Travel

Yes, the world's largest train graveyard looks like Thunderdome

Sure, at first glance, the part of Southwestern Bolivia that lays claim to the world’s largest salt flat (so big it’s used to calibrate the altimeters on Earth-observing satellites) might SEEM like a barren wasteland where there's nothing to do but look at salt. And that's almost because it is. 

But venture a little bit outside the city of Uyuni (Gateway to the Salt Flats!), and you’ll find this amazing, rusted-out tribute to the Gilded Age.

In the late-19th century, then-president Aniceto Arce set out to give Bolivia a state-of-the-art rail system, with Uyuni as its major hub. But Arce’s vision was hampered by indigenous tribes who felt the railroad was an intrusion on their way of life, and the system -- while completed -- was never as grand as he dreamed.

Still, the railway was used to transport minerals to port cities on the Pacific, and the British-engineered system thrived until the 1940s.

What happened in the 1940s, you ask? Everybody in Bolivia who refused to believe that the minerals wouldn't last forever were proven dead wrong when, well, they somehow ran out. And what do you do with all those trains when there’s nothing to transport? 

Why, dump them in the middle of the desert, of course.

Since Bolivia doesn’t have a cosmopolitan metropolis like Sacramento to house a fancy-pants railroad museum, the trains instead became an outdoor tourist attraction about two miles outside the city.

What’s left is about as close as you can get on Earth to stepping on the set of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Or the video for “California Love” if you were born in the '90s.

Before you're quick to judge British engineers for failing to build freight cars with sides, you should know that the harsh salt air from the nearby flats has accelerated the erosion of pretty much everything.

Also, since Bolivia isn't one of those countries that’s big on stuff like “rules”, you're more than welcome to do a little rusted-train acroyoga. Just remember that this place is 11,000-plus feet above sea level. So pace yourself.

Assuming you did a complete brain dump after 9th grade Spanish, the engine reads, “This here is the life".

And finally, since no turn-of-the-century train graveyard is complete without graffiti boldly declaring the reverse theory of gravity somewhere (ho hum), here you go.