Among our planet’s spectacular landscapes, the northern Chile’s Atacama Desert stands out for its otherworldliness.
Sandwiched between Chile’s coastal range to the west and the Andes to the east, the Atacama is doomed to a fate of little to no rain. The desert averages a paltry 0.6 inches of precipitation a year and once went more than 14 years without a drop of rain. It’s the driest place on Earth outside of Antarctica and makes Death Valley, which receives an average of 2.6 inches of rain a year, seem like an oasis.
Its precisely that lack of rain that gives the Atacama its not-of-this-Earth feel. The varied rocky terrain is why NASA tested its Mars rover there earlier this year and has used it as a proving ground to detect microbial life (also in the interest of Mars exploration).
At the same time, it’s clear skies also make it a haven for astronomers to see Mars and much, much further in the clearest possible detail. Those qualities drew landscape and astronomical photographer Jesse Echevarria to the desert for a five-day trip driving through the region.
“By visiting the Atacama, I knew I could photograph not only the Milky Way the best, but also hundreds of different landscapes,” Echevarria told Earther in an email. “It was a really emotional and exciting trip for me.”
Along the epic journey, Echevarria shot some of the expansive salt flats, technicolor lagoons, and perfectly angular volcanoes that dot the landscape.
He also captured a message on the desert floor only visible from the air (look at the fifth photo carefully) and an ethereal wind farm at night, showing that humans are still very much a part of the landscape. Check out a selection of his photos captured by drone, plane, and foot below and visit his site for even more shots from his project.