Tuesday, 17 March 2009 – Hidalgo del Parral to Guachochi
Eunice had asked if we could drive in the opposite direction to where we would spend the night, so that we could see Agave flexispina, about 30 km south of Hidalgo del Parral on MEX 45. As we have tended to find interesting cacti where ever we have looked for Agave, we raised no objections. As we approached the area where Gentry reported these plants some 50 years ago, things did not look too good. We had developed the art of Agave stalking, and there were no stalks to be seen.
We took a turning to the Presa Santa Rosalia, a water reserve. The scenery was as illustrated in Gentry’s book: open grassland hills, but without the Agave. We went on to the water’s edge of the Presa, (S1350) and a good job too. We just went through the motions of looking for plants when really we felt that there were none to be found and BINGO, a globular cactus. But what was it? I thought for moment that I was back in Argentina, as this cactus had naked buds and looked very much like a Gymnocalycium. After consulting my colleagues, we narrowed the choice down to Coryphantha or Thelocactus – do Thelocactus have a grove along part of their tubercles? And then the naked buds clinched it: Thelocactus bicolor ssp heterochromus – the form known as ‘var. pottsii’. And then another cactus: Mammillaria sp. (heyderi?), flat as a pancake. And of course there were the usual selection of Cylindropuntia and Opuntia (one each). But no Agave.
Very pleased with our cactus stop, but disappointed that we had not found the Agave, we drove back and made a brief stop before reaching MEX 45 (S1351) where I thought that I had seen some cacti earlier. The Opuntias here had enormous pads – Alain measured a couple at 40 cm diameter. I heard a crunchy sound underfoot and found that I had stepped on a dead globular cactus with very distinct spines – Echinocactus (Homocephala) texensis. We carried on looking, following the principle that if you find one, there have to be others, but to no avail. Just one more Mammillaria sp. (heyderi?).
Still on the track back to MEX 45 we stopped to let Cliff close a cattle gate behind us. (S1352). As I looked out of the window, I could not believe my eyes. There, underneath the barbed wire fence, stood a small Agave! Agave flexispina! And as others looked for more plants, I spotted another from the car, also under the wire. Alain took a look at the other side of the road and there he found a hillside full of the plants! They were on a gently down ward slope that took them out of our field of vision. Any flower stalks had been cut down, as though in an attempt to conceal the plants. No wonder that we had not seen them on our way to the Reservoir.
Eunice asked if we could drive the few miles farther south to Gentry’s reported location (S1353) where we found a couple of plants right alongside the road. While taking their picture, Eunice shouted: ‘What is this?’ The plant next to Agave flexispina was Echinocereus pectinatus, a large and venerable plant. Again, where there is one ……. And so we found a dozen or so more, all ages, some in bud. And a few specimens of Thelocatus bicolor ssp heterochromus ‘var. pottsii’ and just a couple more Mammillaria sp. (heyderi?).
We found our way back into H.d. Parral and out again, this time on MEX 24 heading west. After a while this road seemed to become MEX 432 before turning into the MEX 23. We had left he flat plains that were characteristic of the south east of H.d. Parral and were back into the Sierra Madre Occidentalis with wonderful scenery. S1354 was a quick stop at km 21, La Piedra, for a couple of large Agave parryi along the side of the road.
S1355 was for scenery shots taken from the car. and S1356 was a ‘leg stretch’ stop where I spotted some Echinocereus pectinatus growing out of the rocks along the side of the road and Fouquieria splendens and Opuntia sp. on the rocks above the road. Alain and Cliff had taken the opposite side of the road and were outside earshot. On their return they reported E. sp. (enneacanthus?), E. pectinatus, Mammillaria sp. (heyderi?), M. sp. #2 (grusonii?) and T. bicolor ssp heterochromus.
We pulled over again farther along the road (S1357) and found huge Agave parryi. Alain had pulled up on a track that finished at a gate. While we were photographing Agave’s, a car pulled up behind him. We could see some discussion going on, the gate being opened and the other car and ours driving in. We walked over, as there were A. parryi here to be photographed inside the barbed wire fence. The other car was driven by a lady a few years older than we are, plus an elderly gentleman, her father. She invited us to drive along the track to her modest home (her words – and true) where we parked the car and followed her on foot down a track that ended in a mirador with a wonderful view below us into a canyon. We believe that they were members of the local Indian tribe. She (Maria Elena) explained that they had not much money, but that their farm went on for many kilometres – it was probably the size of Luxembourg! In England, few people could afford a house with a view like that and own the land that we could see and beyond. Wealth is a relative thing. She explained that she and her parents had lived here all their lives. There were no cacti here, but some on the other side of the canyon, too far for us to explore in the time before sunset.
Another great day and we arrived tired and satisfied in Guachochi, from where we will drive tomorrow through the Barranca del Cobre – Copper Canyon, to Creel.