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It was overcast as Eunice and I left nice and early to take a longer look at the Anza Borrega Desert State Park than the previous drive through with Alain on 21 Feb. Fortunately the weather cleared up fast and we managed 9 stops before bad light stopped play.

The first stop was at the place where on 21st we saw oranges or mandarins being harvested – yes, a strange sight to Europeans who have grown up with Spring = Flowering, Autumn = Harvesting Time. There were also large stands of a (probably cultivated) Opuntia. What we had not seen then but what Eunice pointed out now were Dudleya.

We made some more stops before getting to Julian, because although I had not seen any Dudleya during my solo trip yesterday, Eunice was able to spot them from a car driving along a windy road at 40 miles per hour. Even when we found a place to stop, it took me a while to find the plants! But I’m getting better. I’m now the proud owner of the only monograph of the genus ever written: ‘The Dudleya and Hasseanthus Handbook’ by Paul H. Thomson, so, once back in the UK, I can check the plants and locations where we photographed them to confirm tentative names that Eunice came up with. (Ian & Cliff might be interested to know that Eunice has access to more copies of this book, in case they get bitten by the Dudleya bug.)

She was also able to put a positive idea on the Agave / Yucca that I had found yesterday: it is Yucca whipplei.

After passing through Julian again, the road wound down towards the desert, through a mountainous boulder landscape that looked like a diluted version of the Cataviña Boulder fields in Baja. When Alain drove this on 21st, time was pushing on and light was getting worse with a low sun straight into our eyes, we were driving into the unknown and still wanted to get to San Diego! This time round there were no such pressures and by driving down hill we were rewarded by the spectacular view of the desert plain opening up in front of us. Pictures were taken. I hate driving exactly the same route that I have already travelled, so we took a side road sign posted to the Park’s HQ & visitor’s centre. About the same time we noticed all the plants that we saw on 21st: Ferocactus cylindraceus, Echinocereus engelmanii, Mammillaria grahamii / microcarpa or is it Mam. dioica here, and also Opuntia basilaris, in bud, promising to be in full flower when we next drive through here at the end of March. The Agave we saw is A. desertii var desertii.

We crossed a road that I recognised from the 21st and soon afterwards reached the visitor’s centre. They had the Sonoran Desert Wildflowers book that Alain had bought in Tucson, so that too was added to my library, as well as any free leaflet that was going.  We saw on the map that an alternative route through the park is provided by taking S2 off I-8 coming from El Centro – this for the benefit of Ian & Cliff who may want to check this out on maps before they leave. As I hate to drive the same road twice (but clearly don’t mind repeating myself in the same email), I suggest that we take this S2 route. At the same time I’d hate for them to miss the plants listed above, so we asked one of the rangers if the cacti also occur along this route. Neither she, nor a colleague ‘botanist’ could say for sure (the botanist had not yet progressed to Latin names, but did know ‘Barrel cactus’, Hedgehog cactus’ and ‘Beaver Tail’ and was sure that they occurred there. Just to be sure, Eunice gave them her phone number so that ‘the specialist ranger for that area’ can give her a call next week to confirm.

Visitor centres are embarrassingly better in these parks than in the UK, particularly if I use the Stonehenge Disaster as an example. It seemed wise to go back towards Carlsbad, but I wanted to make one more stop at the place (just over the hill) where I had found ‘my’ F. cylindraceus in flower (Alain had found a couple at the previous stop). No plants were found in flower, but there were more plants in bud and the buds were getting larger. Opuntia basilaris was also in bud and the rangers said that this usually flowers late March. E. engelmannii was also in bud.

We could not help ourselves and made a few more stops, prompted by spectacular scenery which then revealed cacti as well. Chris, I have some more great skies for you!

Darkness still comes on quicker than expected, especially as the clouds came back. At least the sun in our faces was not too much of a problem, but I did not enjoy the drive in the dark along a narrow windy road with lots of oncoming traffic with bright lights. At least I was not driving into the unknown – Eunice’s daughter lives in Carlsbad, so knew the way. She still had an hour-long drive back to Long Beach and I had convinced myself to go straight to Denny’s for a meal. But I thought I’d just take the camera back to the room, just switch on the computer, just down load today’s images, just ……. so that it’s now 90 minutes, but at least ‘the Diary pressure’ is off.

No specific plans for tomorrow, so I might explore a bit along the Ocean road and google for info on the Torrey Pine State Park where I might visit Monday or Tuesday, depending on Mark Fryer’s availability to show me around the nurseries around here. Ian, the original Rainbow Gardens is still around here as well and open to the public, so let me know of any particular titles you want me to look up and I can check if they will be open when we pass through at the end of the month.

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