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Archive for February, 2009

Saturday 28 February 2009 – rest day at Buena Park

With all pictures safely backed up onto my plug in hard drive I was able to see that I have so far 16,575 images taking up 94 Gigabyte during the last 120 days, an average of 138.125 images per day. As you can tell, we’re getting bored.

Friday 27 February 2009 – Long Beach to Buena Park

The plan for today was to rest, do our washing (so that we could enter Mexico with clean clothes) and catch up with writing the Diaries for the last few days. Great plan, BUT it turned out that the Motel 6 we were staying in at Long Beach did not have a Laundromat. A search on the internet revealed that the Motel 6 Buena Park – Knotts Berry Farm ticked all the boxes, and so Eunice kindly interrupted her rest day to pick us up and drive us over.

On re-reading my notes for 25 February, at S1287 I should have mentioned that we also found Opuntia sp. (probably O. chlorotica) and Grusonia sp. probably G. parishii.

Thursday 26 February 2009 – Barstow to Long Beach

We were all really feeling the affects of yesterday’s climbs, with our muscles and my back reminding us that this is a young person’s game. You’d better get used to it again, body, as there is another month to come!

Juergen had sent us details of the ‘TRUE’ Sclerocactus albispinus location, near Victorville, on our way back to Long Beach, so off we went, taking Scenic Historic Route 66, although apart from a few signs, there was little to justify the ‘scenic’ or ‘historic’. The instructions were to drive to Victorville, then to drive past the cement plant and before the power lines crossing the road, park the car and walk across the railway line and there were the plants.

The complications began when we found several cement works and an electricity substation from which power cables spread in all directions, crossing the road in various places.

There was a view point over the characteristic landscape (S1289), but it seemed to us that to get into it, we’d have to cross a river and a railway line to be faced with a sizeable hillside with large boulders. As per usual, we were on a time budget, and still aching, so the prospect of clambering over these boulders was about as welcome as the thought of an ice cold shower.

Eunice provided us with the perfect excuse to abort this mission after taking many pictures of the area so that Juergen can point us in the right direction for a future occasion: her D300 seemed to have picked up some dirt on the sensor during a lens change a few days earlier, so had to be back at Nikon Servicing in El Segunda before 3 p.m.

We made it in time, and while Eunice was checking in the camera, for pick up 24 hours later, I took a picture of 4 large pots of Strelitzia in flower, then noticed a hummingbird feeding on the flowers. More pictures, but just filed under today’s date rather than as a special Stop number.

To finish off the day, we made two stops along the Pacific Shore line at Palo Verdes. Posh houses along one side of the road or a main road coming down the hill, but in both cases a steep shore side cliff with Dudleya overlooking the Ocean. Nice and relaxing in the afternoon sun, waves crashing on rocks etc. (S1291 and S1292). S1292 was in fact the same spot (San Vincente Fishing Beach) where Eunice took me in February 2008, to show me my first Dudleya in habitat. It seemed as though this time the plants had had much more rain and were larger. I’ll have to wait until I get home in April to compare sizes.

The last stop of the day, and of our California Adventure, S1292, has in fact no cacti or other succulent plants but is dedicated to pictures taken from the car as Eunice gave us the tourist tour of Long Beach driving over a couple of huge bridges. Although I was aware of San Francisco’s Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, I had no idea that LA also boasted a couple of big ones. I should have taken pictures of their names, but focussed on their architecture and structure instead. A quick look on Google revealed more than you’d ever want to know, but I’ll let you decide:

The first bridge that we crossed was the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Tomorrow and Saturday are rest days – a chance to catch up on Diary writing, doing our washing, start looking at the next Cactus Adventure: Mexico! that starts on Sunday night when Alain Buffel arrives at LAX from Brussels.

Wednesday 25 February 2009 – Shoshone to Barstow

It was time to start the journey back to Long Beach. Getting up was hard until my pain killers kicked in to dull the back ache. An early stop (S1283), along the Old Spanish Trail Highway, allowed the muscles to relax a little.  Echinocactus polycephalus with the early morning sun bouncing off its spines, made me forget any pain, at least until the first ground squirrel den collapsed below my feet and sent a jolt back up the spine. No pain – no gain! Ferocactus cylindraceus‘ yellow spines provided the gold to complement the silver of the E. polycephalus spination against the multicoloured rocks. Opuntia basilaris, Yucca schidigera were also present in a stunning scenery.

S1284 found us back at the Excelsior Mine Road where on 23 February we made a series of short stops, all grouped under S1276. One of these brief stops was this exact spot! The reason that we were back was that this time that Eunice had a precise GPS location for Agave utahensis

That day, we had learned that sometimes flower stalks are cut off to harvest seeds, so instead of ‘stalking’ them, we had to find another way to find these plants – spreading out (all three of us!) and exploring on foot. Notes and GPS data suggested that we should explore to the south of the road, where there were lots of massive Nolina parryi. Regular readers of this Diary will have become used to my poor spelling, often caused by poor light conditions, as I type up notes early in the morning, and don’t want to switch on a light and wake up Cliff, while in the evening my eyes are tired and dry, or streaming with tears caused by irritation of cleaning materials used at our Motels. However, here spelling matters as in conversation I readily confuse Nolina with Nolana, a genus of plants commonly found in Chile and Peru. The exact position of Nolina is also confusing, sometimes it is placed in Agavaceae, sometimes in Nolinaceae, or Ruscaceae or in Asparagaceae. So please use whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to be clear, Wikipidea (a convenient but not necessarily authoritative source) says: ‘

Nolina parryi (Parry’s Nolina or Giant Nolina) is a flowering plant in the family Ruscaceae, endemic to Joshua Tree National Park and the Kingston Range in the Mojave Desert in California. It grows to 0.3-2.1 m tall, as high as 4 m when in flower, with a trunk up to 60 cm in diameter, and a dense head of 65-220 spirally arranged, linear leaves 50-140 cm long and 2-4 cm broad. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants; the flowers are white, produced on a tall plume-like flower stalk that normally appears in late spring.

While we enjoyed taking pictures of these giant Nolinas, and Cylindropuntia echinocarpa, Echinocereus engelmannii, Ferocactus cylindraceus, Opuntia basilaris, O. erinaceae ssp ursina and Yucca schidigera (renamed ‘shin digger’ by Cliff, who has the scars that prove the point), Agave utahensis remained illusive. Until Eunice shouted that she had found it. Standing next to the car?!?!

Cliff & I scrambled back down the hill to see what all the excitement was about, and Eunice explained that if we looked up a narrow canyon on the other side of the road, we’d see a limestone hillside in the distance, with at the top the flower stalks of our target plant. The painkillers were working fine and while Eunice and Cliff were still deciding the best route, I was half way there already, stopping every now and then to take pictures, catch my breath and plan the next 10 steps forward, getting ever closer all the time.  Then a shout from Eunice – she had found a Dudleya! Most unexpected for me, as I tend to associate these plants with Pacific Oceanside habitats. But ten steps later, I stumbled across one as well! To this, add all the species from across the road and add Agave utahensis at the top of the hill (S1285).

Cliff had climbed up the other side of the canyon and found the same plants there. Plotting the location on Google Earth helps to identify the limestone hills in satellite view, so should make it easier to find further locations for a future visit.  I’m not sure if the plants we found were subspecies eborispina or not, I’ll have to do some reading to discover how they are supposed to differ, but they were nice plants, as long as you ignored the ones with the flower spikes that had guided us to the location, because they were of course, dead.

Back on Excelsior Mine Road, we reached the remains of the Excelsior mine and made a fortunate wrong turn, because right along the side of the road were limestone hillsides and no more than ten yards from the car grew Agave utahensis.  I admit that I enjoyed the fun of the chase for the previous finds, but this one along the road (S1286) was very welcome for my back, as it had begun to cease up again after 10 minutes or so in the car. One more surprise: as well as the omni-present Echinocereus engelmannii there was also E. mojavensis, now E. triglochidiatus ssp mojavensis, having also been regarded as E. coccineus ssp mojavensis. No wonder that plants in habitat are not labelled – some one would have to go round changing all the names each time that a botanist changes them. Mind you – not a bad job, to be paid as ‘botanical label changer’, or even better: ‘botanical label changer inspector’! This was the only location where we saw this taxon.

My mid day painkillers were over due, so, after taking them, I think I dozed for most of the way to a stop in the Clark Mountains. Here we were supposed to see Agave utahensis ssp nevadensis. By now we were experts at Agave stalking and once the GPS said we were there, we found ourselves surrounded by hillsides full of them, but each required another formidable climb. But, needs must – so before too long we had reached the ridge of the hill, only to be almost blown back by the strong wind. (S1287). Wikipedia says of the Clark Mountains:

The Clark Mountain Range is located in eastern California, north of Interstate 15 and the community of Mountain Pass. The ranges stretches approximately 15 miles (24 km) in a southwest-northeasterly direction, beginning in the Mojave National Preserve, and ending near Stateline Pass, about one mile (1.6 km) from the Nevada border. Clark Mountain, at 7,929 feet (2,417 m) above sea level, is the principal peak of the range. The foothills of the range are in creosote scrub and Joshua tree forests, which adjoin the dense Joshua tree woodlands atop Cima Dome. Higher up, pinyon pine and juniper grow on the “sky island” which occasional rains create above 6,000 feet (1,800 m). The north side of the crest contains a small forest of white fir trees, which is extremely difficult to reach. Clark Mountain is one of three mountain areas where these rare trees persist; Kingston and New York Mountains are the other two areas where the Rocky Mountain white fir can be found in California.

The small town of Mountain Pass, CA, is located at the foot of the range. The Moly Mine Corporation mines rare elements from the mountain, including radium, cadmium and other metals. Attempts to transport the mine waste out of the area have resulted in several toxic spills. The range contains Keany Pass and the Umberei Mine.’

As well as all the previous listed taxa, Yucca brevifolia had re-appeared. ‘Why is it called the Joshua Tree?’ we asked ourselves, and have been asked, so a quick search on Google suggests:

The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

The surprise here was Echinomastus johnsonii (I think). ID to be confirmed.

S1288 was ‘Another-bloody-sunset’. This one started soon after S1287, with the low sun playing on the power lines of Powerline Road. It continued as the sun sank lower as we drove along I15 to Barstow. It is the only series of sunset pictures to date, taken over such a long distance and mostly at around 70 miles per hour.

Tomorrow we return to Long Beach.

Tuesday 24 February 2009 – around Shoshone

Greetings from Shoshone (population 52 according to Wikipedia, 30 according to the locals), near the entrance to Death Valley National Park, where we have switched rooms as last night the promised wifi did not materialise. Better luck today! But patchy and blocking MSN.

Brian Bates writes to report that ‘ the Oscar for best diary on a cactus tour goes to …. da da da ….. Paul Klaassen for his winter tour 2008/2009.’ Many thanks Brian, you should get out more often! 🙂

Our first mission of the day was to find Agave utahinsis var. eborispinus and we started by taking one turn too early off CA178, the Shoshone to Bahrump road, but stopped to take a look around (S1277), realising that it was the wrong track, and found Echinocactus polycephalus, Echinocereus engelmannii, a straight spined Sclerocactus sp. (is it what used to be called Echinomastus johnsonii? Sclerocactus rectispinus? there were no hooked spines), Opuntia basilaris (they don’t look so good in habitat either, until they flower and then ….. WOW!).

You’ll have noticed that during the last few days we have taken more than usual (brief) stops. This is partly due to get a good impression of what is around and partly an attempt to stop my back from ceasing up. The back got another bashing as we drove up the correct track for the illusive A. utahensis var. eborispinus and as looking for the plant involved a reasonable hike and climbing, common sense dictated that I’d spend the time making a detailed study of plants closer to the car. (S1278) where I found the same list of plants as reported for S1277. ‘Brief stop’ here turned out to be some three hours, but my compadres returned triumphantly, having found and photographed a small number of ‘the Agave that likes to grow in high, out of the way places’. We had relied on being able to spot the dead flower spikes, as is the case for so many Agaves, but it seemed that someone had already harvested any seed there might have been by cutting down the spike close to the plant. So don’t rely on this ‘stalking’ approach if you should ever find yourself on a hunt for a desirable Agave. They also reported seeing Ferocactus cylindraceus and a Mammillaria sp.

Todd had to return to LA and work, so it was another occasion of ‘take care and see you next time’ in the desert while we returned to Shoshone and headed into the Death Valley National Park.

According to internet sources, this comprises more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery, rare desert wildlife, complex geology, undisturbed wilderness and sites of historical interest. Death Valley is unique because it contains the lowest, hottest, driest location in North America. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level. Ecologically, its plants and animals are representative of the Mojave Desert.

Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth, attaining the second-highest temperature ever recorded, 134 degrees F. in 1913. Today, temperatures were very comfortable, like an English Summer’s day, but then we are in February!

S1279 and S1280 were along Highway 190 where we spotted  Echinocactus polycephalus, Echinocereus engelmannii and Opuntia basilaris.

Death Valley is said to contain the lowest point in the western hemisphere — 282 feet (85 m) below sea level near Badwater. However, this  is not true, as Laguna del Carbón in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, at 105 metre (344 ft) below sea level, is the lowest point of both the Western and Southern Hemispheres, and the 7th lowest point on Earth]. There are also numerous high-rising mountain peaks, including Telescope Peak at over 11,000 feet. Death Valley was named by gold-seekers, for their colleagues who died crossing the valley during the 1849 California gold rush.

We stopped for the usual tourist pictures (S1281) and more. I had hoped to take a picture of a cactus here, as it would be the lowest cactus habitat on record. ‘Would have been’, because Badwater is on the edge of a salt lake and unlike in Bolivia, there were no cacti to be found in habitat here. So over to Plan B – we had taken a few Opuntia pads and Eunice had bought some nice pots in San Diego and so we were able to take the ‘lowest altitude cactus’ picture of Opuntia erinacea ssp ursinus (yes, not just any old cactus!) in front of the Badwater sign and its altitude claim. Yes, we did get some funny looks as I carried the small pot and pads along the track that led into the salt lake – but then I’m quite used to getting funny looks!

S1282 was for ‘Not-another-bloody-sunset’, of which we can now run complete 90 minute presentations! But they do continue to intrigue and reminds me that the sun that is setting here is the same one that (sometimes) shines on you lot in England and, in fact on anyone experiencing sunshine in the world. My pain killers for the backache must need topping up! This sunset was recorded at Jubilee Pass Road and I managed to get an Opuntia basilaris to provide the silhouette.

Monday 23 February 2009 – Barstow to Shoshone

Today is day 116 of our ‘Once in a life-time???’ tour. If yesterday was an appetiser of the ‘return-to-cactus’ photography, today was a four course gourmet dinner that should have left us with indigestion, but instead succeeded in increasing our appetite for more to come – after all, we have to go home at the end of next month!

S1269 was at a location with the unlikely name of Zzyzx Road, honest! The plant we were hoping to find here was Mammillaria tetrancistra – or, as Eunice calls it, Mammillaria Ten Transistors. We found two small plants, eventually, as well as Opuntia basilaris.

We  were now on Kelbaker Road and S1270 was prompted by a Cholla (Cylindropuntia sp.) spotted along the road and some nice scenery. We needed a leg-stretch anyway.

Farther up the road, S1271 was a stop in the Mojave Desert National Park, and we were joined by Todd Masilko, whom we had met at the San Gabriel C&SS meeting and at the San Diego C&SS Show and Plant Sale. Todd is the twelfth person to join us in the field on this trip, since November 2008 and like the others, has to suffer receiving the Diaries until we finish our trip on 1 April.

Quite a diverse collection of cacti & other succulents here, as we found Echinocactus polycephalus, Ferocactus cylindraceus (syn. F. acanthodes ), Mammillaria Ten Transistors (sorry, M. tetrancistra), Cylindropuntia ramosissima (aka Pencil Cholla), C. echinocarpa (the Silver Cholla), Opuntia basilaris(the Beaver Tail Cactus), Yucca brevifolia and Yucca shidigera (The Mojave Yucca).

S1272 had much the same selection as the previous stop.

Still along Kelbaker Road, S1273 there were ‘different’ Chollas to the Silver and Teddy Bear Chollas that we had been seeing. The cladodes on this one were much longer than on the others, at least twice their length. C. ramosissima was also around, as was Opuntia basilaris. To complete the list for this stop, add Ten Transistors! But why do they only have 1 central spine? Were we getting the name wrong? What else could it be? Coryphanta / Escobaria vivipara? var alversonii is reported from the Mojave Desert.

S1274 was prompted by a gigantic and very photogenic Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua Tree, at Cima

Farther along Cima Road S1275 offered us Echinocereus engelmannii, Mammillaria tetrancistra and Yucca brevifolia

Cima Road turned into a dirt track and changed into the Excelsior Mine road as we drove through the Kingston Peak area S1276 is for all the pictures taken as we drove the 18 miles (29 km) before the track dropped down into flat lands where the spectacular display of cacti disappeared. We saw: Hills jam packed with Echinocactus polycephalus, Echinocereus engelmannii – a very variable plant! – Ferocactus cylindraceus (The other familiar name for these plants, F. acanthodes was found to be invalid), Cylindropuntia sp. #1, C. bigelowii, Opuntia basilaris, O. erinacea var ursina, Yucca brevifolia, Yucca schidigera and Nolina parrishii – now Yucca whipplei ssp parrishii, although Todd thinks that they are very different) with massive thick trunks.

We arrived at the Soshone Inn (the only accommodation in Soshone, population 52) just before dark and after swapping rooms a number of times, we ended up with the right accommodation but no wifi, at least not on my lap top that seems to have an out dated wifi receiver, or at least less powerful than Cliffs & Eunice’s.

Sunday, 22 February 2009 – Oakhurst to Barstow

It turned out that we had been very fortunate with the weather – yesterday may have been overcast, but today’s rain was heavy, looked to have settled in for the day and was falling as snow at higher altitudes where we had been on Saturday. So today became a driving day, eating miles on main roads and freeways.

By around 2 p.m. we had passed Fresno and were beginning to see Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua Tree and although we knew that we were going to see more and better samples, we needed to stretch our legs and I needed to gently exercise my ceased up back.(S1266). A short walk into the desert did not reveal any more plants of interest.

S1267 was a brief stop due to Cylindropuntia bigelowii appearing on the scene

Our target for the day was to see a plant recommended by Rob Skillin (S1268) of a Sclerocactus polyancistrus that he called ‘Blondie’, but that can be found on the internet under the name of ssp albispinus. The directions took us off the main road onto a dirt track called Motorcross road, so you can imagine the type of surface we were on. We then made another turning on a narrower track of equal motorcross quality – great for bad backs! The GPS told us that we had arrived and disbelieving we looked out of the window and there it was, right along the side of the road. A beautiful plant with massive long silvery spines. We found a spot to tuck the car away off the track and walked (in the rain) up the hillside, finding more plants of different ages, including a young seedling, about 2.5 inch pot size. Cliff also spotted the only Opuntia basilaris of the day, var. treleasei is reported from Kern Co., which is where we were, so that will go onto my metadata as the ID. And there was another Cylindropuntia, but looking half dead, so I can’t be sure what sp. it is.

A great day with a welcome return of cacti in front of the lens!

We made it to Barstow where we found a Motel 6 to launch us to Death Valley / Kingston Peak area.