As Angie reported the first scraping of frost from the car windscreen to get her into a good mood for work, we prepared for a day in the Pan de Azucar National Park.
Florencia back at base in Lonquen and Juan, our man on the spot had managed to contact a friend who had been a National Park ranger, in charge of the operation at Pan de Azuca. He still had plenty of contacts, so emails were fired off to the CONAF operation in Copiapoa who had sanctioned our visit to ‘the parts that lie beyond the recent barriers’ to the man in charge at Chañaral who in turn had granted authorisation to the rangers in the Park to let us go where we asked. This included, in principle at least, a visit to the Pan de Azucar island, where there is a Humboldt Penguin colony who nest between the cacti. When I visited such a colony on Isla Chañaral and Juan did the same on Isla Damas, the cactus that they had chosen for their burrows were the pendant stems of Eulychnia chorosensis. But the Eulychnia here was understood to be E. iquiquensis. and had it developed a pendant habit on the island? We still don’t know, because although the authorisations were in place, the fishermen who needed to take us to the island said that the waters were too rough for their pangas. Although the Ocean seemed smooth enough, there were big waves breaking over the rocks off the island. There was no formal landing zone so it would have been a landing from a small boat being thrown about by the waves, onto rocks often covered by water and therefore slippery like ice due to seaweed growing on it. Common sense dictated that we abort that mission this time.
But back to the events of the day. Pedro, the superintendent at Chañaral met us at the supermarket, hoping to get a lift into the Park, as his car was being repaired. As we were quite full with our luggage and 4 people, he rang ahead.
We made a stop before reaching the southern entrance to the Park (S2016) where C. cinerascens and C. serpentisulcata grew together at km 9. Nice to get both species in the same picture as it illustrates the differences best. Weather was quite overcast, not unusual for the Atacama – just like the Marine layer in California.
We moved on to a small cove (S2017) for more C. cinerascens and C. serpentisulcata, before driving on to km 19 – just before the sign announcing that the cacti along the road are C. cinerascens. Here we put John and Mark to the test for finding Thelocephala. They passed with flying colours, in finding Eriosyce (Thelocephala) odieri ssp kraussi s.n. T. malleolata at S2018.
We then went to various ranger stations around Caleta Pan de Azucar before eventually receiving the key to a chain that blocks the road on the way to Las Lomitas. First we had to drive past the sign posted track for c 200 m. to avoid a fixed barrier across the track. There was a side track that got back to the original track. The chain is in the narrow canyon where in 2003 Cliff screeched to a halt as he had spotted Eriosyce rodentiophila on the rocks.
We were very pleased to once again reach Las Lomitas (S2019). One of my goals was to retake a picture that I wanted to use for the Eulychnia book. It shows the man made fog nets that were used in experiments of how much water could be collected in this way, surrounded by Nature’s own fog nets, Eulychnia, covered in lichen and algae. I’ll have to use photoshop instead, to remove a mark, made by dirt on the camera sensor, because the clouds were in and did not present Las Lomitas at its best. We found C. esmeraldana and Cylindropuntia invicta as well. However, the foxes were missing, having moved on when the area was barred to visitors. Rangers also talked of packs of feral dogs becoming a problem to visitors and wild life alike.
S2020 was at the point where the track to Planta Esmeralda joins the track along the ridge leading to Las Lomitas, producing more images of C. esmeraldana and Eulychnia iquiquensis.
For S2021 we dropped down the track a bit to where the densely spined C. cinerea ssp columna-alba (s.n. C. melanohystrix) grow, as well as C. esmeraldana and Eriosyce (Thelocephala) esmeraldana.
Unfortunately we had to return back the way we came, back to the ranger station and then out of the Park in the east to meet R5 and head for Taltal.