The Atacama Desert is spectacularly beautiful, highlighted by several landmarks along Ruta 27, leaving San Pedro de Atacama heading east towards the border.
Not instead but in addition, you can ride south on Ruta 23, passing Toconao, to the small town of Socaire. Here, take rough road B-365 northeast into the hills. The road alternates between smooth and rocky. About 13 km in the road descends one side of the valley in a couple of steep switchbacks before ascending on the other side. Here is where I realized the road was going to take a lot longer than I had anticipated and that I would not make my meet-up time with Jess back at Toconao.
So, using a turnout I turned my bike around and then proceeded to dig the rear tire in so deeply trying to re-ascend that it stood upright without the kickstand. After trying to pave the way with rocks, I finally gave up in the late afternoon and it was well into the night by the time I had reached Socaire by foot where I borrowed a phone to call Jess and found a room for rent. The next morning, it took a 20 minute ride in a pickup and perhaps 20 seconds of pushing from three by three local men to free my bike.
Anyway, the plan was to reach the B-357 40 km onwards and then ride north, skirting Volcán Láscar before looping back to Ruta 23 at Talabre. Having left it one unfinished, this route is like my white whale. So if you do it or have done it, please drop me a line with a description of what I missed out on!