Monday, 27 December 2010 – Vallenar to Caldera
After last November’s Thelocephalathon, John could have expected to being taken to a few cactus locations, to be bamboozeled with names and to enter up utterly confused. We kept making stops at acknowledged cactus locations and yet it seems that we could expect Thelocephala to occur anywhere that we would chose to look.
It is certainly true that Theloocephala can be hard to spot. If they are part of the flowering desert scenario their flowers are a dead give away. Now that things have dried up, plants with fruit are certainly easier to spot plant that have not yet woken up. As well as known locations we made some random stops and found Thelocephala there as well! We agreed that south of Caldera, if Thelocephala were the size of Eulychnia, we’d be driving through a forest.
We took R5 north from Vallenar – big road works going on here to turn the Vallenar to Chañaral stretch into a dual carriage way (with tolls to be charged for the favour.). Having already been along the two roads from R5 to Carrizal Bajo, this time we took the road to Totoral.
First stop was S2168, only 3 km from R5 as I wanted an ID for the Eulychnia that grew so far inland. It turned out to be . E. acida as expected. Cumulopuntia sphaerica was here as well.
S2169 was our usual stop at km 22, just about at the inland limit for C. echinoides here. The Eulychnia were still E. acida and Cumulopuntia sphaerica again attached itself to my trouser legs. An attempt to escape the Atacama?
For S2170, Juan took us to a track off the main road where we found Eriosyce (Thelocephala) odieri ssp glabrasence. Plants described from this area were originally described as Thelocephala fulva, now reduced to synonymy. C. echinoides Cumulopuntia sphaerica and Eulychnia sp (no identifying features but assumed to be E. acida) were the companion cacti.
A bit farther on it was my turn to shout ‘Stop’ as the Eulychnia now had honey coloured woolly buds and fruits – Eulychnia breviflora (S2171). The C. echinoides had a much darker body colour – probably Ritter’s C. dura came from here.
S2172 was for a surprise remainder of the Desert in Flower experience specially laid on for John as he missed out on the October and November mass flowering here. This time they were light pink plants in the Family Malvaceae that were putting on the display, but not as dense at the flowers seen earlier. There were some wonderful stands of short E. breviflora here, almost resembling decorated Christmas trees with 2-3 fruits at the top of each stem. The Copiapoa here was C. echinata and woolly seed pods kept giving away Eriocyse (Thelocaphala) odieri ssp glabresence.
Just to illustrate their abundance, we stopped at one of the ‘cactus warning’ traffic signs (S2173) for more Eriocyse (Thelocaphala) odieri ssp glabresence.
The last call of the day was Morro Copiapó (S2174) where we found the expected C. marginata and T. odieri. Usually their was a stiff wind here but today it was nice and sunny, offering some glorious views across the bay.
We reached Hotel Puerto do Sol where this time we had ‘proper’ rooms. And we managed to find Restaurant El Teatre, which was much better than any eatery we had tried in Caldera before. I’ll be back!