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Archive for February, 2008

Friday, 29 February 2008 – Fullerton to Carlsbad, CA via Julian

Since yesterday’ entry, Ian has booked our car for the next Baja trip, a Jeep Grand Cherokee (or similar), so that’s one less thing to worry about.

This morning the weather was foggy and overcast when I woke up, a bit like a camanchaca day in Taltal. It struck me that with the limited visibility it was like driving any motorway anywhere. Yes the lorries were larger and the names on the sign posts more exotic, but the concept of millions of people and tons of freight plodding along concrete canals is the same all over the developed world. Despite the rush hour, everything kept flowing very well – take note and learn, England!

By the time I got into the country side, the weather had cleared and it turned out to be a nice sunny day. I made one stop along Cal 79 and found Opuntia basilaris and Yucca whipplei (thanks, Eunice for the email ID), the latter in flower. Basilaris looked as miserable here as it does in my collection. It seems that stem (or pad) sacrifice is a common phenomenon.

I arrived in Julian in time for lunch. It really is as though time has stood still here. Not just in the architecture, but also in the pace of life and the amount of time that people seem to have for each other as I discovered when, attracted by a sign that said they had ‘European Breads’, I ended up for lunch at the ‘Candied Apple and Pastry Company Bakery and Bistro’. We chatted about the types of breads they had and I selected the Italian olive bread that we sometimes buy on the Saturday market in Salisbury – can’t remember the Italian name – all washed down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (or was it?) Alain, please note – no beer on offer, although I could have had a glass of local Cider, as this is Apple Country.

I took some pictures as I strolled through the town. This is really a tourist trap once you examine it more closely.

I found Cal 78 West and made another stop at the Inaja Memorial Picnic Ground, which had a short trail into the hills. The area had been hit by last year’s forest fires but in addition had suffered from erosion due to heavy loads of water thrown at the fire from helicopters and planes (according to a local man who was inspecting the damage). ‘Remarkable how nature can recover.’ I said. He agreed, but added, ‘Not so good if your million dollar house went up in smoke’. Guess he had a point, although his luxurious car seemed to suggest that the insurance pay out had been received..

And so on to Carlsbad, which almost seems to be a northern suburb of San Diego, along with Vista and Oceanside. Once again I had selected a Motel 6 – cheap but clean and trusted, with the all important wifi to stay in touch with people. It’s handy for exploring the local nurseries early next week, for another  trip into Anza Borrego tomorrow, and a quick drive up to LA next Thursday for another presentation.

This Motel 6 is surrounded by shops and restaurants, so I won’t go hungry, but will have to get up earlier to decide where to have breakfast. Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, 28 February 2008 – rest day at Fullerton and visit to the Orange County Cactus Society

Today’s rest day began with an email from Alain to say that the car rental people had charged his credit card, while I had paid the bill in full in cash. I retrieved all the paper work from the car and regrettably for both of us, had to agree that we and the rental company had over looked the US$525 charge for Mexican Insurance. This made the car rental quite an expensive affair, especially as this amount was just split between the two of us.

At the same time as resolving this issue, I fired off an email to Ian & Cliff warning of the hidden extras which bump the price quoted on the website significantly.

On the brighter front, Eunice Thompson, the President of the Long Beach Society, had managed to clear her work schedule and find a dog & house sitter, so that she can join us for the March Bajathon. Splitting the car rental and fuel 4 ways instead of 3 will be good and Eunice will bring along her knowledge on Agave, Dudleya, Fouquerias (I’m still learning how to spell that)  and help us with local knowledge, particularly with plant nurseries at the very end of our trip. Welcome aboard, Eunice!

Tonight we attended the meeting of the Orange County C&S Society where Tim Harvey – originally (13 years ago) from Birmingham, England, now living to the north of L.A.  Tim does not work at the Huntington as reported earlier, but just volunteers there on a Tuesday. Alain should know him from the Cactus_Study forum.

I was going to ask him why he moved from Birmingham, but then he showed us how he grows the touchiest of succulents and caudiciforms to a huge size, simply by planting them out in his garden. This includes many Madagascarians! Excellent talk!

This club was a lot larger in membership numbers than Long Beach, although Long Beach has existed for 75 years and is the oldest of the US Societies.  It seems that the number of Societies is quite high in the L.A. area and people are members of several Societies, so that they can attend meetings on almost every week of the month. Must be difficult for talk organisers to get speakers that no one has seen before. All the features of a UK Branch meeting were in place: the raffle (I won a prize!), the table show, judged by the speaker (actually, this was in place at Long Beach but I must have missed it at Orange County), and the branch library that apparently had made its first appearance for many months, as just like in the UK, it requires a lot of effort to cart all the books around when few people actually use the facility. I was pleased to see that Keith’s & my book was in the library – I had not seen a copy since ELK! Also interesting that this Society’s President was called Roger Claassen, with German ancestry who preferred a C to a K. I was asked to sign the book and was introduced for the meeting. Fame at last!

The only other highlight of the day was that I used the motel laundry to get 4 week’s of washing done. I managed to scan read the 2004 CSSJ Dudleya issue while keeping an eye on the tumble drier going round. Those were the days in the early 80’s! Sunday morning in the Laundromat before a few pints and games of darts at the Plough before going home for Sunday’s roast followed by falling asleep in front of the TV during Match of the Day or Cricket Highlights.

The plan for tomorrow is that I’ll leave urban Fullerton and head south to the Carlsbad area, and pay a visit to the little town of Julian that Alain & I drove through last Thursday – the Walton’s look-alike town, for some pictures, before  finding a motel. This will make a good launch pad for another scout around the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and inspecting suitable nurseries for Ian & Cliff in Vista in days to come.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008 – Looking for Dudleyas

Eunice and I met as arranged at 10 a.m. at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe, where the Long Beach C&S Society meet. We had a more detailed look around the cactus garden that the club maintain in this estate, which is a retirement home for the clergy. I had a nice chat with one of them who had lived for 15 years in Hayes, Middlesex, England.

From here we went to the coast. Eunice drove, which gave me a welcome break. Driving in the L.A. area is relatively straight forward, but the 7 lanes each way on the highways can be a little intimidating. As everybody goes the same speed (65 miles per hour), it is difficult to switch lanes when traffic is dense and you need to get to the slow lane for your exit. So it’s a case of aim & pray, which has worked OK for me so far. Keeping fingers crossed. When driving in the slow lane, you have to avoid getting into the MUST TURN RIGHT AT NEXT EXIT part when all you want to be is set up nicely for the exit after that.

Eunice took me to the very wealthy Palos Verdes Peninsula where the Drive of that name is a very scenic drive along the Ocean, with views across the Pacific to Santa Catalina Island. We found a car park near the Point Vincent Lighthouse and then followed a coast path first along the cliff’s edge, and later on down the cliff to the rocky Ocean shore – no sandy beaches here.

Eunice is fanatical about Dudleya and here they grew along the higher cliff edges. They had come out of their winter rest due to recent rains that had been heavier than usual. I learned on the TV that El Nina was blamed / credited for these rains.  What ever the cause, the end result was plants that grow in very scenic places and were beginning to get a white farina cover that will make them attractive plants once it gets too hot for me to admire them.

Eunice had brought along a CSSA journal from 2004 that was dedicated entirely to the genus, which occurs mainly in the Californias, either side of the border. From this, I learned that the Genus was proposed by Britton & Rose, is named after William Russell Dudley (and not Dudley Gold as I had thought) and currently contains 35 species and 28 subspecies covered in 3 subgenera. The classification is further complicated by plants that can be variable and some populations may justify separate new taxa descriptions. The plants we saw today were D. lanceolata and D. virens, but at times forms living in the shade looked like different species compared to those growing exposed on cliffs in full sun. All I have to do know is decide which plants I photographed are which species. Their niche habitat here was on rocky outcrops, where few if any other plants could compete for soil and light.

Our third stop of the day (I’m now up to S843) was farther along Palos Verdes Drive at ‘Portuguese Bend’, where again we found D. lanceolata & D. virens. At both locations there were also a Platyopuntia sp. and Cylindropuntia sp, but the dominant plants where imports:  Carpobrotus chilensis and Mesembryanthemum crystalina, which were so successful that they were squeezing the native plants out.

Tomorrow is going to be a rest day, dedicated to doing my washing, as I’ve nearly run out of clean stuff half way through this trip.  In the evening, Eunice is taking me to the Orange County C&S Society evening, where Tim Harvey, originally from Birmingham, UK, is the guest speaker. I have now also been invited to speak at the Los Angeles C&S Society (March 6) which has thrown plans out a bit, so I’m rearranging things to avoid too many trips up and down between L.A. and S.D.

Eyes getting tired. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 – The Huntington Botanical Gardens

So, today was The Huntington pt 2. Eunice rang about 9:30 that all was still OK for the meet and suggested that if I was challenged at the gate, to say that I had come to meet John Trager.

Eunice was already waiting in the car park and Vernon (the once upon a time Dutchman, who I had met on Sunday) had also come along. Eunice seemed to know her way through a warren of paths between buildings we arrived at an area where plants were being prepared for sale. Many turned out to be things being prepared for ISI sales. Here we met Karin Zimmerman who was busy with the plants and showed us some of her recent Aloe hybrids and volunteer Barbara. As I know little about Aloe’s, I had difficulty differentiating a new exciting hybrid from plants that I was sure I had seen in the past at Holly Gate. It’s interesting to see that there appear to be more and more efforts here to come up with cultivars and perhaps in this way switch the focus of ‘must have’ plants for collectors from habitat material to the latest cultivated hybrids. Certainly the plants I saw had peculiarities such as ‘warts’, colouration and patterns that would catch your attention in any plant sale.

Karin took us into the main building, where we found John Tragar and again it was nice to be able to put a face to a name that is well-known throughout the cactus world. Karin next took us to the staff restaurant for lunch which showed that it was possible to get a healthy eating meal in the US after all!  I settled for a couple of roast beef and cheese on French Rolls that would have cost US$ 7.25 in the official visitors restaurant, but were half price in the staff restaurant. Healthy for the body does not equate to healthy for the purse. At lunch we were introduced to more members of staff and I recognised the name Tim Harvey from contributions on Cactus Study. He seemed to know all about our last trip to Baja from mailings by Alain, Willy Verheulpen and Mike Newberry. Again, great to meet a face behind email contributions in a forum.

After lunch we went back to the cactus garden so that I could come back with 115 more pictures  than I had already. Can you ever have too many pictures? We enjoyed trying to catch more hummingbirds on camera. During presentations here I have to remember that plants and animals that get a ‘Wow’ from the audience in Europe, get a ‘I get many of these in my yard’ in California.

We had arranged to get back to Karin around 3:30 and were met by another volunteer, more senior in age. ‘I know who you are’ she said smiling mysteriously. I thought and it clicked: ‘Hi Crassulady!’ and indeed it was Norma, with whom I had loads of correspondence around the turn of the century when she had thoughts of putting together a monograph on the Genus Crassula and its many hybrids. I filtered word of the gap in literature through to Gordon Rowley, through Keith Grantham and it seemed to help Gordon in putting pen to paper and produce a book that he had been planning for many years. Norma was in tears that I had recognised her. I can’t think that the tears were actually about meeting me, but we had a big hug and pictures were taken.

Next we were introduced to Jeff Karsner ,who is in charge of the plants in the education centre and in building a theme garden that would meet the tough standards of the Health & Safety committee. The creative California spirit that gave us Disney and Hollywood certainly have rubbed off on Jeff and I was particularly impressed by an airplane model covered in air plants, with a particularly bright coloured plant representing the flames from an engine on fire! Don’t see much of that in Europe!

Fame through my talk last Sunday had already spread, so I was invited to talk to his cactus society on Thursday 6 March, on the other side of L.A., near the Hollywood hills. Should pay for another night in a motel!

Yesterday’s and today’s visits complemented each other perfectly – yesterday I was able to just lose myself in the Desert Garden and today being privileged to have a look behind the scenes and meet some very interesting people.

Tomorrow, Eunice is going to take me to locations along the coast south of L.A., where Dudleya’s abound and we also have to track down habitat details for D. brittonii, the only one that I think will get a Wow in the UK as it looks as white as Echeveria laui. It (D. brittonia) is endemic to Baja, but where? Google soon came up with the answer, we had driven straight past it in northern Baja earlier this month!

More stories of a Dutchman’s adventures in California tomorrow.

Monday, 25 February 2008 – Huntington Botanical Gardens

I could see the sun along the curtains edges as I woke up, so yesterday’s rain had gone.

Ringing Eunice turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had thought – the number was not ‘local’ (i.e. free, from my Motel phone), so I tried the credit card option to pay, but failed. Next I tried the operator. Very helpful, took the number, asked my credit card details, then asked for a ZIP code. I explained that I lived in the UK and offered my postcode. ‘Only US credit card – have a nice day – peeeeeep’, as she put down the phone. Thanks!

So I went back to the Long Beach Cactus & Succulent Society website, where the email contact details had got me in touch with Eunice last year,  but how often would she check this?

Having sent my message, I surfed the net to confirm the location of the Huntington and found that as from 1 January 2008 they open on Monday but are closed on Tuesday, so the problem of what to do today was solved. They opened at noon and I was there 15 minutes later. There had been a grand opening of a new Chinese garden yesterday and this was still receiving lots of attention, so the Desert Garden was nice and devoid of people.

I managed 302 images, which were later trimmed back to 250 as I had taken lots of plant label pictures as well as the plants themselves. Where the Huntington excels is by mass displays of a certain species, rather than just individual plants. This really creates a tremendous impact. But have they outdone themselves? Some areas looked as though the plants had taken over and were trying to crowd out other plants. I remember from Holly Gate that a visitor just sees a single day snapshot and not the progress of planned work. They’ve done OK for quite some years and I’m sure will continue for many more.

Got home at about 4 – The Huntington closes at 4:30 but the shadows were getting long, so ‘bad light stopped play’. Back in the Motel, and just switched on my laptop and the phone rang – Eunice. She had received my email and had tried ringing every hour or so. We agreed to meet up tomorrow instead – to go to the Huntington again, this time ‘through the backdoor’ and meet some of the staff.

Looks like another fun filled day ahead tomorrow!

Sunday, 24 February 2008 – San Diego to Los Angeles

Yesterday’s rest day in San Diego was just what the doctor had ordered (no Mum, I did not need to see a doctor, it’s just an expression) and as usual, I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm went off at 7:00. Did you miss my snoring, Alain. I bet the plane home was just as noisy, but I guess that the engine noise was at least regular.

I left after breakfast at Denny’s – it seems to be impossible to have a healthy meal out in the US, everything seems to be swimming in fat and covered in sugar. I had found detailed route descriptions on the internet for the trip to the meeting place of the Long Beach Cactus & Succulent Society, which is actually in Compton.

I arrived at 10:00 a.m. and was due to be there by 13:00. It turns out that the place is an old adobe type Mission, completely done up and renovated and now serves as a very comfortable retirement home for the clergy. The LBCSS have use of a meeting place there, in return for maintaining a cactus & succulent plant garden. The plants certainly like the climate, that today was back to being very wet, just like our ‘Sea World Day’ on Friday.  There were beds dedicated to plants from South America, North America and Africa, but just as in nature, the plants did not concentrate during their geography lessons and crossed the border to other beds.

There was a nice gathering of members, checking the latest offering on the sales stall. I bought a set of forceps, as I have a tendency to leave these next to cacti if I remember to try to collect some seed. One day, I’ll be able to spot them using Google Earth no doubt – must label them, to distinguish them from the forceps left by everybody else. One of the members was actually Dutch and welcomed me in my native language. He was originally from Rotterdam, but his parents had taken him to the USA when he was about 4, but still kept up the language.

Yesterday I had managed to add some images from Baja to those of the previous trips since 1 November 2007, and even I was amazed at how much I had seen! I had limited myself to two stops – the plants on Isla Magdalena and the Cactus Maximus stop. Surprisingly few members had actually been to Baja to look at the plants there, but then looking at the plants that grew in their garden, why should they? There was a very good representation of what we had seen growing right there! They too were surprised – was that really nature, or a botanic garden?

As the talk is entitled ‘What I did last winter’ and winter is still going on, I took a photo of the audience, so I can fit it into the presentation for the UK.

After the meeting, I asked for directions to a good Motel 6 – I use the term as a generic indication of good budget motels. My instincts suggested that I should head west, but I was warned that this would get me into Watts, and deeeeep trouble. So I followed advice and detailed instructions from the President, Eunice, which eventually got me to Motel 6 in Arcadia, right opposite the Santa Anita Race Track (horse racing), which I seem to remember as the venue of a few rock concerts as well. No action tonight.

The Huntington Arboretum is just down the road. I was going to visit there tomorrow, but was warned that they are closed on Mondays. So instead, Eunice has offered to take me to a few cactus spots, and I’ll do the Huntington on Tuesday.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will clear over the next few days, so that the plants will look well watered rather than being watered!

I’m off to the Mexican Restaurant across the road!

Saturday, 23 February 2008 – San Diego rest day

Just a very brief one today.

I woke up at 4:45, just 15 minutes before the alarm was due to go off. Alain was already awake. It didn’t take long to get ready – the car keys had been put in a prominent place, so we would not spend time looking for them as usual.

Trip to the airport – quiet, uneventful. Said our goodbyes. Trip back to the hotel – uneventful.

So, better focus on tomorrow’s presentation, so got stuck in – I had only been told last week that a 1 hour instead of 30 minute presentation would be OK at Long Beach – no problem, I can do a 24 hour show if needed. So a few more pictures were selected and some added from the recent Baja trip.

Time clicked on and by 10:00 I got ready to do the car swap. I had hoped to keep the Altima but was told it needed a service and oil change, so no deal. Alain, the final reading was 6,794 miles. I had planned to pay by Maestro Debit card, but this card once again played up – worked sometimes in Chile, than not at other times – not pleased. So I settled in cash, so that I carry less money with me and (hopefully) can supplement dollars if needed from a Cash Machine at the Airport.

The new car is a Chrysler Sebring 4, more than adequate just for me. I turned down a convertible as the weather is sunny, but still not great and more rain is on the way in L.A. and I want a car that is secure rather than showy.

Although the keys to the Altima did not get lost in the morning, I had to do a complete re-pack as I could not find my credit card – essential for taking out a rental car. I was getting quite frantic as everything was unpacked, even down to my medication. I decided to give up and just take the car back and find out how to resolve the problem. Then I could not find the card that acts as key to the room – oh,no, had this got mixed up as I was repacking my stuff? Even more frantic now! Eventually, some 3 hours later, I came across …. the credit card, stuck between the pages of my note book! And the ‘key card’? Turned up in the other jacket pocket. You have been warned Cliff & Ian – I seem to lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on.

By now I was feeling knackered, decided to rebook in San Diego for another night and set off in good time first thing on a quieter Sunday morning. I found the place without problem on Google Maps and did a route plan which shows its only 101 miles – suggested driving time 1:50. I’m not due to get there until 13:00, so, easy, as long as I can find car keys etc.

Better finish, if I’m going to be brief 🙂

Friday, 22 February 2008 – San Diego – Sea World

We woke up with a shock as Alain’s watch showed 8 a.m. Palm trees were swaying in the wind and torrential rain came from the skies. San Diego was crying because Alain is leaving tomorrow.

We carried on with our plan to see Sea World, as the theme is ‘water’ anyway. US$60 for the day though – not cheap!

It was really quite miserable and we were surrounded by people in plastic capes all moping around – many of them staff. Still, we put a brave face on it – took loads of silly pictures and made ourselves and some of the staff and visitors laugh with our antics. One of the volunteers at the sea lions asked where we came from. Belgium, said Alain. Oh yes, he said, Luxemburg is in Belgium, isn’t it? No, said Alain, next door, but it’s pretty small. Oh yes, the guy came back again – I heard that they were trying to sell it on E-bay last week!

And so it went on. We visited the dolphins in action, saw the seals perform, took loads of pictures of flamingos who had overdosed on pink dye, saw some sad-looking egrets who looked as though they had swallowed the dye as well and by around 1 p.m. decided to go home. At the exit, a lady asked us if we would do a survey. What did we think of …. etc. The Polar Bear display? Where was that? The Penguins? Are they near the Polar Bears? The Baluga Whales? don’t tell me, near the bears. And the Orca display in 45 minutes? We thought it had been cancelled, due to the rain?

So, off we went to the bears, only to be met by another hostess. Do you guys like beer? Do we!!! Well, here is a ticket for the Anheuser-Busch beer tasting in the Hospitality Center (Anheuser- Busch is one of the USA largest brewers). So we made a little detour to the bears and learned that AB make an excellent stout. This delayed us a bit so we went to the Orca Show by Shamu and his mates, making sure that we were just above the first 16 rows that were officially designated as ‘soaking zone’. Took loads of pictures and beginning to feel a real affinity with these colossal animals.

The Arctic and Antarctic displays where ‘awesome’, really the only way to describe it. I guess I can now do a convincing talks about ‘Penguins in their Environment’. The displays were really excellent, kind of ‘Universal Studios meets David Attenborough’ and with the zoo keepers more like Hollywood actors, acting with a convincing passion.

Before we knew it, it was 4 o’clock and time to go back to the Motel to meet Mark Fryer, currently President of the San Diego Cactus Society. We had ‘met’ before on cactus forums and he was set to come with us to Chile in 2003, until his wife announced that she was pregnant with their second child and financial realities prevented him from joining us. He’d make an excellent travel companion.

We went out for a few beers and a burger and I’ll be sure to come back South to San Diego pronto, as he is between jobs, bursting with enthusiasm for cacti & showing me habitats and lining up visits to C&Js, Grigsby and lots of other smaller, specialist places. He was being groomed to take over at C&Js, but the difference he made to their business while he was there, meant that the asking price for the business kept going up.

I’ll try to set up a ‘high lights tour’ of nurseries at the end of the March tour, but only as a ‘plan B’, if we run out of things to see in Baja. Today’s rains seem to also have occurred in Baja, along the western coast, giving an extra boost to the flowering. Mark knows Jon Rebman at the University or Botanic Gardens here (not sure which) who is working on a Baja project that our pictures and observations could contribute to. It’d be a nice thing to get involved with and repay Jon in a way for his GPS coordinates that we received via Brain Bates in Bolivia that helped us so far.

During next week, I’ll send Cliff & Ian a spreadsheet and .kmz file of the cactus stops from this trip. The GPS data was taken from Alain’s GPS at the start and from Angie’s (I have misplaced mine, perhaps in Chile, at Flo’s) later on, when we discovered how to get different readings to the previous stop and identical to Alain’s. Perhaps Ian has the cables and know how of how to load this data into his GPS, so that we can tell if we’re close to any previously visited spots. I suggest that we aim to ‘fill the gaps’ in our stops on the way down, but I’ll guarantee to take you back to stops where we saw certain plants on the way back, if we haven’t already seen them before.

The alarm is set for 5 and we’re a bit down; Alain because he has to go back to reality, me because I’ll miss my travel buddy and in a way wouldn’t have minded a two-week break in the UK to see Angie, Anton & Chris, my Mum & sister etc. But the thought of other exciting things to explore and of Cliff & Ian coming over in 2 weeks will cheer me up, after I have done 3 weeks worth of washing at a future Motel.

Thursday, 21 February 2008 – Yuma to San Diego

Today’s trip went as planned.

Next week I’ll do a quick review of the itinerary for March to see how much time we need to do the circuit next time. I’ll explain any bits I have left out and why. I’ll also do a financial analysis of what we spent on fuel, accommodation & food, with an indication where the hotel was a bad deal and if there are alternatives.

I have been thinking about one option towards the end of the trip. This would see us spent a night on the way back north near Ensenada. The next day, an early start, then down MEX 3, do the Feros around Valle de Trinidad, then at the junction with M5 go north, missing out a 110 km drive and accommodation in San Felipe. We could spend the night outside Mexicali (capital letters DUMP) and queue to cross the border early or cross the border the previous evening and spend the night just outside El Centro, on Route 86 where I spotted a few small motels. The next day we could drive through the Anza Borrega Desert State Park. Today we did not really have as much time as I had wanted as we took a time-consuming wrong turn on Route 86, taking us back to I8.

At first, Anzo Borrago looked unimpressive, but it is said to be the area where the Sonoran and Mojave Desert overlap. We took a turn off the main road and almost immediately spotted some Feros – F. cylandraceus but with huge spines, in bud and after a thorough search, a plot with three or four plants in flower (between Julian and the Borrago Valley’ in Pilbeam’s book). It was accompanied by the three Opuntia that we had also seen with these Fero’s around Vd Trinidad, but we failed to find any of the other Sonoran cacti. We spent too long searching for plants in flower – went back to the main road and almost immediately found much better stands of it. While getting back in the car after this second stop, I spotted some different golden spines amongst the Chollas and E. engelmannii was added to today’s list. Back out of the car to check the low hill for more Echinocerei and I tripped over a Mam. (these are a real pain to ID as environmental conditions can change their appearance while in other places two consistently different Mams will occur together. My solution is to take as many pictures of the extreme different plants and anything in between and pay a visit to Uncle John (Pilbeam) for an opinion or two.

Then, on the way back to the car, there was O. basilaris – the link with the Mojave Desert! There was also an Agave, A. desertii.

As a result it was a bit of a rush and it would be good to revisit this place. Despite the delays we managed to get back to San Diego before sunset and found our first night’s Motel 6 very easily. We’ll be here tonight and tomorrow night before Alain leaves at 5:45 Saturday morning.

The drive from the Park is very interesting from scenery changing from bare hills, like the Atacama, to forested hills, like the run up to the Swiss passes. Then the clocks went back 50 years as we entered the village of Julian with real old style houses, just like the Waltons. No time for stops or pictures this time.

This road hits I5 and I 15 north of San Diego, at Vista, where C&Js are, so one option would be to find digs around there. Mark Fryer used to work at C&Js and is taking me around there next week, so I’ll check out options.

I found us a reasonable Chinese restaurant near the Motel – impressive interior design, nothing too special about the food, but then Anton, Angie & I get spoiled in Southampton every 1 st Tuesday of the month (when I’m around).

So, now it’s down to sorting pictures, Alain repacking and seeing if Sea World is an option before taking the car back.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 – Tucson to Yuma

It’s with mixed feelings that we approach San Diego – we’re now only some 200 miles away and plan to do the last stretch tomorrow via the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Today we left Tucson in good time for the longish (197 mile) drive to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The Motel was one without breakfast facilities, but we were sure that we could pick up breakfast along the way. Our friend, Michael Newberry, had suggested that we take the old Ajo Way (AZ 89) to a village called Why (so we had to play the silly Have / Havant game that Angie & I fall into every time we drive past it). I wanted to take a picture of me and the town sign but forgot. Why? etc….

Only problem that this old road has: no eating facilities along its full length. Never mind, we said, we’ll combine breakfast with lunch at the Park. Wrong! No eating facilities at the Park!

Never mind, we did the 21 mile Ajo loop, took some terrific pictures of cacti – the light has been very kind to us of late. The Echinocerei (E. engelmannii and E. nicholii) were in bud and Mam. grahamii in flower, so if the kind weather continues, things should be great for March.

The Desert Golden Poppy (Eschscholzia glyptosperma) – or it could be the Mexican Golden Poppy (E. californica ssp. mexicana) were in full flower, providing some shots to complement my Chilean Desert in Flower pictures – the spring flowers have been a real treat after heavier than usual rains up to 3 days before we arrived on 1 Feb.

The loop should only have taken an hour, but with all the photo stops took 3, so that we had another long drive, reaching Yuma at 5:30 as the sun was getting low. We had still not had breakfast or lunch – just a few oatmeal biscuits. Must do better.

Ian & Cliff: I suggest we keep our options open for a US leg to the March Baja trip. Do bring some maps of California and Arizona so that we can plan as we get back towards the border and decide what it is you want to see and haven’t seen already. By the time you arrive, I should also have some experience of the nurseries in California.

The list of cactus species seen this trip is looking quite impressive and is still being worked on.

Two phrases between Alain and I seem to dominate this trip. In Mexico, after one of us tried our best in Spanish, it was ‘I didn’t know you were fluent!’ ‘Oh, I’m fluent alright, but not in Spanish!’

The other is ‘Where are the car keys?’ This because although we have two keys – meant as one for each of us – they are both on a thick metal wire that so far we have not been able to break apart. So who ever misplaces his key does so for ALL the keys.

Today, as we were very tired after our long drive without food, when we eventually left the diner after the only meal of the day, and found the keys, we cursed the remote opening function – only to find that we were trying to get into the wrong car – ours was parked around the corner!Never mind.

Back at the Motel, Alain went to get some bottles of water for tomorrow and left the shop accidentally by the emergency fire exit, setting off all the alarms. ‘Never mind’ the lady said ‘the full eclipse of the moon will soon be over.’ There was indeed an impressive eclipse in progress, which we blame for anything that happens for the rest of the day.

Perhaps we should call this the ‘Never Mind’ Tour.

Must look at today’s 210 pictures (each). Some more impressive clouds, Chris!