From El Penon, which is almost Antofogasta de la Sierra, there are two options to descend again and continue north to the Cafayate wine region and the rest of the Calchaqui Valley or to continue across the puna to San Antonio de los Cobres.
We descended so as to visit Quilmes ruins and to experience some good food and hospedaje in the pueblos but first we drove 40km on towards Antofogasta so as to enjoy some of the 200 volcanoes resting dormant along the ruta.
This is the chance for some spectacular photography - colours and volcanoes and glaciers and high altitude light - but it's not easy. Ansel Adams waited all day for perfect light on one shot but we don't have the time.
The journeys from this point have a looping effect but it is impossible to see everything without backtracking at some stage.
It is never dull returning through one of the gorges as they look totally differnt viewed from the reverse angle - an entirely new vista. And of course there are vicuna at various points along the way, so cute how they lift their heads to check us out.
From San Antonio it is possible to descend into Salta through the Quebrada del Toro which is the route followed by the train to the clouds. As I have stated before, it's better to drive this route unless you're a train buff so as to stop at Santa Rosa de Tastil. Or the drive continues north along a sand track (old ruta 40) that comes out at Salinas Grandes from where you descend to Purmamarca.