Yesterday we got up in Alpine to sub-zero (centigrade – i.e. freezing) temperatures but during the day the temperatures soared, It seemed that Mexico seemed to be ‘enjoying’ a mini heat wave – after all, it is only February!
In 2010 we managed to get lost in an extensive quarry near Castaños, south of Monclova, that meets the need of the local cement factory. We had found some exciting plants, but failed to find Turbinicarpus valdezianus that seems to grow a bit farther along and a bit higher up. Then I was a bit sceptical to find Turbinicarpus so far north, expecting to have to travel farther south, but after doing some homework in the intervening summer months I learned that this plant does indeed get as far as Monclova, so we had another go, this time ignoring the reference to Ariocarpus, Epithelantha and friends that we already found last year. It took us several stabs to avoid the warren of tracks that would only have taken us to last year’s spots. But we were now farther away from the foot of the hills and a couple of hundred meters below where the books says it should grow – but plants don’t read books, do they?
S2257 was in a river bed that seemed not to have seen a drop of water in years. Now, looking for Thelocephala in the dry and bare Atacama Desert is one thing, especially when they are in flower, but these Turbinicarpus are at least as small and although the area was dry, it was covered by plants that included: Agave asperrima (s.n. A. scabra), A. lechuguilla, Coryphantha nickelsae, Echinocereus enneacanthus, E. pectinatus, Epithelantha micromeris (var. greggii is reported from here), Euphorbia misera, Mammillaria sp. and Opuntia sp. plus lots of dried grasses. So plenty of things to distract the camera and hide the plants that we were hoping to find. We did not find any Turbinicarpus.
Time was approaching noon and it got unbelievable warm – above 30C according to the car’s thermometer (yes Cliff, I realise that this is not the ‘real’ temperature, but it was the only indicator we had to quantify how hot it was.)
We tried another track to get to nearby S2258. We agreed a mark of a tree with large Agave to its right as the marker of how far we would try before turning back. We reached the spot and found only what we had seen already. A car engine started up at a nearby house and the truck went off along the track that we had come in on. He must have spotted us on the hill, because he turned round, parked his car near by and walked a couple of hundred meters to our car. Eunice was first back. What did we want? Photos. Of plants. Of cacti. We showed him some pics on the monitor of our cameras. Large or small? he asked. Small. I showed him the pics in the Turbinicarpus book (thanks Angie, for the loan). Ah, he said, overthere! pointing into the hills beyond his farm. How much time to get there? Eunice asked. 10 – 15 minutes. And so we abandoned our search at S2258 – to discover later that we had been 211 meters from the GPS co-ordinates for Turbinicarpus valdezianus.
The track that he had pointed to was soon getting to a state where we needed to think about our tyres and hence our health and safety. Why do rental companies provide meaty all weather / terrain tyres. I guess they do if you ask, then charge a lot more for the heavy duty off-roading that they expect you need them for. Common sense told us to turn round and we agreed.
I’m convinced that the 211 m. distance did not prevent us from finding the turb. It was probably where we had been looking and it was just too dry and overgrown for us to spot them. The time budget was spent and the heat made the airconditioned car a much more attractive place and so we moved on.
We had to drive right through Monclova to take Highway 30 towards Candela and Bustamante. Eunice had a spot for Agave victoria-reginae. My worst fears were confirmed when we got there – S2259. ‘Vicky’ tends to like growing on sheer rockwalls and although the hillsides here were not sheer, they were across a fence with a good 500 m. walk to get to the bottom of the hills. A few km earlier we had been stopped and questioned by an army patrol. These ad-hoc blockades are always more tense than the fixed inspection points where the soldiers are usually bored after days of routine checks that turn up nothing – all the bandits know how to avoid them! I felt uncomfortable about crossing the fence here – Eunice agreed and the sun was a good partner to convince us – too hot!
We did look through binoculars and zoom lenses and blew up the images later, but the stalks that we saw were wrong for ‘Vicky’.
We drove on to Bustamante and after in to Hotel Ancira where we were greeted as old friends after our stay last year we went to the last stop of the day, this time S2260 (S1793 last year). The sun, now low in the sky, was giving plants and landscape a warm hue but a brisk wind was cooling us down. Followers of the Stonehenge Hattery will be glad to know that the new hat I bought at REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.) in LA has a chin strap that made sure that this hat stayed on. Oh yes, what did we see? Agave asperrima (s.n. A. scabra), A. lechuguilla, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, Echinocereus enneacanthus, E. pectinatus, Epithelantha micromeris and Mammillaria sp.
Bustamante is a really nice cozy village and I can recommend it to anyone travelling through the area, with Hotel Ancira as a good place to lay your head.