There are three main tours to do in Atacama. Two of them leave very early in the morning to catch the sunrise, the other leaves in the afternoon. As a tour salesman began explaining the morning tours, we interrupted him: it's ok, we're not interested in waking up at 4 or 6 AM, regardless of what the tour actually involves. First, one sleeps. Then, one lives.
We signed up for the afternoon tour of Luna de Vieja. It was a delightful experience. Van picked us up, guide explained what we were going to do, we got out, and started walking across the desert landscape.
There were big drop points, Grand Canyon style, as well as white salt plains that inspire the name "moon."
We walked down a huge sand dune. We crawled through a cave. We trekked (gently) through canyons that resembled Bryce or Zion in Utah. The guide explained the different rock formations. I made small talk with a Canadian woman and a Mexican woman. We chatted with two Germans who denied that there was such a thing as a "German breakfast." As an American, I felt empowered to promptly correct them about their own culture. (Joke, joke.)
At the end, we drove to an area where we could rock-climb to the top of a canyon and watch the sun set. Quite a beautiful sight — desert for as long as the eye can see, with the sun setting behind a canyon in the distance. Our guide, who appeared to be dating one of the participants on the trip, turned on a Queen song and blasted it out of his iPod. Bizarre and at first unwelcome, I soon warmed to it as the soundtrack of the sunset moment, in the middle of a vast expanse in the remote part of northern Chile.