Dandelions and Daisies Don't Live on Mars

The Antisana Volcano Region. Andes Mountains, Ecuador.

Our wheels cracked over the crumbling rocks as they smushed into the soft, rich soil beneath the Jeep. I pushed my nose out the window to breathe in the crisp, clean air. I pulled the soft, furry edges of my alpaca wool jacket closer to my ears. The door creaked open as I slid out into the strange, cold, and humid atmosphere.

I turned back to clutch two tiny hands in mine, as each of our kids tumbled from the car kicking pebbles at my shoes. Their eyes were wide and unblinking, staring hard into the distance. I watched them, as they took in our surroundings. Piles of jagged black rocks gave way to startling, desolate canyons and then climbed again to peaks on the other side. My husband stepped up next to us, taking our daughter by the hand. She looked up at him and said, “Dad, are we on Mars?” His eyes sparkled with laughter as he looked down at her and put his finger to her rosy nose. “No, my dear, we are still in Ecuador.”

We exchanged a look of bewilderment between each other. His mind read mine as we wondered how our almost 4 year old knew about Mars or what it might look like. We all turned our heads into the unforgiving wind to listen as our guide and friend started to explain what we were looking at. He was speaking in Spanish, and despite my husband’s best efforts to translate, I quickly found myself distracted. Our son had looped one arm around my ankle as he started poking at the dirt with the other. Not quite 2 and a half, he didn’t care about much except rocks and bugs. He didn’t know what Ecuador or meant, or Mars for that matter.


I knelt down beside him, curious to see what he had discovered. I was bewildered for a moment, as my eyes darted around the ground noticing large, low to the ground dandelions and daisies. Dandelions?! Daisies?! But, it’s cold and barren and the air is too thin, I thought to myself. Besides, nothing grows in volcanic rock at 12,000 feet! We were standing in the lava beds of the Antisana volcano region in the Andes Mountains, not far outside of Quito.

High Altitude Daisy

The lava mountains and river beds were strange and interesting, like something that should belong on another planet. But, once my eyes caught sight of the ground, I kept them there for the duration of our adventure. I was envious of our toddlers, who could naturally see all of the stunning flowers and fauna, grasses, lichens, and moss. White and yellow, pink and green, colors as vibrant as the luscious Spring season back in our previous home in Iowa. But, these flowers with similarities were much different indeed. Upon closer inspection, they housed thick, fuzzy stems and prickly leaves. They were designed by nature to thrive in this seemingly inhospitable destination.

We spent the remainder of the day, exploring this unique ecological reserve that is one of more than 50 similar parks in Ecuador. Many of the species that are found here are endemic to the area; not known to exist anywhere else in the world. Even the once endangered Andean Condor resides in these parts.


As we meandered down the mountains, we crossed through primitively fenced grasslands, noting alpacas and horses grazing happily beneath thick, bushy coats. At one point we stopped to climb out of the car and up a roadside step of Andean carpet. The plush, bouncy ground was covered in what looked like green, bow tie pasta. All four of us enjoyed hopping across the bumps, as if bouncing on nature’s mattress springs. But careful not to fall, for this high altitude grass was fluffy but pokey to the touch.


The remote, dirt road wound us through what seemed to be its own mountain range, over streams and rocks and mud until finally we rolled to a stop in the valley. The lane was flooded by shallow water in certain spots, and a natural bridge led us to a clearing between two, small lakes.

By the time we got out of the car, our littlest one had nodded off, lulled to sleep by the bumping, country road. I chose to stay close by in case he should stir. Daddy and our daughter trotted off down a trail to explore. I rummaged around to find my camera, wrapped it around my neck. Leaned against a cool, green rock at the water’s edge. The silence felt odd and in that moment, I thought this might have been the quietest place on earth. I watched the sky around me, as an eerie white mist crept in from the charcoal-ish mountains and quickly surrounded me.

I kept my eyes to the trail, pleading with nature to wait just a little while longer. Not more than a few moments passed, before a bobbing ponytail and pink boots came clonking down the path. She chattered at her father, not more than a shadow’s length behind her. I could hear the curiosity in her voice before the words reached me. She pleaded with me, to come on an investigation.

Together, we followed the sound of a trickle, the unmistakable evidence of a waterfall. I peered all around us, watching the clouds come closer as they were tempted to hug the tips of the lava mountains. We scanned the horizon and the clumpy, black walls, looking for the rushing water. But, we didn’t find a waterfall.

Instead, we knelt to the ground, laying our bellies against the soft, green moss watching the rain make spherical patterns all across the green and orange swirled lake.  We wondered aloud how such clear water could have such remarkable colors. I clamored for the answers I didn’t have to the questions I also wanted to know. Finally, I decided that it must be due to minerals or moss. She was satisfied with that, and was up again as quickly as she came down.


She flitted out of site as she went around the bend, still looking for the clue to that rushing water sound. I raced off after her, in fear of the trouble she could surely get herself into. I spotted her just a few yards away, crouched next to a pile of rocks with her palms on her knees. She beamed up and me, so very proud of the waterfall she had found. I leaned over her head, her hair dancing in the wind around my face. I couldn’t help but smile as her little gloved finger pointed at a very noisy but very tiny, babbling brook.

Our discovery had been made, our investigation complete and we skipped off together to find the other half of our family. The boys sat together at the front of the Jeep, eagerly waiting for our arrival. It was time to get out of there, before the rains came harder and nature trapped us in her bowl. We sped out of the valley, much faster than we had come in, fueled by adrenaline and adventure and astonishment in its purest form.

Loving the road trip!
Thorny yellow flowers
Purple Flowers in the Alamo Grass
Dandelions and Daisies Don't Live on Mars - 8 Duffels & 2 Mutts
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76 Replies to “Dandelions and Daisies Don't Live on Mars”

  1. What a beautiful adventure you had that day! Your pictures are stunning and the types of grasses and flowers in this area are so unique, I’ve never seen anything like it! No wonder your daughter asked if you were on another planet! Everything is so beautiful.

  2. There really is nothing more beautiful than nature itself. I love that you took the kids here, it’s the perfect place for some good old family time! The flowers are simply beautiful and that view? STUNNING!

    1. The view and everything in the environment were simply breathtaking! Traveling with kids makes every experience amplified. Now we have done it this way, I can not imagine the discoveries we would miss without having done it with kids!

    1. Oh, thank you! I really appreciate the compliment. I am really just learning about photography, but I was pleased with how the photos turned out on this day. My only regret, is not taking more photos of ht kids! Lesson learned 🙂

  3. This sounds so amazing! I didn’t realize flowers could grow in conditions like that. It looks like you all had a good time.

  4. Hi, which off the beaten track beaches of Ecuador would you recommend visiting? Which is the most beatiful and unspoiled Ecuadorian beach for you?

      1. Thanks a lot! Yes, I am planning to be there in about 2-3 weeks. Currently I am in southern Colombia and dont knoe exactly how much time it will be till I reach the coast 🙂

  5. We always travel with the kids and so love seeing things from their point of view. You never know what they’ll come up with. Once, while on a train, my then 5 year old son spotted a sign indicated your should run in a certain direction in case of fire. He interpreted it a little differently and said excitedly, “Look, mom! Running is allowed!” LOL!

  6. Gorgeous photos! Ecuador seems to have such a variety of landscapes – it’s no wonder your daughter thought you were on another planet. I bet your kids are loving being able to spend so much time outside. They are super cute, by the way.

  7. These are such beautiful images & while I haven’t been to this region in particular, I have been to Ecuador so I’m not surprised – it’s a very picturesque country & you’ve really sold it here, I want to go back for some more hiking!

    1. Thank you! There is just so much diversity in landscape and culture, I think it would takes years to discover it all in Ecuador. The more we explore, the more we want to see. It is an incredible country, especially for hiking!

  8. Incredible. I would have never have guessed the sights that those pictures provided. I love reading about what toddlers and young children find and see. They seem to always be in search of something else or something that we would never think to look for. Well written and in such a calming manner. Loved it!

    1. That is so much of the beauty of Ecuador, you really just never know what you’ll come across next. And of course, seeing it with kids…like you said, we can count on them to notice something that we did not. It is amazing! 🙂

  9. I love volcanoes, this is the first I’ve read abut any in Ecuador! That was such a cute thing of your daughter to ask, if you were on Mars, how lucky she is to be taken to such an rarely visited place. I will remember the Antisana volcanoes from this post!

  10. Such a beautiful landscape! I have visited some volcanic landscape and I am always fascinated by them. Especially when you think how close the destroying power and their life giving lava ground are correlating together. I like your close up shots here, the purple flower in the Alamo Grass is adorable.

  11. Oh wow how beautiful, it looks a little surreal. It looks like you had a great time visiting the volcanic landscapes. It reminds me a little of the volcanic landscapes of Iceland. Great post

  12. You certainly experienced this natural paradise to the fullest. The discover of the the daisies and dandelions was pretty neat in a volcanic field. The photos really told a nice story of your experience and I enjoyed reading the post.

    1. Thank you very much for all of your compliments!
      We enjoyed this place so much that we hope to return one day..and we all want to explore many more volcanic areas! Luckily, Ecuador has many!

  13. Ecuador does look fascinating – a place I long to visit along with the Galapagos. The nature pics are so beautiful with all the blooming flowers. Volcanoes have a certain charm and this one looks like it could be mistaken for Mars 🙂

  14. Such a gorgeous adventure and what an amazing thing to share with your family. My younger sister is 13 years younger than me, and I can remember traveling New Zealand with her when she was 4, is was amazing to see the world through her eyes. she was quite disappointed that we didn´t meet any Hobbits while we were there… Made me quite nostalgic reading your post about Mars!

    1. Aww, what a great memory! I wouldn’t change these experiences for the world. I am positive that having our children with us makes everything better. No hobbit searches yet, but fairies and trolls have been contemplated 🙂

  15. WHat a beautiful place for an adventure, its really what lot of people needs theres a need to escape from everything and just apretiate beautiful landscapes

  16. Your narration in the post is very engaging. I didn’t at all found it very tiresome to read as I’m very entertained and could well imagined how your day went by. Your kids are very smart and have made very intelligent observations from Mars to the discovery of the flowers dotting the landscape. What an adventure for your kids!

  17. What a beautiful adventure. Nature is really awesome the pictures are really nice I love those roses and the cute little girl she is so cute. Great post

    1. I am not sure that it is a time of year here. In this place, I understand that the weather is mostly stable and there really isn’t much variation from season to season. In other words, these blooms might be continuous all year round!

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