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Archive for March, 2011

Thursday, 31 March 2011 – Tucson to Palm Springs

Not much to report: drove over 300 miles through mostly boring landscapes, bought souvenirs at the various fuel stations and general stores where we stopped for fuel or toilet needs, arrived later than expected at a huge shopping outlet near Palm Springs and spent too much money on presents and souvenirs. Had another great day, even though we did not stop to take pictures – and yet Angie took hundreds of pictures – all from the car – of the hundreds of ‘wind mills’ generating electricity just east of Palm Springs.

Had another great steak and excellent Margaritas at LG’s in Palm Springs. It’s a hard life being a Cactus Explorer!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011 – Around Tucson

Angie had told me that she’d like to prepare a program of ‘Cactus and Succulent Plant collections around the world’ to contain images of cultivated plants grown in private collections, nurseries through to Botanic Gardens.

At ten o’clock we arrived at Miles to Go (S2350) where we added images of wet plants to our portfolio, as Miles was watering – I already had pictures of many of his excellent plants from 10 days ago when they were due to be watered – it seems to be a daily activity in the dry heat of Tucson. So it is OK to water and feed your Ariocarpus in March, provided that you grow them in 80% pumice and temperatures rise to 85 F plus and the plants grow in the semi shade, under shade cloth. Again, it was all too soon before the clock suggested that we should try to visit another nursery. Once again, thanks Miles for your time and interesting information about the plants that you grow so well. Wish we had a nursery like this in the UK.

Our drive through the Saguaro National Monument proved a photostop (S2351) in its own right as we drove through a forest of Carnegia gigantea. Thank goodness for fast food, as McDonalds stopped the stomach grumbling, so that by 3 p.m. we arrived at Arid Lands (S2352), the US equivalent of Ernst and Marita Specks’ Exotica nursery in Germany. That means a comprehensive range of  other succulent plants, although if you are determined, you can find some cacti as well. Now Angie has a major headache – how to select images from the huge amount taken. And that problem will just get worse / better as the days get on.

We finished the day with a quick dash back to Picture Rock Road (S2353) , into the Saguaro National Monument,  to add more sunset pictures to our hard drives. Did I need more sunset pictures? Can you ever have enough?

Another great day!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 – Around Tucson

We had planned a day at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and as we had an early night after a steak the size of half a cow the night before, we were up early and decided to have breakfast at the Desert Museum and catch many of the exhibits before the crowds arrived. We managed to take a good amount of pictures of the local cacti and Agave with labels, for future IDs of pictures from habitat and managed to get a good number of desert animal images to place throughout the 2011 presentations for that Ooh effect; pictures taken so that it is not too obvious that these animal pictures were taken in captivity, although all will be revealed in the Credits. There were some good Hummingbird shots but the cactus wren and Gila woodpecker were taken ‘in the wild’. The javelina, coyote and Mexican wolf were safely behind wire.

By noon it had become quite hot and we had seen all the exhibits that we wanted to see, so we decided for a drive through the Coronado National Forest to Tombstone, a stroll around town, a burger in the local saloon and a bit of souvenir hunting – after all, this was a holiday as well.

We arrived back safely and booked ourselves into one of the many hotels where I-10 crosses Ina Road, a good starting point for tomorrow’s visit to Miles to Go.

Monday, 28 March 2011 – Ajo to Tucson

The rain seems to have stayed behind in California, so we enjoyed the first non stop sunshine day since Angie arrived.

We arrived at the visitors’ centre of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at around 9 a.m. and after spending about an hour chatting with the rangers (we would never have spotted two Peniocereus greggii without his help and later, on the way to Tucson his mile markers helped us to see two crested saguaro -S2346 and S2347 respectively, we started the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive (S2345). It was a stop-start drive that took us three hours to complete. Every twist and turn in the track offered a new vista of saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus. We have enough pictures of Saguaro with arms in funny and naughty poses to fill an evening long caption competition at a cactus club. At the highest part of the trail Echinocereus engelmannii was in flower. Ferocactus wislizenii and F. emoryi were the barrels on display and Mammillaria grahamii / microcarpa could be found hiding under Brittlebush and Creosote bush.

We took the Az 86 to Tucson and found the Silver Saddle Steak House without trouble. Angie agrees: best steak she’s ever had – fit for a Queen! I had the Cut for a King Prime Rib as usual.

Sunday, 27 March 2011 – El Cajon to Ajo

On my previous visits to the US there were numerous plants and places where I thought: ‘Angie would love to see this!’ so the theme of this phase of winter’s travels is to take her to those plants and places. And so we’re on our way to Tucson, Arizona. Last month when Eunice and I drove to Tucson, it was a mammoth drive, and Angie had asked if we could avoid those when ever practical – this should be a relaxing holiday as well. That’s why we left from El Cajon, rather than Bellflower and why we would spend the night in Ajo (translated: Garlic!) and why we made a side trip back into Anza Borrego so that Angie could get an appreciation of the plants and scenery at the southern end of the park.

Our goal was the multi-headed Ferocactus chrysacanthon that Juergen had first shown Eunice in 2009. She had emailed me the coordinates but I had forgotten to write them down, so we were fortunate to get a phone signal after we had entered the park so that Eunice could read out the coordinates to us while I punched them into SatNav.

We made a couple of stops before reaching the target Fero – brilliant sunshine with a cooling breeze whistling through the Fouqueria splendens – again the Ferocactus, E. engelmannii, Cylindropuntia bigelowi, Opuntia basilaris and Mammillaria dioica were in bud with one or two plants of each species in full flower. That’s the way to spend a Sunday morning.

We returned to I-8 to continue our journey east. After a few hours we stopped for fuel at a settlement called Dateland – resisted the temptation to buy a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Where the heck is Dateland?’ but bought some other souvenirs and at Gila Bend took the 85 south. We sailed through all the Border Control check points, obviously looking more like US citizens then illegal imigrants, despite my suntan after 6 months travel.

A impromptu stop north of Ajo confirmed my believe that Angie had seen Ferocactus wislizenii in fruit rather than in flower. She also spotted and photographed her first saguaro in the certain knowledge that she will see more during the next few days.

Saturday, 26 March 2011 – Carlsbad to El Cajon

Carlsbad is ideally located about half way between LA and San Diego, right along I-5. A scenic coastal drive will take you the Torrey Pines, head east for Julian and Anza Borrego or enjoy the Carlsbad Marathon next week. It was good to catch this last snippet of information as we learned that due to the marathon most hotel room was booked for our planned 2nd visit next week. No worries, there is plenty of accommodation nearby.

Eunice arrived fashionably late and joined us for the tail end of breakfast at Denny’s. At exactly 10 a.m., just as arranged, we arrived at Steven Hammer’s Sphaeroid Institute and were welcomed by the man himself. Despite the fact that it is almost impossible and most impractical for us to purchase plants to take back to the UK, Steve gave up his morning to guide us through his shade houses and show us some of his favourite curiosities. This was my third or fourth visit in as many years but the experience is always inspiring and Steven’s choice of current favourites changes from year to year. Again, the cameras clicked and I’m pleased to say that this time the images came out much better as I had changed my zoom lens, with limited aperture range for the 60 mm macro-lens.

All too soon it was time to move on, as I was due to give my ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ presentation at the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society in nearby Escondido. About 60-70 members again made us very welcome just as they had done at the Los Angeles and Orange County C&S Societies. There were lots of plants for sale (Angie thinks that they were all from one nursery) and the whole event made us think that we were at a UK zone convention rather than at the equivalent of a monthly branch meeting. The meeting ran from noon to 3 p.m. and apart from the usual club business and my one hour presentation, one of the members gave a presentation concerning the genus Acacia in the family Fabaceae – very appropriate for a C&S audience as it seems that we have been stung, scratched and torn by these plants or by members of other genera in this family that share their habits with cacti. I learned that many of the Australian Acacia do not have these thorns – not much use tome as Australia has no endemic cacti to tempt me for a visit.

Again we had lots of invites to join members for a visit to their collections but again, our packed itinerary did not provide time to follow up the invitations this time as we had arranged to visit Juergen Menzel in El Cajon for the remainder of the afternoon. Juergen is an excellent grower of cacti and succulents with the emphasis on Mexican cacti and the propagation of the rarer and more unusual taxa. He had set aside the afternoon to allow us to admire his plants and again, cameras were clicking, even though he was off on a camping holiday to Texas the following morning. We finished the day with a meal at his favourite, Thai, restaurant – a nice change from steak.

We fell in bed exhausted – another great day.

Friday, 25 March 2011 – a daytrip to Anza Borrego Desert Park

We woke up to a grey day, lots of rain pouring down. Shall we proceed with today’s plan, a visit to the Anza Borrego Desert Park or look for some shopping outlets? Although yesterday’s visit to the Huntington Botanical Gardens had increased the number of cactus images on our hard drives, Angie was still to see her first US cactus in habitat, so Anza Borrego it was.

It was still raining but only a light drizzle as we arrived at Santa Ysabel where we stopped at the Julian Pie Company for a traditional Dutch Apple Pie with Cinnamon ice-cream – yum yum. We passed the 4,000 ft altitude marker, still in rain, but we then dropped quickly to 2,000 ft and we were in the dry. Remarkable! But obviously what ever had stopped the rain from following us is the reason why this area is a desert. There are occasional rains, causing flash floods that disappear again in hours, as we saw during the video in the visitors centre, but they are far and few between.

The sun had come out but the clouds over the hills all around us made an impressive addition to the scenery. We saw Ferocactus chrysacanthus, Mammillaria dioica, Echinocereus engelmannii and cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelowii and C. wolfii and Fouqueria splendens as well as millions of desert wildflowers.

So not only did Angie see her first US cacti in habitat, but as in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the beginning of my ‘Winter Break’, she again saw the desert in flower. Nice for our upcoming presentations in Europe.

We arrived safely in Carlsbad where we easily found the Motel 6 on Carlsbad Drive where I have stayed for at least one night per year since 2008. Nothing had changed much.

Thursday, 24 March 2011 – a visit to the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Our hotel in Monrovia had been selected to give us easy access to The Huntington – it was right on Huntington Drive. It would have helped if I had taken this road heading south-west instead of to the north-east. Never mind, we were looking for a place to have breakfast and I realised that the foothills were on the ‘wrong’ side of the road as we parked up. The matter was corrected when we left.

The Huntington’s opening hours are 12:00 to 16:30 and despite our drive in the wrong direction, we still arrived one hour too early. I had expected her to be jet lagged, but her body clock was still 8 hours ahead of California, so had been rearing to go when I was still waking up. We found a Starbucks to kill time and entered these famous gardens soon after noon, straight to the Cactus Garden (there are several other themed gardens, including a Chinese and a Japanese Garden).

The mass planting of some of the cacti make a very photogenic subject, even though it does not reflect the way that the plants grow in nature. And I still have to get used to see South American cacti growing alongside Californian cacti or South African succulents.

The weather forecast had been for rain but we were glad to see that they had got it wrong, at least until we had arrived at our hotel and went out for a bite to eat before heading to the Orange County Cactus & Succulent Society at the Fullerton Arboretum, where a good crowd had gathered to see ‘What I Saw Last Winter 2010-2011’ – just the South American part.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 – Angie arrives at LAX

Another rest day – monitoring Angie’s progress on flight tracker across the Atlantic and the North American continent. When her flight touched down at LAX, the temperature was a cool 12 C (16 C when she had boarded the flight in London) and it poured down with rain –  she had left the UK in brilliant sunshine.

Never mind – a change (in scenery) is as good as a break.

Monday, 21 March 2011 – rest day in Bellflower, CA

Just a quick message to say that we arrived safely in Bellflower, late last night and in the pouring rain! The song says ‘It never rains in California.’  The song is wrong!!

We have had a number of extremely long driving days to get back to Bellflower, when on arrival each night I have been too tired to write up the Diary entries. On other occassions the wifi connections and my laptop problems prevented the Diaries to be written or published. I hope to rectify some of this over the next few days.

We now have a couple of days until Angie arrives on Wednesday for a 2 week look around the US SW area.