyright © 2007 by Austin Whittall. Adapted From [1].

Then there was water

It is not easy to imagine extensive sheets of ice at least 2 km (1.25 mi.) thick moving slowly downhill towards what is now the edge of the Patagonian steppe, some 100 km (60 mi.) from the Continental Divide. These were massive glaciers whose flow was guided by the valleys formed during previous glaciations and the blocking effect of transversal (north-south) mountain ranges.

The west – east slope down which the glaciers moved was blocked by these north-south ranges. In some places such as the current basin of Lake Nahuel Huapi (like most Patagonian lakes it has an east-west orientation) the ice managed to leave the Andes behind and push outwards along the steppe.

Glacial Ice melt helped to form the paleo-valleys of most modern rivers draining towards the Atlantic, such as the Colorado, Negro, Neuquén and Limay rivers. These flowed along pre-existing faults (such as the Negro river along the Huincul fault) or along the proto-rivers that drained the area before the Ice Ages.

Towards the end of the last Ice Age some 16,000 to 18,000 years ago, ice melt generated huge quantities of water that were dammed in by the former glacier’s terminal moraine.

Moraines are crescent shaped mounds or accumulations of rocks that can be found at glacier’s tips and sides (frontal and lateral moraines), they are the rocks “bulldozed” by the advancing ice and act as dams to the melting glacial ice.

Water accumulated in the great depression that the glaciers had excavated, flooding the whole basin and forming a lake, which is known as Elpalafquen (derived from the language of the local Mapuche natives: Elpa = the beginning and Lafquen = lake), the “lake of the beginning”.

Elpalafquen's water level was much higher than that of modern day Lake Nahuel Huapi and therefore this paleo-lake and covered a larger area than the current Lake Nahuel Huapi (which has a surface area of 550 km2 or 212 sq.mi.).

It extended across current low-lying areas and meadows beyond what are now its shores, encompasing other lower lying lakes that now flow into Nahuel Huapi such as Lake Correntoso, Lake Espejo, Lake Moreno, Lakes Gutierrez and Mascardi among others.

Its eastern terminus was blocked by the natural dam of its terminal moraine. The excess water (melting snow on the surrounding mountains and rain) flowed over this moraine into what now is the Limay River and from there into the Negro River and on towards the Atlantic Ocean.

To the west, straddling the main Andean range, the melting ice cap still blocked the valleys that led to the Pacific Ocean. Later, a western outflow appeared along a paleo-River, the Lower Manso, which now drains part of this basin into the Pacific (the low lying Manso Pass, at 400 m above sea level [1,300 ft.] - 41º30’S, 71º50’W).

Breach and flood

About 13,200 years ago, melting was accelerated during the Late Pleistocene period and probably a sudden volcanic or tectonic event created a cataclysmic breach of the eastern moraine. The dam broke and vast quantities of water poured downstream along the Limay paleo-River valley. [4]

The western end also lost its ice “plug” at the same time and contributed to drastically drop Elpalafquen's level.

The outflow had several consequences:

1. The paleo-lake split up into several smaller ones (that we can still see nowadays).
2. Nahuel Huapi, the largest among them continued flowing into the Atlantic. Lakes Gutierrez, Moreno and Correntoso -among others- flowed downstream into the Nahuel Huapi.
3. Other lakes (Mascardi, Guillermo, Steffen, Hess, Fonck, etc. changed their drainage westwards into the Pacific Ocean. The continental divide had moved east far from the highest mountains, an anomaly that would later create tension between Argentina and Chile when they defined their mutual border in the late 1800s.
4. Devastation along the Limay and Negro river valleys which may have contributed to give them their current shape.

Shorter route for the "Plesiosaur"

Before this cataclysmic event it is very likely that Elpalafquen spilled east into the steppe, and that occasional large floods of glacial melt origin swept through that region. Perhaps it had a small outlet flowing due east with a constant flow.

There is an elevated region, with several ridges running north to south to the east of Lake Nahuel Huapi, these are the sources of several rivers, some that drain north into the Limay basin (Comallo and Pichi Leufu rivers), others south towards the Chubut basin and others west into Nahuel Huapi.

They are not to high (roughly 1,000 m – 3,300 ft.) so a flooded Elpalafquen could well have overflowed and washed across them draining into the lower lands that lie to the east and that currently drains into a closed basin (see my posts on this area's Lake Carrilafquen, home to a "cuero" monster).

This idea was put forward by Casamiquela [2], who wrote about the geology of the Huahuel Niyeo River valley, which, according to him [2] is “one of the stretches of the 'ancient Limay River Valley'”. He adds that this Limay paleo-river, instead of following its current SW-NE course, may drained eastwards and carried Andean rocks and gravel (“rodados tehuelches”) into the area, during a “great deglaciation”.

The gravel trail

These Patagonian gravels (known in Spanish as “rodados patagónicos” or “rodados tehuelches” cover most of the surface of Patagonia, it is a layer of gravel which can reach a thickness of tens of meters (hundreds of feet) composed of boulders and pebbles of a wide range of sizes.

which was first mentioned by Charles Darwin who was intrigued by them as he had seen them in northern Patagonia (by the Negro and Colorado rivers) and again in the south at Deseado and Santa Cruz rivers. He wrote:

By whatever means the gravel formation of Patagonia may have been distributed, the vastness of its area, its thickness, its superficial position, its recent origin, and the great degree of similarity in the nature of its pebbles all appear to me well deserving the attention of geologists, in relation to the origin of the wide-spread beds of conglomerate belonging to past epochs [5]

Darwin believed that in ancient times erosion (ice, water) had deposited vast amounts of pebbles at the foot of the Andes which were then spread out across Patagonia by the sea (wave action), which he believed covered most of Patagonia. As the continent rose, the gravel came above sea level.

Darwin's theory is not favored nowadays, but even today the origin of this gravel is debated. The general consensus is that they originated during the Pleistocene epoch, during the glaciations, which eroded and worked the rocks and boulders into these egg shaped stones. Water from ice melt (rivers, streams and floods) later dragged them across Patagonia.

As the following map shows, these gravels are found virtually everywhere and mostly following the courses of current rivers (the middle course of Chubut River as well as Limay and Neuquén rivers are exceptions. Why?). They are also found along the sea shore (perhaps due to oceanic dispersion of gravel washed into the ocean by the rivers).

Patagonian Gravel distribution
Distribution of Patagonian Gravel and the hypothetical Elpalafquen river. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall. Adapted from [7].

Did Eplalafquen drain eastwards along the northern foot of Somuncurá plateau in a broad arch through what are now closed basins fed streams that flowed north from the plateau? Could it have reached what is now the bay of San Antonio in the Gulf of San Matías?

The distribution of Patagonian gravel in the map shows that it may be possible (note the curved red line of the hypothetical river that drained Elpalafquen – shown as a red circle), furthermore it explains the gravel spread to the southeast of Elpalafquen.

There are some areas along the river's course that lack gravel (i.e. San Antonio on the Atlantic.) but here, marine transgression has placed sediment above the gravel.

The course of this river would roughly coincide with National Highway No. 23 and the Railroad that connects Bariloche with San Antonio Oeste. This is quite obvious as both road and tracks run along the lower lying areas north of Somuncurá plateau, which is where the river would have been in post-glacial times.

Somuncurá is home to a strange relict fish, the naked minnow.

If so, this hypothetical river would have followed the course shown in red in the following map. I have also shown (red circle) the approximate area that the paleo-lake would have occupied and its southwestern drainage through the Manso River into Chile.

Eplalafquen river
Elpalafquen's river draining towards the Atlantic. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

This river would have been very short lived (decades? centuries?) and when the Limay plug broke, the lower water level at Nahuel Huapi maked its end. Perhaps intermitent flow from Carilafquen paleo-lake could have kept it flowing for longer, but the link with the Andean lakes would have been severed.

Proof. The native myths.

The native myth mentioned by Clemente Onelli in his 1903 book (he got it from first hand sources before the local natives traditions became lost forever). I will quote him fully:

I descended into a fertile and wide canyon that extends till it is out of sight towards the east and whose other tip, on the lake is now blocked by glacier hills; the native tradition says that, in very old times, along this gully a river flowed, it exited the lake [Nahuel Huapi] and reached the sea in front of the gulf of San Antonio [Gulf of San Matías]. [6]

Ancient maps offer additional proof, I will post on them in my next entry. By the way, there are several "missing" or "lost" rivers in Patagonia, I will post on them too.

The sea monster

Having said all this, it could be reaonably possible this direct route along a hypothetical Elpalafquen drainage river would join the Ocean to the Andes. It would also be a far shorter than that of the Negro and Limay rivers. This is, I believe an interesting option and has some reasonable proof in its favor.

Now the "low probability" events:

If so, this Elpalafquen river could also have allowed some mysterious sea creature to swim upstream to the newborn glacial paleo-lake and make it its abode.

This would require an extant plesiosaur that somehow managed to survive extinction, reproduce and live in the oceans some 65 million years and then, during the small temporal window of this river's existence, find it and swim upstream to paleo-Lake Nahuel Huapi an adapt to a freshwater environment. Perhaps an impregnated female would suffice or to keep the species alive, a male and female couple would be required.

Yes, the chances of this happening are virtually nil.


[1] Kodama, K., Rabassas, J., Evenson, E., Clinch, M.(1986). Paleomagnetismo y edad relativa del drift Pichileufu en su area tipo, San Carlos de Bariloche, Rio Negro. Asociación Geológica Argentina, Revista. XLI (1-2): 165-178. Fig. 1. pp. 167.
[2] Casamiquela, R., (1969). Historia Geologica del Valle de Huahuel Niyeo Area Extraandina del Suroeste de la Provincia de Rio Negro, República Argentina (Con énfasis en el Pleistoceno). Asociación Geológica Argentina, Revista. Jul-Sep. pp. 287+
[3] Planas, F. (2009)Las glaciaciones en el norte de la Patagonia Desde la Patagonia difundiendo saberes. V. 6 - Nº 9. Online.
[4] Del Valle, R., Tatur, A., Rinaldi, C. (2007) Cambios en lagos y circulación fluvial vinculados al calentamiento climático del pleistoceno tardío-holoceno temprano en Patagonia e isla 25 de Mayo, islas Shetland del sur, Antártida. Revista de la Asociación Geológica Argentina 62 (4): 618- 626.
[5] Darwin, C., (1851). Geological observations on coral reefs, volcanic islands and on South America: being the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, during the years 1833 to 1836. Smith, Elder & Co., pp. 25.
[6] Onelli, C., (2007). Trepando los Andes (1903. Buenos Aires: Ed. Continente. pp. 33
[7] Martinez, O., Rabassa, J., Coronato A., (2009). Charles Darwin and the first scientific observations on the patagonian shingle formation (Rodados Patagónicos). Rev. Asoc. Geol. Argent. v.64 n.1 Buenos Aires abr. 2009

Further reading

Caldenius, C. 1932. Las glaciaciones cuaternarias en la Patagonia y T. del Fuego. Dir. Gral. Minas y Geología, Publ. 95, 150 pp., Buenos Aires
Feruglio, E. 1949-1950. Descripcion geologica de la Patagonia. T.3, YPF, Buenos Aires
Fidalgo, F., 1982. Glaciaciones en la Patagonia. INQUA Comm. Litol. & Genesis Quat. Depos., South Amer. Reg. Meet. Excursión Fieldbook, p. 9-29, J. Rabassa, de., Departamento de Geografia, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Neuqu´n.
Rabassa, J. 1974. Geologia de la región de Pilcaniyeu-Comallo, Pcia. de Río Negro, Argentina. Tesis doctoral N. 331, Facultad de Cienc. Nat. y Museo, Univ. Nac de La Plata y Publ. N. 17, Depto. Rec. Nat. Energia, Fundacion Bariloche: 128, San Carlos de Bariloche.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
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