We followed Leo and Rudolf north along Ruta 5, until, near the turn off to Cerro Colorado, they turned west onto a track. Not until several miles from Ruta 5 was there a sign, in the middle of nowhere, to indicate that we had just entered the Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar from the east side.
We made three brief stops S0173, S0174, and S0175, where Rudolf showed us three ‘different’ plants or plants that we had not expected to find here – so far inland and out of the reach of regular fogs. Although….., I had seen large notices on Ruta 5, warning drivers to switch on their head lights during fog. The barren, bone dry landscape made the signs seem quite funny, but perhaps fog is not such a rare occurrence here after all. The first plant Rudolf showed us was Copiapoa hypogaea barely visible in a crack in the rocks, but a huge tuber became visible once the rock was removed. This plant is watered regularly – at least once every 6 – 12 months, when ever Rudolf passes by, it receives about a litre of the best drinking water (sin gas). The second plant, also growing in a crack in the rocks, is still a mystery.
It was quite large, with longish spines for its size and very dark in body colour – probably due to its shaded location. C. serpentisulcata is the most likely candidate in my reckoning, but quite a distance from its mates and no other Copiapoa near by. The third remains even more of a mystery, looking like a young plant intermediate between C. serpentisulcata and C. marginata (C. bridgesii) if such a thing exists.
Rudolf and Leo then went their own way for a day of climbing and hiking, while we followed their instructions and aimed for two hill tops visible when you approach Pan de Azucar from Chañaral which we had christened ‘Fog-net Hill’ and ‘Antenna Hill’. The difference was that we were approaching these from inside the Park. On each occasion we judged the track impassable for our vehicles some way away from our goal. Never mind – instead we spent some time exploring at the point where it seemed wisest to turn around.
But before that, our next break (S0176) was a comfort break (where the males in the party lined up along one side of the track while the two ladies found large rocks on the other side). This brief stop provided us with pictures of C. columna-alba and C. marginata – although Benjy is keen to use the back-in-favour name C. bridgesii for this northern form.
S0177 just happened: as we turned a corner, the track had been dug out through a low hill, making us eye-level with the gently sloping plain in front of us with the densest population of C. columna-alba that I have seen to date! There was no need to negotiate a stop – both cars pulled up and we piled out with our cameras a great sight!
S0178 was the point where the road to Antenna Hill seemed too steep. We did not mind, as we were at the foot of a hillside covered with large clumps of C. serpentisulcata. We tried for ‘Fog-net Hill’, but again, used common sense (which later gained us the title of ‘a troupe of girls’ blouses’ from Leo and Rudolf) and turned around at S0179.
This spot seemed less rewarding with a few miserable specimens of C. bridgesii and C. columna-alba. But a more detailed inspection was rewarded by a number little gems: C. hypogaea in its dark, rugose splendour, and some small Eriosyce (Neoporteria) sp. most too shrivelled to identify, even though some were in flower. The lichen on the Eulychnia iquiquensis were blood red in colour and also made for some interesting shots.
Graham Charles was kind enough to point out that the woolly areoled Eulychnia are now covered under this name, rather than E. breviflora, which was the preferred name at the time of the 2nd Edition of the CITES Cactaceae Checklist.
On my return home, I found that I had also taken some pictures at another unnumbered ‘toilet stop’, so these have been catalogued under S179a, as I do not want to renumber all subsequent stops.
And so back to Hosteria Chañaral for a continuation of the pool game of the previous evening, and the bar. Benjy sent me a comment about yesterday’s report:
Paul, you missed out a bit on your daily report for Chañaral: ‘Benjy / Rudolf doubles : Kings of the Pool Hall, 5 games, all wins, no losses.’
‘Misspent Youth’, as Rudolf would say…. I say: ‘SIMPLY THE BEST’.
Benjy, Rudolf was right – I have corrected your typos!