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Archive for March, 2009

Tuesday, 31 March 2009 – Flights home

Alain was dully dispatched at LAX at around 8:45 a.m. while Cliff and I had another 12 hours around LA, so Eunice took us shopping for a book (Flora of the Mojave Desert) of which Alain had bought the last copy at a shop a couple of days earlier. Then on to Vern’s place, where again we were impressed and surprised of how many of the plants that we struggle to keep alive in heated greenhouses in Europe were doing very well, either planted out in the garden or in pots on the large patio.

Just one small incident on our departure from LAX – my bag weighed in at 61 lbs, with an allowance of 50 lbs, so a potential extra cost of US$ 150!! Must be all those maps and a few books that I had acquired over the last 5 months. Nobody in Chile or Peru seemed to have worried, but here the check-in clerks were on the ball. It turned out that as a long haul passenger, I was allowed two free bits of hand luggage and it just so happened that right at the bottom of my hold-luggage bag, I had a spare rucksack, having left my worn out purple monster behind at Eunice’s. So right in the middle of the departure lounge, a quick repack ensued, with dirty clothes strewn around to trip up bemused onlookers. Next hurdle, I was convinced that the guy at the check in had kept my passport as well as the tags for my bag. He claimed that he had not. So once again bags were opened and searched top to bottom when as usual, it proved that I had one more pocket than I had allowed for and this was where the missing travel document turned up.

The plane was 30 minutes late leaving and I slept most of the way to New York’s JFK where we arrived at 7:30 a.m.

Monday, 30 March 2009 – A day at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Today’s visit (S1399) had been on both Cliff’s and Alain’s wish list and although we had returned our rental car, Eunice kindly offered to pick us up and drive us there.

For me this was my fourth visit, so while the novelty factor was missing, knowing my way around by now, I was able to enjoy four hours of photography on my favourite subjects. I probably spent longest at the corner where the Creeping Devils (Stenocereus eruca) were densely planted. This had been my favourite spot last year, after seeing the plants in habitat in Baja. It seemed that this little corner had grown since then. Are they really creeping to extend their territory?

After a nice meal out and our last Margarita’s (probably the best of the whole trip), it was time for an early-ish night as Alain had to be at LAX at 9 a.m. for his 11 o’clock flight back to Brussels.

View 2009-03-30

Sunday, 29 March 2009 – Rest day at Los Alamitos

We really did very little today, other than starting the massive exercise of copying each other’s digital images to our respective plug-in hard drives, thus significantly increasing the already huge numbers of images that we had taken ourselves. Why? The exercise provides us with back ups of our images just in case some small disaster should befall our computers. Plus, it is the first opportunity of looking at each other’s images, as by the time that we have down loaded our own images each day there is no time to share what we saw with our fellow travellers.  While we tend to take pictures of each other as well as of the plants, we never get round to taking pictures of ourselves, so it is a good opportunity to collect evidence, if it were needed, that we ‘were there’.  And last but not least, as a group we see much more than as single individuals, so it is always worthwhile, if time permits, to check through each others pictures for something rare and unusual that one person saw and photographed but that had escaped the rest of us.

Eunice got the car washed and valletted and we returned our home for the last four weeks to Dollar Rent A Car in good time, where its return to the fleet went without any hitches.

Saturday, 28 March 2009 – El Cahon to Los Alamitos

We had a nice and relaxed day along the sea front, looking at Feros. Eunice had selected two spots where she and I had found them last year, the first (S1397) at Point Lomas, and the second (S1398) at La Jolla Glider port. I can’t remember the stop numbers for these locations used in 2008, so had better repeat that we found F. viridescens, in flower, both tallish solitary as well as squat and offsetting plants, casting a bit of doubt or need to clarify the differences between ssp. viridescens and ssp litoralis. Also there Agave shawii, Bergerocactus emoryi (S1397 only),  Carpobrotus sp. – an invasive African Mesemb that seems to be invading many temperate zones at the expense of the endemic vegetation, Mammillaria dioica, some in flower, Opuntia sp. (boring fa.), three different species of Dudleya, of which I’m sure one was D. edulis.  There were also some escaped Aloes, again African, that were conveniently being used as a feeding station for a hummingbird, close to where I was sitting.

Strange that an Old World plant (Aloes are restricted to the African continent) have become a favourite with the Hummingbird, a New World native, only found in the Americas. I’m sure somebody will tell me what pollinates Aloes in nature in their home habitat.

Apart from pressing camera shutter releases, we just lazed around and took in the sun in a light breeze, knowing what is in store in Europe in a few days time. Just topping up the reserves.

We’re spending the last 3 nights of our trip in a Best Western in Los Alamitos on the outskirts of LA. The off licence next door sells Belgian beer and Chilean wine, so we’ll be fine but may not be issuing many more Diary reports 🙂

Monday, 23 March 2009 – Ciudad Chihuahua to Presidio, Texas

We made a relatively early start as we had a fair distance along MEX16 to go to the border with the USA and wanted to make some stops around Coyame as there had been reports of Ariocarpus fissuratus occurring here.

We passed yesterdays stops and at km 115 decided that it was time for a leg stretch some 30 km south west of Coyame, near Santa Leticia, not found on any map that we have, but signposted along the road (S1380). We found Agave lechuguilia, Dasylirion sp. (texanum or wheeleri?), Echinocactus horizonthalonius, Echinocereus dasyacanthus – including many plants in advanced bud, E. enneacanthus, Fouquieria splendens, Mammilaria pottsii, Opuntia sp. #1, Grusonia sp. (Previously referred to as ‘a small Opuntioid that looks like a Tephrocactus, but obviously is not’) and last but not least: Ariocarpus fissuratus! This was my first Ariocarpus found in habitat, as it was for Eunice and Alain. It was Cliff who had seen them in Texas, in flower, in October 2004, who spotted the first two of a total of six plants found. Not easy when they are not in flower!

At Coyame, we decided to take the loop road to San Pedro and Chuchillo Parado before rejoining MEX16. There was a battle here between some 1500 Mexicans, Rebels led by Pancho Villa against the Federales in 1911.

On this loop we stopped first at (S1381) for cacti and found Agave lechuguilia, Coryphantha sp., Echinocereus dasyacanthus, Escobaria sp. (E. tuberculosa?), Fouquieria splendens, Mammilaria pottsii, Opuntia sp. #1, Grusonia sp., Sclerocactus uncinatus ssp wrightii.

Farther along at S1382 we found Coryphantha sp., Cylindropuntia kleinei,  Echinocactus horizonthalonius, E. enneacanthus,  Escobaria sp. Fouquieria splendens, Mammilaria lasiacantha, Opuntia sp. #1 Opunita santa-rita, Grusonia sp.  Sclerocactus uncinatus ssp wrightii, Yucca sp.

At S1383, a brief stop, mainly for scenery, we found Agave lechuguilia, Dasylirion sp., Echinocereus enneacanthus,  Opuntia rufida (?) The smaller number of taxa found probably reflects the fact that we were almost ‘cactussed out’ for the day, so that only the obviously plants were photographed ‘for the record’.

S1384 was an entirely scenic stop, as we had reached the mirador where the Rio Conchos squeezes itself through the Sierra Peguis creating the scenic Canyon del Peguis. Shame that the visitors here had used the place as a rubbish tip and graffiti exercise yard. Despite the distractions we found Agave lechuguilia, Dasylirion sp., Echinocereus  enneacanthus,  Escobaria sp. (E. tuberculosa?), Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia rufida (?) and a Yucca sp.

Having grown accustomed to the tedium and time-consuming activity called ‘border crossing’ we arrived in Ojinaga where we spent Alain’s last Peso’s on Tequila and fuelled up the car before crossing the border without any incident or cues to arrive in Presidio. The exercise had taken no more than 10 minutes (the Europeans had to be ‘processed’ again by immigration.) and yet the clocks had moved on two hours due to crossing time zones. We stayed in probably the only hotel in town, the over priced for what it was Three Palms Inn.

The change in time zones is the cause for the delay in Diaries submission.

Sunday, 22 March 2009 – North east of Ciudad Chihuahua

We headed out of Chihuahua on MEX 16, the main highway to Ojinaga and the border with the USA in Presidio, Texas. No, we were not going back to the States until tomorrow, but there were some good plant locations, but no towns that could offer accommodation between here and there, so we decided to do the route near Chihuahua in some detail, so that tomorrow we could run close to the border and do some more cactus stops nearer Ojinaga, as we want to cross the border at least by 16:00 hours – we all know what fun and full of surprises such crossings can be.

Today’s first Stop (S1374) was along MEX 16, as we saw some cacti along the roadside as we drove by at 110 km p.h. (70 mph). Good spot! Checking out the area on foot, we found Agave lechuguilia, Coryphantha sp., Echinocereus dasyacanthus – including many plants in advanced bud and eventually one plant actually with a yellow flower, wide open, E. enneacanthus,  Escobaria sp. (E. tuberculosa?), Fouquieria splendens, Mammilaria pottsii, Opuntia sp. #1, a small Opuntioid that looks like a Tephrocactus, but obviously is not,  Sclerocactus uncinatus ssp wrightii (?) the Resurrection Plant, Selaginella lepidophylla and Yucca sp. – incredible diversity of cactus flora! (Yes, I know that there are non-cactoid plants in that list as well).

S1375 was on the track to Presa Luis L. Leon, a.k.a. El Granero, a lake created by a dam built in the Rio Conchos to create a lake, the Presa. The stop was prompted by Eunice spotting a magenta flower while driving, Thelocactus bicolor in flower – dozens of plants. We also found: Agave lechuguilia, Coryphantha sp. – different from the one found at the previous stop as well as C. runyoni, Echinocactus horizonthalonius, Echinocereus dasyacanthus – more plants in flower, but with a range of flower colours from yellow to magenta, E. enneacanthus,   Fouquieria splendens, Mammilaria pottsii – in flower, Opuntia sp. #1, the small Tephrocactus like Opuntioid and Yucca sp.

It is appropriate here to mention S1378 here, a stop made on the way back from the Presa, just 300 m from S1375, but on flat terrain rather than on the rocky outcrop.  We found: Agave lechuguilia, Echinocereus dasyacanthus, E. enneacanthus,   Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia sp. #1 and the small Tephrocactus like Opuntioid, Thelocactus bicolor, and Yucca sp.

S1376 was near the lake, with a 30 m deep canyon leading to the lake. A few more rain storms is sure to wash sections of the road away. We stopped to take scenery shots but also found E. enneacanthus,   Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia sp. #1 & #2.

S1377 was yet closer to the lake and again it was Eunice who spotted a large clump of yet another different looking Coryphantha sp. It was hot (around 31 C ( 87 F) and we did not really want to go on for another stroll in the desert, but needs must, so we also found E. dasyacantus, Echinocactus horizonthalonius, Echinocereus enneacanthus,   Fouquieria splendens, M. lasiacantha (in flower), M. pottsii, Tephro-like opuntioid, Yucca sp.

From here we turned round and went back along the track & road that we came. S1378 is already covered earlier. S1379 near El Uno was for exceptionally large clumps of E. enneacanthus, in bud. I about a week’s time, this area will be awash with cactus in flower. Other cacti found were a ‘blue’ Agave sp. – planted or natural? – a different Coryphantha, with large tubercles and long spines, or was it a Thelocactus sp.? E. horizonthalonius, E. enneacanthus, and Sclerocactus uncinatus ssp wrightii.

Apologies to the non-cactophiles in the audience, but the species list of plants seen today is impressive and probably matches any habitat that we’ve seen in the last 5 months for diversity.

Life is good, even after some 5 months on the road!

Tomorrow we head for Texas.

Saturday, 21 March 2009 – La Junta to Ciudad Chihuahua

The area where we spent the night was flat and uninspiring. How were we going to find cacti here? To the east and to the north was Mennonite country. I was surprised to find how little I knew about these people. To learn more about this curious religious sect, take a look at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonites

The area where they live is flat and featureless. All small settlements are known as a Campo and given a number. The problem was that these numbers are written as text on the map we had, and in numbers on the signs, and I never took the Spanish classes where we did numbers greater than 12. Needless to say, very cm / inch of land had been cultivated and we did not even bother to look for cacti. Pictures of Mennonite country have been filed under ‘S1369 – no cacti or other succulent plants’.

We wanted to get to the Cumbres de Majalca National Park, north of the town of Chihuahua. There is only one road in, at the south-east side and we approached from the south-west, had taken the long route north, then east, then south to get there. The route north was the Mennonite stretch already discussed. When we turned east (shown as CHIH 50 on road side signs, but as CHIH 160 on the road map) we saw some low hills and as we hit the rocks, farming stopped abruptly. A few km in (still outside the park) and we stopped to take a ‘quick look’ (S1370) that was really welcome after the cactus less morning: We found Agave parryi – massive plants as well as young seedlings, Coryphantha sp., Echinocereus polyacanthus – including two plants in flower and Mammillaria barbata (syn. M. morricalli), just three tiny plants, but one in bud and the other in flower. It seems we’ve been arriving just a bit too soon for flowering here. Going through my pictures, it seems that I travelled most of the day with the camera’s GPS switched off, so will have to retrace my steps the hard way.

S1371 was a bit farther along on CHIH 50 as the road went through large patches of Agave parryi – very impressive, and some equally impressive scenery.

We hit the main Juarez / El Paso (border with the US) to Chihuahua road, MEX 45 and after some 40 km turned west on to the road into the Park. S1372 was at km 21 and on the road into the park. Here we found more Agave parryi, but also Echinocereus pectinatus / dasyacanthus – difficult to tell when not in flower, I’ll call them all pectinatus, short for ‘pectinatus complex’ for now and will read up about them when I get home (I did translate a book on this complex from German into English, for the German Arbeitsgruppe Echinocereenfreund but my memory does not go back far enough to remember the main differences). Alain got quite excited about a Euphorbia sp. that looked at first glance like Edelweiss*. We found it in flower and in fruit. It is not really succulent, but looked cute. During this time I noticed that the GPS had been off all day. So I’m back with having accurate Stop data from this stop on again.

S1373 is for scenic shots and brief leg stretches between S1372 and our turn around point in the village of Cumbres de Majalca. Plants recorded include: Agave parryi, Coryphantha sp., and an Opuntia sp – huge pads, yellow flowers, but mainly still in bud.

Tomorrow we start looking at cacti close to Chihuahua on the way to El Paso.

Dear Alain,
What you found is Euphorbia radians var. radians. Indeed, it looks very much like an edelweiss when in flower – but hidden underneath soil level there is a big tuber. It always surprises me that it isn’t more popular  in collections.
Wouldn’t its discovery make a nice article in the Euphorbia World?
Greetings Volker Buddensiek

Friday 20 March 2009 – Creel to La Junta

First an update to yesterday’s missive: The Echeveria found at S1363 was Echeveria chihuahuensis.

Today’s target was the waterfall at Basaseachi in the north west of Chihuahua with a stop on the way to attempt to find Mammillaria saboa. We had a GPS location on the Cta. de los Peyotes, so I was quite optimistic that we would find the plants. That soon changed when I saw my first cactus here (S1366), Echinocereus polyancistrus, at least that is the name reported from this general area. The plant was so dry that it was difficult to recognise. The exceptions were two Coryphanta sp. plants found by Eunice that looked almost nursery grown, in excellent shape. We were on the exact GPS coordinates and searched meticulously in a 15 m. diameter circle around it. No saboas. I did record Opuntia sp. as well. We decided that we could waste hours here without finding the plants and that I’d have to come back at a time that the plants might be in flower. Looking at the location data it turned out that the eagle eyed mam. spotter recorded his find on 12 March! So also in the dry.

S1367 was just a quick leg stretch along MEX 16 with only an Opuntia sp (boring) spotted.

S1368 was our target, Basaseachi. The walk to the falls took us through exceptional scenery. I have said it numerous times on this trip – the scenery was worth coming for, even if we did not see any cacti or other succulent plants. The bonus was again that we did: A couple of Agave sp. (one probably A. filifera), Echinocereus sp. (E. scheeri or E. polyancistrus) and a Sedum sp.

Cliff had somehow become detached from the party and in the morning had not been feeling his best – overtired due to lack of sleep. Eunice and Alain asked if we should go back to look for him, but Cliff had enjoyed wandering off in different directions in the past – no need to walk in each other’s footsteps and as we got lower to the floor of the canyon the temperature increased quite noticeably. The distances sign posted to the various view points seemed very optimistic and I began to get worried that something had happened to him and even if he had just returned to the car for a rest, we would not be able to get in as we had the keys. I decided to march back with the keys, arriving some 25 minutes ahead of Alain & Eunice. I need not have worried, Cliff came wandering from behind some rocks, had followed some different trails and had returned to the car at various intervals. Our next concern was where to sleep. The accommodation in Basaseachi itself seemed half built and did not appeal.

We decided to make a run for it to La Junta – a larger town some 130 km away. We arrived in the dark, but found a very reasonable hotel that even had the benefit of wifi so that I can send out today’s missive on time.

Thursday, 19 March 2009 – south of Creel

As we drove from yesterday’s last stop into Creel we passed a couple of signs to water falls that we decided to visit today. They always make a good scenic subject and so far we had always found cacti and other succulents near by.

And so we  took the turning east off MEX 25 to the Cascade de Cusarare except we should have turned west. Never mind. We drove through the village and sneaked photographs of the Tarahumara people, women washing clothes in the river, men ploughing fields with a horse and simple plough. We stopped (S1362) along the stream and took a look on the rocks on either side of the now almost dry river. No cacti or other succulents found.

S1363 was the stretch from MEX 25 to the west where we parked the car in a flat area with waste bins for tourists but again no one in sight.  Half way along this track Eunice spotted Echinocereus scheeri, a small plant growing in moss on one of the huge boulders along the side of the road. Plants were  covered in pine needles and leaf litter from the deciduous trees and each needed a tidy up before I took their picture – just to give Angie some competition in a future cactus photo contest. I took some ‘before clean up’ pictures as well to show plants in their natural state. This boulder also had Echeveria chihuahuensis growing on it. So far Echeveria have been hiding from us.

Before we knew it, we were back in Creel. It was only 12:30 – what next? We decided to go to Divisadera, regarded by many as the best spot on the Copper Canyon railway line. It promised to offer some excellent views in the area and did not disappoint. (S1364 – no cacti or other succulents). We took a look at the station and it seemed that a train was due to arrive – apparently the timetables for this train are for guidance only. Sure enough, just as we had taken up positions for some good shots, its loud whistle announced its imminent arrival. This is one of the few places on the line where there is a double track so that the train from Chihuahua could pass the train from Los Mochis. Alain has worked for the Belgian Railways for 30 years and realised that we were on a cactus & succulent plant trip, but his colleagues were clearly expecting him to have travelled on this famous train. Here was the opportunity!  Cliff owned up to being a train spotter as well as a plane spotter and happily joined him, while I took video clips of them boarding the train. The other train, the one from Chihuahua also arrived and nearly ran Cliff down as he crossed the track to join his train.

Eunice and I looked round the Tamahumara souvenir seller’s market and then decided to drive on towards Urique, realising that we’d never get there, as the road turned from hard top to dirt and our speed reduced accordingly.

Not a bad day at all. Tomorrow we’ll look for more waterfalls and their associated cacti & succulent plant flora.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009 – Guachochi to Creel

It was only 153 km from Guachochi to Creel, so there was plenty of time for a side trip, to the Barranca de Sinforosa. This is quoted as a major tourist attraction as it is the deepest Canyon on the North American Continent, with the floor 1,830 m (6,000 ft) below the rim.  For  such a potentially important attraction there were surprisingly few signs and out of town, the road soon turned into a poor dirt track. After some lucky guesses, we finally arrived at a gate with a sign to say the we had arrived, or rather, that we were now entering private land and had to pay admission to proceed with our car. The admission was the princely sum of 10 peso each, a little more than 70 pence (UK) or 80 cents (US) depending on how the markets have been behaving recently. Just follow the trail, we were told in Spanish. We did.

About 1 km / mile along the track we arrived at a car park, deserted, from where we could walk to a view point. (S1358). No shops, info stands, ice cream salesmen etc. just us and silence. As we walked to the edge of the mirador a scene unfolded that was absolutely amazing. Cliff and I have each visited the Grand Canyon and had been disappointed because the vista was just too large to absorb, too remote. This was much better. The only way to convey the impressiveness of this scenery is to make you wait for pictures and film clips when I get home. For readers in the USA, just ask Eunice to do a presentation of her Mexico 2009 trip. No, I’m not on commission. Plants photographed included Agave sp. (maximilliana?), Dasylirion wheeleri, Opuntia sp. (boring).

After we had taken our pictures and movie clips, we considered the track to the waterfall, the Cascade de Rosalinda – 4×4 WD vehicles only, it said. 4 km away. Cliff took over the steering wheel as my back is still touchy and a sudden jolt might have caused a jar that makes controlling a car an extra unnecessary challenge. Good choice, as for Chile travellers, this track equalled those up the Cerro Perales near Taltal or ‘Horror Hill’ near Caldera. We made it to a small car park (S1359) (also deserted) with a suspension foot bridge hanging over a narrow canyon with a 100 ft drop offering a view of the waterfall. This could be spectacular in the rainy season, but that is in Summer, so we just had a small trickle to admire. I crossed the bridge twice, in both directions while the others went plant hunting upstream. Having moved back some more ‘barriers of fear’ – a few of the planks of the bridge were missing, others were broken and if you moved too fast, the bridge started swinging – I joined in with the plant hunt. Cliff and Alain had already found a rock with cacti: Opuntia sp. (boring), Echinocereus scheerii and Mammillaria (Mammillopsis) senilis, in flower! This was a great find and while the others carried on their plant hunt, I climbed over this rock and took pictures of the (few) plants there from every conceivable angle. It turned out that I should have gone with them as they found more M. senilis, a multi headed plant with several flowers and apparently visited by butterflies. I haven’t seen the pictures yet, but I bet that they are out of this world!

It was about 13:00 when we left, still with some 170 km to drive to Creel. The MEX 25 (shown as MEX 23 on our maps) was a very good tarmac road with very few cars, so the only thing to slow us down were the spectacular views that appeared around every other corner. These pictures and a few taken at a couple of brief leg stretch stops are recorded as S1360 and included Agave sp. (shrevei ssp. magna ?) and A. filifera ssp. multifilifera (= A. leopoldii).

S1361 was at km 143, although the 4 was missing from the sign, but it was still possible to see where the stencil had been. This was a location suggested by Werner Rischer’s Chihuahua book as a location for Echinocereus scheerii and it did not take long, walking up a side track, before we had found the plants. As at the waterfall, these rocks were covered with patches of moss and it seemed that these locations were favoured by cacti and other succulents such as Echeveria sp. (E. craigiana?), tiny plants growing between the moss and the leaf litter that had been caught by them. There were a number of young seedlings from both plants here. Unfortunately the light between the hills was now too poor for photography, so time to push on.

Another excellent day plant and scenery wise.