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We made an early (-ish) start and had agreed that after yesterday’s failure to find M. plumosa at the Horsetail Falls, we would make another attempt to find it at the Monterrey end of Huasteca Canyon.

But first we had to find the entrance to this National Parque, which last year proved a very frustrating affair. And it was no better this time, with the SatNav system trying to send us the wrong way up one way streets time after time. In the end there was no alternative but to return to the hotel, follow our instincts and visual observations to drive to Santa Catarina, ignoring the requests from the electronic wizard to take a 300 km detour. The hills at the entrance to the Parque stand out from a great distance and so it was not really too difficult to find if you knew what you were looking for.

Last year we were frustrated by similar problems finding the entrance. Then we headed first for a Michel Lacoste location for Mammillaria plumosa, M. melanocentra and M. multiceps and ended up again frustrated as we got lost in a warren of tracks in small communities that seemed to block the way to where we wanted to explore. We were on a limited time budget, so once we had spent as much time as was wise, considering our other goals, we moved on without finding the spot.

Today we had more time. It became immediately clear that the floods had done much damage here, but on the bright side for us, seemed to have erased many of the communities that had complicated life the previous year. We managed to park the car at a brand new radio mast station (?) unusually placed near the foot of a hill. A fence blocked our way to the hillside we wanted to explore, but some of the strands had already been persuaded to part so we managed to get in (and later out) without tears to clothes and our pride.

This was S2268. We had more time than in 2010, but still needed to be aware not to spend too long here. The first few meters were encauraging as we found lots of different cacti! Echinocereus adustus, E. viereckii, Neolloydia conoidia, Coryphantha sp. and two Mams that would fit the concept of M. multiceps and M. melanocentra that had been recorded before. Agave lechuguilla was scratching our legs and Acacia-like scrub was scratching at arms and legs. I set my mark to reach at some trees on a ridge near the top of the hill – well within the range of the coordinates on our GPS. Where were the M. plumosa? Another failed search? It was getting very hot on the hill and common sense dictates that you can not look forever for a plant that may no longer exist here. We started the journey back. Then, a tiny plant, slightly larger than my thumb nail caught my eye, growing in a crack on the goat track I had been following down. A closer look and sure enough – BINGO! How different this plant looked compared to the mounds filling up washing up bowls in Europe. Eunice had just walked past here. Was it worth coming back for a picture? I promised that she could have copies of mine if she wanted, but having seen it, I would not be surprised if she declined the offer. But at least another missed plant from the past had been laid to rest.

I decided to take a steeper route down the hill, often having to ease myself over the limestone rock face, putting hands and feet in narrow cracks (yes, not the thing I would advise others to do). As I put my hand down again I felt some fur and quickly pulled my hand back. Nothing moved. I took a look and found another, much larger M. plumosa – one that was well worth Eunice climbing the hill again. Great – mission accomplished – convincingly!

Before reading the next section, I urge you to point your browser to Google Search (or any other search engine that you fancy) and look up ‘Monterrey floods’ and ‘Huasteca floods’ and you will see the results of the rains in July 2010 that caused floods that made last year’s view of La Huasteca unrecognisable from the current pictures. The road and tracks we travelled on in 2010 were gone. There was much work in progress with workmen putting in pipes, drains and repairing cables.

We found the location of last year’s stop where we found a number of large Agave victoria-reginae growing on the flat, but had to cross the river to get there. Not a great chalenge as temporary bridges crisscrossed the massive, mainly dry, river bed, so it just meant going back 100 m. to the last crossing.  Here (S2269) I found plenty of angles and set ups to try to improve on the amazing pictures from last year. I’m sure that at least one will appear in the work in progress ‘Prickly Pictures and Succulent Sights’ photo book that will show of my favourite pics from trips to the US, Mexico and Cuba. ‘Prickly Pictures vol. I will be out by September and contains pictures of just cacti taken during ten years of visits to South America.’

S2270 is where the road / track stopped. There was just a pipeline in a concrete housing that provided a way across the water, but only on foot. We spoke to a Mexican who had passed us earlier on an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) who said that if we crossed on foot, we could get to the bottom of the huge dam, the Presa Rompepicos, where last year we had driven through a gate that was meant to control the water flow – but then there had been no water.

We pointed our zoom lenses towards the surrounding hill-sides and again found A. victoria reginae among the plants clinging onto the rocks alongside Hechtias.

All other images of the day of our drive through this northern part of La Huasteca have been filed as S2271 and do not contain any specific plant images – just scenery. 

Another great day!

Tomorrow we move onto Saltillo and will try to get into the southern end of the Canyon track, but we are prepared to find our attempts again frustrated by washed out roads.

I can thoroughly recommend Monterrey as a place from which you can explore the rich diversity of Mexican cactus and succulent plants, nature in general and spectacular scenery. Do rent a 4×4 car to see nature in its raw, wild and wonderful state and pamper yourself by staying at one of the many nice hotels in town. We stayed 3 nights at the Holiday Express Inn and can recommend it without hesitation.

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