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Archive for June 17, 2003

Tuesday, 17 June 2003 – ‘Secret Valley’ (near Esmeralda) to Chañaral

Looking at the mass of cactus taxa that I have scribbled in my notebook and at the hundreds of Angie’s, Cliff’s and my digital images that are stored on Angie’s laptop, it is difficult to believe that today we are only half way through our trip. Looking at our slightly modified itinerary, there are still lots of exciting places and plants to come.

Everyone was up early, because Rudolf and Leo wanted to be dropped off at the northern most edge of the Pan de Azucar, near Las Lomitas. Some of our party were keen to join them, so we drove their Toyota Hylux to a suitable point near Esmeralda, where Rudolf figured their hike would end, and then all (Rudolf, Leo, Ian, Benjy, Finn and myself) crammed into the Nissan to drive the party to the drop-off point, some 800 m. above sea level. My role was to drive the Nissan back to Secret Valley, after taking some pictures at the drop-off point (S0159) of Copiapoa hypogaea.

When I arrived back, the remainder of the party had packed away the tents and were ready to go. Having seen the Guanillos Valley yesterday, today was the turn of the next valley north – the Tigrillo Valley, home of KK 1385 – Karel Knize’s Copiapoa tigrillensis n.n.

As we turned each corner, the temptation to stop and photograph the impressive clumps of C. longistaminea and the stands of C. columna-alba but we knew we would pass these plants again on the way home, so waited until we reached the end of the valley for another picture stop (S0160). These were gorgeous plants, forms of C. longistaminea, but with some beautiful orangey spination. It became easier to see how this taxon varies as it moves north with its last outpost at Cifuncho, seen earlier at S0129. The scenery too was spectacular, with the plants nestled between huge lumps of granite that had been weathered away by wind, sand and sea. Again there was an Eriosyce sp in evidence as well.

Rudolf had told us that there was another valley, north of Tigrillo, so this is where we made our next stop (S0161) with much the same mix of cacti as at the previous stop. On the way back, but still in view of the ocean, we finally gave in to our craving to stop earlier and took some nice shots of the army of C. columna-alba seemingly in a hurry, all leaning at some 60 degrees, heading north (S1062). Cliff also managed to find an empty shell of what was once an Eriosyce microcarpa.

More C. columna-alba were shot (by cameras) later at S0163, before returning to Secret Valley to await the return of the hikers. We got back into our usual car-parties for the ride back to civilisation and a shower and bed at the Hosteria Chañaral, but not until after some beers and Pisco Sours in the hotel bar, to exchange stories of today’s finds.