The salt crust of this high-country desert shimmers whitely in the harsh sun up at almost 12,000 feet.

HIGH IN Bolivia’s Andes is a vast, surreal landscape of salt flats that stretch over more than 4,000 square miles.

The salt crust of this high-country desert, the Salar de Uyuni, shimmers whitely in the harsh sun up at almost 12,000 feet. Seasonal shallow lakes create a spectacle of reflected sky, making it hard to tell where the earth ends and the sky begins.

Adventurous tourists head out on four-wheel-drive sightseeing tours from the small, wind-battered town of Uyuni, born as a 19th-century mining outpost and now a visitors’ gateway to the salt flats in southwest Bolivia and to roads that lead beyond to Chile.

Jeeps go bouncing past miles of salt hardpan, the remnant of huge prehistoric lakes, to contorted rock outcroppings and clusters of cactuses. It’s a journey deep into an otherworldly land.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.