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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.

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