Today produced eleven stops, as we entered Huasteca Canyon this time from the Saltillo end. The intention was to go as far as yesterday’s turn around point and then turn back. However, the track was so bad in places and the turn around point was somewhere in the middle, that we opted to form a convoy of three cars – we were the meat in the Mexican sandwich – and return to the Santa Catarina / Monterrey end from where we could pick up a fast freeway for the last 80 km home. As a result, the stops tended to be brief, with probably more time in the car than any of us had wanted, but the plants seen were worth it.
We left Saltillo around 8:30 a.m. and made straight for a stop near the place that John called the Chicken Farm Stop, when he visited the place with Charlie Glass and Bob Foster in 1973. Unfortunately, the chicken farm seems to have made space since the 1970s to become a junction of the Mex 40 and Mex 57, major highways that between them have gobbled up lots of cactus habitat
As a result, today’s first stop was not the original ’73 location, but it seemed likely that the hills around here would host most of the plants listed. S1817 celebrated the fact that we had managed to find a track off the Mex 40 and were at the foot of a mountain to be explored in detail later. During our ten minute stomp around, we found Thelocactus rinconensis (s.n. T. phymatothelos), large plants in advance bud but with the white flowers struggling to open fully through the heavy spination. I thought of Cliff, as the genus Thelocactus is (one of?) his favourite(s). The location is marked, Cliff, for a future Thelocactathon. Also found: Mammillaria pottsii, and Echinocereus stramineus (?)
S1818 was a Eunice stop, from a previous visit last June, just on the other side of a wired off project from the previous stop, but a bit higher up the hill: Plants seen in the order that we found them: M. pottsii, Ariocarpus retusus, E. stramineus, Coryphantha sp. (C. radians?), Thelocactus bicolor, Echinocereus pectinatus (?), Mammillaria heyderi ssp. meiacantha, Cylindropuntia spinosior, C. tunicata, and C. leptocaulis.
We now followed the dirt track into Huesteca Canyon, but still on a broad plain with the mountains slowly moving in on us. S1819 was prompted by a clump of Echinocereus viereckii (?) in full bloom. Also found: O. rufida, Mammillaria heyderi ssp. meiacantha, C. leptocaulis, C. spinosior, Echinocactus spinosior, Agave scabra and Yucca thompsonii (?)
The excuse for S1820 was a large twin of Ferocactus pilosus / stainsii – not sure which name got stuck to this plant. As we were taken its picture, we saw groups of much larger plants some 100 m away. It was as though the desert had been designed as a practice track for the 100 m hurdles, as we sped to these groups. They were in full bud and some of the flowers were beginning to open. Also found, a different flat padded Opuntia sp., denser spined than what we’ve been calling O. engelmanii, A. scabra, Echinocereus sp., Tillandsia recurvata (often seen, not always photographed or mentioned). Soon after we carried on, a heavy duty iron gate with ‘we mean business’ padlocks, blocked the road. We went back to an earlier fork in the road and took that.
We had been admiring an orange-yellow flower, like the Californian Poppy (Escholtzia sp.) for a while. Now we were coming along massive groups along the roadside, worthy of pictures (S1821). Of course we continued to look our for cacti and found C. leptocaulis, a much more robust form than the pencil thin cladodes usually seen; could this be a hybrid with the other Cylindropuntia here, C. spinosior? And if so, here, why not in the other places where we had seen both species together? Agave scabra was still here as was a small globular cactus with a huge magenta flower, a Gymnocactus perhaps? or an Echinomastus? In fact there were a few candidates for this genus, perhaps because I don’t know it well enough? There was also a flat padded Opuntia with a variegate-like marking on the pads. Interesting, but unlikely to warrant a taxonomic name.
S1822 was just five pictures taking of the Ferocactus stainsii growing on a steep cliff face.
At S1823 I’m suggesting Turbinicarpus (Gymnocactus) knuthianus for a small globular cactus. Also near there we saw Agave gentryi.
S1824 was past the sign for Llanitos, a small hamlet, population 18 on one sign, 19 on another. Soon after we saw Agave parresonia (a close relative to A. parryi). There was even an Agave posing as an epiphyte high in the trees – one more for the ‘unusual epiphyte’ corner of a future talk. Also photographed, an Opuntia sp. hanging down the cliffs, pretending to be a promising hanging basket subject.
We reached the village of El Pajonal, rather concerned at the lack of progress and considering to turn round. No cacti, just scenery, but very nice. (S1825).
So what was the quickest way back to the hotel? Via Monterrey, or back the torturous route that we had come? We asked people in the village of El Pajonal: via Monterrey was their suggestion. As we turned the corner out of the village, there was the sight that Eunice had been wanting to show us (S1826): Agave victoria reginea growing ‘on the flat’, rather than zoom lens range on cliff faces. Due to the late hour, and the need to get back in day light, we allowed ourselves just eleven minutes here, until some of the locals invited us to form a three car convoy to town. It was long enough to take 44 images, many of the Agave, but also some from the local Echinocereus that is keeping me awake trying for an ID. I’d call it Echinocereus adustus, but that plant is not reported from this area, and none of the Echinocereae that are, fit this plant. Interesting! [Since coming home, a bit more searching suggests that Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp armatus is the closest fit and reminded me that some of the Echinocerei that I’ve been calling ‘E. pectinatus’, might be forms of E. reichenbachii or E. rigidissimus.]
S1827 is just for the scenery as we bounced for another 90 minutes through some of the most incredible scenery. The Andes are impressive, but here, the mountains press much closer in on you, sometimes making you doubt that there is room for a road to pass through.
Another great day! But long, and with 307 images to take home as souvenirs.
The other event worth reporting was that there was a power cut that took out all the electricity for our hotel and the one next door, plus the shared restaurant. We were enjoying a bottle of Casillero del Diablo – Cabernet Sauvignon and guacamole as starters. They let us have the guacamole for free, but we had to pay for the wine, before crossing the road to a Brazilian restaurant for the usual unlimited meat feast that we had experienced earlier on our travels in Brazil.