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Ruta 40

Argentina's Route 40 highway

Known as Ruta 40 (Spanish for Highway 40), it is not only Argentina's longest highway, it is also one of the longest highways in the whole world. It runs for more than 5,000 km (over 3,100 miles) from the southernmost tip of continental Argentina, at the point where the Strait of Magellan meets the Atlantic Ocean in Patagonia, all the way to the Puna highlands at over 4,000 m (13,100 ft.) in the Northern reaches of the country.

Mythical Ruta 40

Created in 1935 it runs along the Andean foothills in a North to South direction crossing three of Argentina's most beautiful regions and eleven provinces.

Longest highway in Argentina

5140 km (3,195 miles) long

With a total length of 5.140 km (3,195 miles), the Ruta Nacional 40 highway is the longest road in Argentina.

The history of Ruta 40

The birth of a myth

Patagonian steppe

Ruta 40 was created by an Act of the Argentine Congress known as "Ley 11.658", enacted on October 5, 1932. This law created the System of National Highways, as well as the Dirección Nacional de Vialidad (DNV), Argentina's National Highway Authority, who was charged with managing the National Highway System. The Federal Government would take care of building and upkeeping all national highways (hence the word Nacional in the names of these roads).

Why was it named "40"?

In 1936 the DNV established the "Numbering System" for national roads and defined precise rules to assign a number to a national highway.

Within this scheme, number 40 was assigned to the Ruta Nacional 40 because the numbers from 1 al 50 were to be assigned to those highways that linked provincial capitals or were highways with long lengths. Among the latter, those roads running in a North to South direction would be given the numbers between 32 and 40.

And, as the road that ran on the westernmost side of the country, at the foot of the Andes, our Ruta 40 was assigned its number: 40.

To create it, the DNV linked up a series of provincial roads and highways, most of them unpaved, which linked three provincial capitals: Mendoza, San Juan and R ío Gallegos.

Magical & Mythical

Ruta 40, the song

without doubt, take route forty.
Straight and winding stretches that go into the distance
towards other words that await in the mind
And I believe I am riding along a highway that is not there
bewitched by the desert, towards the dawn …
[1]

Lyrics: Ruta 40. Album: Truenotierra, 2006. By: La Renga. Sony BMG.

The mystery and charm of the Ruta 40

Andean forest

What makes the "Ruta 40" so special?

the source of the myth: (links lead to Spanish Language pages)

  • Its age. It is not only one of the oldest National Highways (now 76 years old); the highway's route coincides in many places with the Camino del Inca [Spanish language link], or the Inca Road, built towards 1450 by the Inca Empire to incorporate its southernmost regions which had recently been conquered. It linked them with the imperial capital in Cusco, Peru. In Patagonia, the Ruta 40 runs along ancient paths which were drawn by the native Tehuelche groups which on foot (thousands of years before the Spaniards reintroduced horses into America) trekked the Patagonian steppe searching for their prey (guanaco -a wild ancestor of the llama, related to camels, and the ñandúes, a South American running bird similar to an ostrich). These rastrilladas were later used by the first European explorers who ventured into Patagonia, such as Moreno, Moyano, Fontana, Lista, Musters y Ap Iwan, among others.
  • Its Natural beauty. For those who enjoy being outdoors, Ruta 40 is the ideal way to access the most interesting National Parks [Spanish language link] of Argentina.
  • Its diversity. Ruta 40 is a cross section of the country's Andean region, you will experiment the wide range of climates, and the different flora and fauna of the westernmost strip of Argentina. You will experience its myths, savour its local specialities and foods as well as the best wines in Argentina (Malbec and Torrontés).
  • Its staggering extremes. It is not only the longest highway in Argentina, it is also the National Highway with the highest mountain pass in the whole world. Which is also the highest pass outside of Asia with nearly 5,000 m (16,400 ft) altitude at the Abra de Acay (Acay Pass). It begins at the southernmost tip of Continental Argentina, at Cape Virgenes and ends at La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia, in Northern Argentina.
  • Its Cultural Heritage. It links places with a deep impact in Argentine history National Historical Sites, National Monuments, several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, ancient American Indian archaeological sites, and much more.

Trivia and odd facts about Ruta 40

This singular highway also has its shares of oddities:

Perito Moreno Glacier
  • In the province of R ío Negro, the highway is known as Juan Marcos Herman, a youth, who lived in El Bolsón, in that region, who was kidnapped and murdered by the military dictatorship that ruled the country (1976-1983).
  • Its lowest point: barely 39 m (127 ft) above sea level[5], at the Cabo Vírgenes light house in Santa Cruz, which is also the starting point of the highway.
  • ITs highest point: 4.895 m[4] also stated as 4.952 m[5] (16,049 – 16,236 ft) at the Abra de Acay Pass in the province of Salta.
  • Its ending point, at La Quiaca, Jujuy, at an altitude of 3.460 m (11,344 ft).
  • It stretches from 22° 45'S all the way south to the 52°South parallel.
  • It has 236 bridges.
  • Mina Pirquitas, in Jujuy, on the Ruta 40, is the highest inhabited point in the country, at 4.271 m altitude (14,003 ft.) above sea level.
  • From Route 40 you can access 13 great lakes and salt flats such as lakes Argentino, Viedma, Cardiel, Buenos Aires, Epuyén, Puelo, Mascardi, Gutiérrez, Nahuel Huapi, Traful, Alicura and Agua del Toro among others.
  • It spans several important rivers: Turbio, Santa Cruz, Chalía, Chico, Pinturas, Senguer, Limay, Traful, Collón Cura, Agrio, Neuquén, Barrancas-Colorado, Grande, Diamante, Tunuyán, Mendoza, San Juan, Jáchal, Santa María, Calchaquí.
  • In Patagonia, some of the rivers it crosses drain into the Pacific Ocean: between Lake Epuyén and the Continental Divide between lakes Gutiérrez and Mascardi. In this area, lakes Guglielmo, Mascardi, Puelo and Epuyén drain through Chile into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Chile's Highway N°7 runs parallel to Ruta 40 but on the Western slope of the Andes, yet the Southern Continental Ice Field cuts it off at Lake San Martín (known as O'Higgins in Chile) at Villa O´Higgins. Its northern tip is at Puerto Montt. Chilean Ruta 5, runs from there to Arica, on the border between Chile and Peru.
  • According to the Government's official website www.argentina.ar, the Ruta 40 is indeed magical:

    It is said, for example, that whoever completes the journey from south to north adds a year to his life, and who does so towards the south, loses one… that if the New Year surprises the traveller crossing the Pass of Acay -where the highway reaches its highest point- his blood flow inverts and he dies after an atrocious week. If the date of departure is a non even number, the journey will be uneventful; that all dreams and nightmares dreamt during the journey will come true within a year …[2]

  • The longest river in Argentina has its sources by the Abra de Acay Pass. It then runs south, changing names, but the same water of the Andean snowmelt flows into the Paraná River by the city of Santa Fé after covering over 3.000 km [3] or (according to other sources) 2.210 km [1,865 to 1,374 miles]. The River changes its name: Calchaqu í, de las Conchas, Juramento and finally Salado; it drains a basin that covers 124.200 km2 [48,000 sq. mi.].
  • The Split River: a river named Fénix originally flowed into Lake Buenos Aires, and from there into the Pacific Ocean. But in 1898, during the border conflict between Chile and Argentina, the Argentine Border Commission Chief Francisco Pascasio Moreno had his team dig a ditch to divert part of the river's flow towards the Deseado River, which in turn drains into the Atlantic Ocean. He therefore made a new river that flows into two oceans and proved that the Chilean theory of immutable rivers was baseless. This led the British Arbitral Tribunal to assign a large part of the contested territory to Argentina. The ditch was dug where today's town of Perito Moreno (Santa Cruz) is located, straddling Ruta 40.
  • Andiperla willinki is an insect barely 1,5 cm long [0.6 in.] which spends most of its life inside the ice of the Perito Moreno Glacier, it is known as the "Patagonian Dragon" and feeds on algae and bacteria that live within the ice. An abominable snow insect living in the glaciers right beside Ruta 40.

Bibliography in Spanish
[2] Portal Público de Noticias de la República Argentina [External Link]
[3] Kirbus, Federico B., (1989). Las mil maravillas de la Argentina: de la Cueva de las Manos al Tren de las Nubes
[4] Ruta Nacional 40. Tourism Brochure. (2005). Secretaría de Turismo de la Nación
[5] Google Earth [External Link]

 

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