After Chilean naval officer Ramón Serrano Montaner found gold in the rolling hills east of Porvenir in 1879, panners from Chile and Croatia flocked to the Río del Oro valley, between the Cordón Baquedano and the Sierra Boquerón. Living in sod huts, hoping to eke out a kilogram per year—though yields were usually smaller—more than 200 worked the placers until they gave out. By the turn of the century, California miners introduced dredges and steam shovels, but decreasing yields ended the rush by 1909. A few hardy individuals hang on even today.
From Porvenir, the eastbound road through the Cordón Baquedano passes several gold-rush sites, some marked with interpretive panels; the literal high point is the Mirador de la Isla, an overlook 500 meters above sea level. In many places guanacos, seemingly outnumbering sheep, gracefully vault meter-high fences that stop the sheep cold.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition