On our way back from Patagonia to BA, we stopped in Neuquen. The purpose was to visit some wineries and look at excavations of dinosaur bones. Unfortunately, we only had one full day there to do these things. Fortunately, we had been recommended an excellent guide, Maria Jose, and she had arranged everything that could be squeezed in. Also, since she moved to this area when she was about 10 years old, she had grown up with its development
First, we went north and west of Neuquen to get to the closest dinosaur find. This is a pretty rough site - it's obvious that there isn't much money for excavating and preserving. In spite of that, they are making progress and have set up a laboratory and museum in addition to the excavations. Our guide started off with an explanation of rock formation - including samples - that led to why fossils are found in sedimentary rocks. Wish I had had this demo back in middle school.
You can walk right into the site where they are currently extracting bones. It was flooded recently by the near-by lake and while the fresh mud still covers some areas, they have set up a demonstration in the pit with the tools used for excavating (including a bottle of glue in case there are any chips.)
The museum could use a good organization and didactic materials, but it was worthwhile. Including the time to get there (close to an hour) we probably spent over three hours there.
The next closest site is in El Chocon, where they have discovered both the largest carnivore and herbivore in the world. If you have time, this might be a better organized site to visit, but it takes at least 5 hours from Neuquen. We had wineries on our visiting list, so it wasn't possible for us.
There are three major wineries in the area of San Patricio de Chanar: Fin del Mundo, Familia Shroeder and NQN. There is another winery called Valle Perdido that has an extensive web-site but doesn't respond to inquiries. We were told that they were trying to restart.
We had good food at Familia Shroeder. They offered a pairing for lunch - choice of two menus. While the food was good and the wine okay, the service was awful. There was no description of the wines being poured and it was difficult to get the waitresses attention. We explained when we sat down that we were a bit rushed (we wanted to get to Fin Del Mundo before they closed). This was reiterated when the main course was served. Our guide at one point went into the kitchen to get a waitress when dessert didn't appear. The wrong wine was poured with dessert although it was corrected at our request. Generally, this was a missed opportunity for the winery. They have the infrastructure and the chef - they just don't know how to use it.
Our trip to Fin del Mundo was very rushed. Our guide had called ahead and we were allowed to join the last tour although it was already in process. We've seen a lot of wineries so that wasn't a problem and the size of their operation is impressive. As befits a newer area, there are all stainless tanks, non of the cement and epoxy that you find in Mendoza and Salta. We asked if we could try one of the aged wines, and our guide generously pulled out a pinot noir. This was interesting, because she wan't planning on pouring it. I believe it was a 2009, and it really wasn't quite ready to drink. However, it gave her a chance to talk about aerating wine, and we stayed long enough that it became quite enjoyable after a very rough beginning.
I'm really sorry there was no time to get to NQN. Wish we had planned two days here because I would have done fossils one day and wine the next.
This is an area of fruit production (pears and apples) and also natural gas fields. It is interesting to see how they have combined hydroelectric power with thermic (natural gas production). Think the US could learn from the way their power net operates.
Neuquen Province has done quite a job of reservoir construction to eliminate floods in the city of Neuquen and facilitate hydro-electric power generation and promote irrigation. In spite of that, there are some sad stories about people losing their land and businesses during political upheaval when the governments changed.
Wish I had read more political history before this trip.