Tuesday, 12 October, 2010 – Chañaral to Taltal
Today was was a relatively light day, driving wise, as we had planned to do our usual trek into the south of the Pan de Azucar National Park, visit the view point El Mirador, on to Las Lomitas and then down towards Planta Esmeralda.
Great plan! but ……
We stopped as usual just before the southern entrance of the park, where the Copiapoa cinerascens were also showing the effect of recent moisture. Here (S1904) they grow on dark coloured rocks, making for a very nice picture with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
A bit farther along, where C. cinerascens was actually labelled and growing abundantly on sand, the paint brushes came out again (S1905). This is a sure sign that we were going to be looking for Thelocephala, this time E. (T.) kraussii, known originally from this Ritter location as T. malleolata. It turns out that I had always been looking for these a bit farther along on Playa Blanca. By the way, the paintbrushes are used to brush away the sand and dust that usually hide the plants from sight.
We made a quick stop at the ranger’s centre to see if we could get the key for the chain that blocks the track to El Mirador. Bad news! The whole northern part of the park is now out of bounds to visitors. That includes El Mirador and Los Lomitas! The excuse given was that this was to protect the guanaco, but we know that these animals are already well protected and that numbers were increasing dramatically over recent years. Ingrid had heard that a group of visitors on scrambler motorbikes and doom buggies had torn through causing lots of damage. OK, so there is a need to prevent repetition, but surely this is a little heavy handed, with some very interesting cacti no longer accessible.
Juan and I will be contacting the senior heads to see what can be done for our next visit in November. I would love to inspect the Eulychnia at the Penguin colony on Isla Pan de Azucar to see how their nesting habits differ from those on Isla Chañaral.
S1906 was for the stop at the new barrier across the track to El Mirador, but also taking in the field of C. cinerea ssp columna-alba where Angie has a date, each time that we pass with an ondividual plant that she’s christened ‘Smiler’, due to the elongated crested head.
S1907 was an impromptu stop for first one, then several Eriosyce rodentiophila. Usually these plants occur as one or two isolated individuals, but here were quite a few plants growing in close proximity from each other.
So we were forced to leave the National Park by the eastern exit, turn north on to Ruta 5, then turn left again towards Chifuncho, then south towards Planta Esmeralda.
S1908 was for some Portulaca sp at the turning to Quebrada La Madera to point the other car towards the Guanillos Valley (called Huanillos valley on sign posts).
In the Guanillos Valley we first made for the traditional C. laui stop, (S1909) where C. esmeraldana was also looking good and in abundance. I fail to see the reason for giving these plants a new name, C. angustiflora, as they look identical to plants growing with C. laui and C. grandiflora to the north of La Madera and at Las Lomitas.
S1910 was our usual visit to Alan Craig’s memorial. The Thelocephalas (T. esmeraldana) that had escaped me on previous visits were now up and reasonably easy to find, but not in flower
S1911 was a quick visit to Ritter’s Type Locality for C. columna-alba. As it was getting late, the low sun made the dense stand of plants here even more impressive.
It was really much too late to look at the population of red flowered Copiapoa near the turning to the road to Taltal. These large mound forming plants are called C. taltalensis ssp desertorum these days, but as at every visit I have only encountered red flowering plants I assume that Ritter named the plants twice to sell twice as much seed. Today, numbered S1912, it was the last stop on a very full day.
We stayed the night in Hotel Gali and had dinner in Club Taltal where we were recognised by the staff. Hotel Gali had been extended and there is now a lift to take you to your rooms on the third floor. A nice positive change after the less pleasant changes at Pan de Azucar NP.