Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for April, 2012

Monday, 30 April 2012 – Durango to Mexican Hat

So we tried to do the right thing and presented ourselves just after 9 a.m. at the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Department of Natural Resources Lands Division – Crossing Permits, only to find that they had already been open from 8 a.m.  We made our case to the two ladies who regretted that they had to disappoint us as the place where we wanted to go was not designated a leisure area. After a very pleasant chat they suggested that we’d have a chat with their colleagues in the Wildlife section. Again a very nice chat with the guy who was present who was unaware of the plant and its location but echoed what his colleagues in Crossing Permits had told him. However, he did note that the name of the road along the place where we wanted to go – to see Pediocactus knowltonii – was Road 4000 and this would indicate that it was just across the border in New Mexico, outside Ute or Colorado juristriction and that it was therefore on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, which was public right of way, unless local signs or fences indicated otherwise – Have a nice day!!

We did. The next challenge, near our location, still in Colorado was a sign to warn us that the bridge ahead was unsafe and that people would cross at their own risk. It did not look too safe. We noticed a ford to cross the river, but on entering the water, soon changed our minds. A bit farther along, a man was busy at one of the oil well heads.We asked aboutthe bridge. Although it did not look too safe he had been across it quite often. As we approached it for our second attempt, two Dodge Rams pick ups, about twice the size of our car, came across the bridge. It was still standing afterwards, so we gave it a go – no problem. Next we passed a turning to La Boca Cemetery and a sign confirming that we were on Road 4000. SatNav confirmed that at the sign, our front wheels were in New Mexico while our back wheels were still in Colorado. Some 50 meters on and we felt safe to park and take a look. The terrain looked right, very similar to so many other Pedio locations. And soon we found the first cacti. (S2544).  But these Pedios looked very similar to P. simpsonii, not like the P. knowltonii that I had seen in cultivation. No flowers – things looked very dry here. Again Coryphantha vivipira was here, making it necessary to check the tubercles for grooves to distinguish it from Pediocactus. Opuntia sp was also noted.

Friends have since confirmed that the ‘true’ knowltonii grows on the otherside of the road in the fenced off area that we had considered too risky as cars passed regularly. I had ‘walked the wire’ but had not found any stragglers that had ‘dropped out’ of the conservation area. So near and yet so far. Still, perhaps our observation that P. simpsonii grows so near by (less then 20 meters?) throws some doubt in my mind as to whether the distinct looking P. knowltonii, growing on slopes under a reasonably dense stand of pine trees deserves a botanical rank or is merely a ‘sport’. [Note to self: What is a biological ‘sport’? – Answer : Any organism that shows a marked change from the normal type or parent stock, typically as a result of mutation.]

We considered today’s mission as completeand headed back into Utah and told SatNav to find us the way to Mexican Hat. (177 miles) Fortunately, it selected the route via Four Corners (S2545). I had suggested that Angie leave most of her souvenir purchases for this monument (not a National Monument, as we still had to pay $3 each to get in, despite our Annual Parks pass). I wonder how it will fit in my luggage. Cliff says that if I take pictures first, then make the pots smaller with a hammer, I can fit it all in and have hours of fun back home, gluing them back together. Fortunately we had bought extra luggage earlier to accommodate the pottery items that are due to come home, so I hope to avoid the ‘restore-from-kit’ stage.  We managed to avoid any ‘Made in China’ items and selected some nice pieces signed by the artists with their Navajo names. The nicest pieces was priced at $765 (plus tax?) but representing 60-70 hours of work with a tool-steel needle and a scalpel. We were allowed to take its picture for free. The artist was working on a much larger piece that would eventually sell for around $6,000! And worth every cent considering the skills, time and effort that goes into such piece. Our budget was a bit more restricted – I’m sure that my sons will heave a sigh of relief!

S2546 was for a stop as we approached Mexican Hat, more for the rock formations lit up by the sun as its reddish tinge in the late afternoon accentuated the shadows. They did have rain here, judging by field flowers attempting a Desert-in-flower’ scene.

Sunday, 29 April 2012 – around Durango

Today was D Day, or rather, the day that we would try to photograph Pediocactus knowltonii. This small plant, closely related to the very wide spread P. simpsonii, is considered to be the rarest Pedio. So, it is small and occurs in a very limited area – just one more complication: it grows on or near Southern Ute Indian Land and they do not like trespassers. On the plus side, pictures of the plant in flower all seem to be taken at the very end of April or the very start of May, so we should be here at flowering time. The other plus side is that its location information is in the public domain, on the website of the Colorado State University Herbarium through SEINet. The main question was: could we get to these coordinates without trespassing on Indian land?

We headed for the Ute Visitors Center signposted from the main road. Unfortunately it was closed – probably not open on Sundays.

With the coordinates in my SatNav, everything went well until we got near the spot. Here we had to make a turning onto a County Road. We had seen these on the way and they had been good gravel surface roads. SatNav wanted to send us onto a rough dirt track. We saw trespass notices, but surely a CR road is public highway and therefore OK, as long as we did not get out of the car? The mud track got worse and worse, clearly it had been used during a wetter season by large lorries servicing the oil drilling / pumping installations that were all around us. We decided to return to the main road and looked for alternative points of entry, without luck. Driving back towards Ignacio, we passed another CR road, one number higher than the one that should have taken us to our target plant.

We pulled over and I started up my laptop to double-check the coordinates and to study screen prints taken from Google Earth to look for hints as to where we had gone wrong.

Then the Ute Patrol passed by.  And five minutes later passed by again – we saw him do a U-turn at the crossroads and he parked up behind us and an officer walked over to Cliff’s window at the steering wheel side.’Good afternoon Sirs, this is just a courtesy call, is everything OK?’ ‘Yes, fine, we are tourists from England and it seems that our SatNav is playing up.’ I replied. He could see my SatNav in my hand and the laptop plus maps on my knees.  Re-assured that we were no troublemakers he was about to say goodbye, when it struck me that here was a man who could help. I explained that we were cactus freaks, travelling the Americas to take pictures of cacti. We had information that suggested that this plant occurred nearby but our SatNav could not find the CR number, which was one higher than the road that we were parked on. He smiled: ‘It’s the next turning, about 100 yds up the road.’ I asked if this was public road or if we needed permission from the Ute Nation and explained that we had called by the Ute Visitors Centre in Ignacio, but had found it closed. He confirmed that this was the right thing to do, and that they are closed on Sundays, but open on Monday when they could direct us to the place where we could obtain a permit in case the plants grew on their land. The CR road was public highway and we could drive on it, but the land on either side of the road was Southern Ute Indian Land and therefore off-limits.

Like on a number of occasions in the past, in Brazil and Cuba, it can be hard to do the right thing as the processes of obtaining permission to see plants is not widely published. We took the turning onto the right CR road and drove to within 10 yards of the coordinates. So, back on the main road and back to Ignacio and back to the Visitors Centre sign post. We’ll return tomorrow morning to obtain the necessary permission.

What to do with the rest of the day? We decided to take a look at the Mesa Verde National Park. This meant that we had to drive back to Durango and as we had found the Alpine Inn there comfortable, clean and with helpful staff, plus within our budget, decided to book in again for another night.

From there it was a 37 mile journey to the entrance of the Mesa Verde National Park entrance. We’ve not been disappointed at any of the National Parks with the scenery and photo opportunities that they present. This was no exception. A huge Mesa (Table Top type mountain) rose out of the desert in front of us. Behind us were the snow-covered San Juan Mountains.As the road climbed up the Mesa there were lots of pull outs where we could pull in to point our cameras at the land below. Visibility was not perfect, due to pollution and / or water  vapour in the air. As we climbed higher, we were struck by the huge number of skeleton trees that covered the hillsides. At the top, at Park Point Overlook, we were at 2,613 m (8,572 ft) altitude. Here information boards explained that the hills had been victim of frequent fires caused by lightning. We saw Opuntia sp. at most of the overlooks where we stopped, but here, at the highest point we found several clumps of Coryphantha vivipara.

We carried on to the visitors center and from there to the Mesa Top Loop. Here there were several pull outs where we could walk to the edge of the rim and take pictures of the cliff dwellings on the rock face opposite us. Back at the hotel I looked at The Mesa Verde National Park website and found many of the pictures that we had taken. Why do we go on these trips? I think that in future I’ll stay at home and prepare presentations called ‘What I Found on the Internet’!

We fell in bed once back at the Alpine Inn, too tired to go out for a meal. Angie and I did pop out for a KFC. Up early tomorrow in the hope that it will be Knowltonii Day!

Saturday, 28 April 2012 – Grand Junction to Durango

I woke up with a shock as someone knocked on our door and said it was time to get up. It turned out to be a wake up call for the couple next door! Never mind, I was soon back in the land of dreams and this time overslept for real, with Cliff knocking on the door at 8:10 asking if we were ready for Dennys. Without an internet connection at Motel 6, Grand Junction (the guy at reception gave us a number to try as a key, for free, but none of the permutations that this provided with dashes and upper / lower case, worked) it was difficult to review the plan for the next few days. Dennys had wifi, but my laptop refused to connect. Angie’s connected without any problems. A quick look at Google Maps and the original itinerary drawn up from a chair in England and we had a plan. We decided to spend the morning at the Colorado National Monument just to the south of town and then drive on to Montrose, or, if there was time, on to Durango – the one in Colorado – NOT the state in Mexico.

All images from our drive and mini stops along the Rim Road are filed under S2540. Most are of the spectacular scenery as the road winds and twists along the Rim, offering wonderful sights over Grand Junction and the Colorado River. We also managed to catch most of the cacti found in the National Monument: Pediocactus simpsonii, Escobaria missouriensis, Echinocereus trichlochidiata, Sclerocactus parviflorus and a number of Opuntia, including O. phaeacantha and O.erinacea. Yucca harrimaniae and Y. bacatta were also here. Ranger Liz Barrett told us at the Visitors Center that this winter had been warmer than usual with less rain and snow. P.simpsonii had finished flowering a few weeks ago, while the images that we were taking on E. triglochidiatus were the first of the year – although we had seen them in flower ever since our arrival in Phoenix two weeks ago. This is a much under rated National Monument and well worth a visit.

Three hours after entering the Rim Road, we left, me with 89 images added to the ever-growing portfolio.

As we headed towards Montrose the San Juan Mountains loomed at the horizon, their peaks covered in snow. We had no maps to tell us what to expect on our route today, relying on SatNav and print outs from Google Maps helped to avoid being distracted by other ‘interesting things’ that we might encounter.

The drive through the snow-covered mountains produced an unexpected bonus to the day with many more images added and illustrating the rich diversity of climates, terrain and the accompanying flora. The temperature started at 68 F in Grand Junction, dropped to 40F as the road climbed to 3,320 m altitude and was back up to 58 F as we walked back from the near by Steak House at 21:00 tonight. Sadly we did not find (neither did we look too hard for) cacti. All images filed as S2541.

Friday, 27 April 2012 – Vernal to Grand Junction

I have readily admitted that the main motivation for these Diaries is for me to have a set of notes from my trips for future use when memories fade and one trip just blends into another. Each day’s report is best written at the end of the day being reported on and the images of that day need to reflect what I’m writing – no point in saying that you’ve seen xyz when you have no images to prove it.

Today’s report somehow got missed out and it’s now the 17 May 2012 when I try to write this report up from memory and with the help of images taken.

Every cactus trip has its highs and lows, the latter often due to ‘driving days’ where few or no cacti are seen and the objective is just to eat miles to get to better cactus spots. S2535, east of Vernal was an early comfort break stop, in the hope of finding some cacti in the most likely looking scenery for 24 hours. Alas, no cacti seen, even though I’m always on the look out for the odd Opuntia to avoid a ‘no cacti’ stop.

Our cameras were hungry for cacti as lens fodder and research back home had told us that Pediocactus simpsonii was listed in the Dinosaur National Monument. We picked up the usual park map at the entrance to the park and wondered if we had done the right thing in buying a National Park Annual card, as this week seemed to be National Park weeks, with no admission charges. As the road climbed and offered some views over the plateau below us we stopped at the first view-point (S2536). We were happy to find an Opuntiod or two, one looked like a small Opuntia sp with flattened pads while another looked like a collection of spiny eggs on the ground. Perhaps this is the part that survives cold winters, protected by a layer of snow, while other (annual?) pads take care of growth and flowering during more favourable times. The start of more typical Opuntia pads could be seen.

S2537 was another official view-point with picnic facilities between the pine trees. We took our walkie talkies and spread out. I walked around between the trees in the faint hope that small cacti would find safety among the shrubs and seedling trees between the picnic sites. If there were, their shelters also hid them from my probing eyes. Angie, closer to the main road, did not fare much better. The Opuntias here were more advanced in their growing season and seemed to confirm the view that the rounded pads were ‘survival’ pads in the cold as more new, flat pads were emerging.

The walkie-talkie crackled and Cliff reported finding Pediocactus farther along the road and after some shouting to get the direction in which he had walked, we found him bent over in typical ‘photographing small cacti’ pose – Pediocactus simpsonii, some in flower, being the main target.

Another view-point (S2538) and this time we found a succulent, possibly a Crassulaceae with Sedum lanceolatum as the prime ID candidate. It’s difficult to ID plants if you are not familiar with the Family and when the plant that you see does not have flowers or fruits that are often key to the plant’s identification.

We finished today’s photo sessions at S2539, just another comfort break without cacti or other interesting plants found.

Thursday, 26 April 2012 – Green River to Vernal

It’s happened before and will no doubt happen again – there are days on a trip that everybody feels drained and today was such a day.

Things started well enough as we returned to the area behind the Super 8 in Green River (S2524) where last night Cliff and Angie had finally found four Scleros. We soon found them again and I now have their picture with GPS coordinates embedded. A walk around the area showed us a few more, but all small, in full bud, waiting to open if only there was some water for the final push. Buds show that some will be typically parvs, but there was also a plant that was clearly going to have a creamy coloured flower. I wonder how reliable flower colour is for Scleros – we know that for Parodia and for Lobivia, it seems that in some populations any colour goes and it’s not a reason for erecting different taxa. [Note to self – check out mention of different flower colours in same location for Scleros when I get home].

The 191 from Green River to Price was a boring road but things cheered up a bit, scenery wise,  as we turned into the Ashley National Forest. We stopped at mile 257 (S2533) and mile 271 (S2534) and although we enjoyed stretching our legs, we did not find any cacti. The weather continued to threaten and the temperature dropped to 65F. After Roosevelt, still along the 191 everything seemed too agriculturally developed or urbanised for speculative cactus stops along the road.

We soon found accommodation and after down loading the few images of the day got our rain gear to go out to dinner, only one block away. We started by ordering beers and the young waiter was embarrassed to have to ask us for our ID. Angie and I had brought my passport – safer in our pockets than in the hotel room or in the car, but Cliff had no ID and despite his 61 years of age was refused alcohol. He stormed out in disgust, Angie & I followed. Cliff said that the whole affair had put him off his food, so Angie & I went out again, and found another restaurant. This one did steaks, but did not serve alcohol. Alain; beware, Utah is just relaxing some of its drink legislation and some places still stick very close to the letter of the law. Steak and lemonade is not my idea of a great dinner. Tomorrow we move on to Colorado.

Tonight there are weather warnings concerning strong storms that can bring a variety of delights, so we’ll see how we’ll feel about cactus hunting in all-weather gear tomorrow. Last year, in May, Ian reported that the temperature dropped down to -2 C when they got to Vernal. Wikipedia reports that Vernal is the coldest town in Utah. Remind me why we came here? Oh, yes, cacti!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012 – Green River to Goblin Valley and back

Today marks the halfway point of this trip – time flies when you are enjoying yourself. We’ve already collected thousands of images between us and no doubt there will be more to come, to sort out and arrange in order, ready for my first presentation on 26 May in Woking.

After yesterday’s heat, it was almost nice to wake up to an overcast sky and temperatures in the mid 20s C (= 70s F). There was also a strong breeze and in a bone dry environment this caused dust and sand particles to get into eyes, nose and on camera lenses. Still, the cloud cover softened the contrast to a more acceptable level.

Ian Woolnough had suggested that Pediocactus and Sclerocactus exist in Goblin Valley State Park, so this became today’s target. Some 5 miles before reaching the road that SatNav knew about, we came across a turning that was signposted to the Park. SatNav had another tantrum, insisting that we’d drive 4-5 miles before making a U-turn (why not straight away?) in apparently every anxious tones when we ignored the instruction until we eventually muted the voice – I hate to be told what to do!

Another sign suggested that we’d turn left to the Park, but the road straight ahead looked appealing too and this is where we went for some 20 miles until the road ‘ran out’ (unmaintained road sign, seemingly several years old).

Our first stop here (S2528) provided images of four more Sclerocacti, medium sized and in bud, without providing a clue to their identity, at least not on my knowledge levels. I’m calling the omni-present Opuntia O/ polyacantha for now, as this is a very variable species and will do until I get home to check in more detail and with the help of Joe Shaw’s Opuntia website. Very nice peaceful surroundings.

The area continued to have potential for Pedios and Scleros but S2529 and S2530 had neither, just struggling O. polyacantha and, at S2531, a large clump of Echinocereus triglochidiatus in flower, spotted by Angie from the car.

S2532 is for a potential talk entitled ‘Things that Ian never saw’ as he had never taken the time and US$ 7 admission for a car with up to 8 people to have a look around Goblin Valley State Park. Tourists to the US might take note that State Parks are not included on the National Parks Annual Pass. It was very windy and overcast here but Nature’s sculptures looked great anyway. The goblin-like hoodoos here are unique and fun for all ages. They bear no relation to the Goblin’s Teasmade , a British invention that was highly popular in the 1960s and seventies. combines an alarm clock and electric kettle which automatically boils water and adds it to a teapot at a specified time and it’s invention, credited to Samuel Rowbottom in 1891. Back to reality, as you can tell I read up some detail on Wikipedia while we go along.

With the Goblins done we returned to Green River to check out the latest information received from Ian regarding the rugby sized Sclerocacti that he had found behind the Super 8 Motel here, in 2011. Yesterday’s extensive search here gave us only struggling O. polyacantha. This morning’s email added more detail so we had another extensive search. This is a good example of how difficult it is to find quite sizeable plants from a pretty detailed description:

‘Have a wander around on the hills directly beside the Super 8 car park heading towards the tower and the railway and you should find some nice parvs on the gently rolling slopes. They were facing the railway/Interstate on low rounded slopes perhaps 600m from the hotel – as said perhaps 40 degrees to the left of the big pylon thing.’

Today’s 45 minute search event ultimately  provided three grapefruit sized plants in bud, found by Cliff and also photographed by Angie – I was at the other extreme end of the area and did not hear their shouts. It really was not a huge area and we felt that with Ian’s instructions we should have found more plants and more easily, but things are very restricted with Scleros. And their population size can change dramatically in the course of a year. A bit of luck is essential!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012 – Green River to Arches National Park and back

Just before we left this morning, I received an email from Ian, suggesting ‘Have a wander around on the hills directly beside the Super 8 (in Green River) car park, heading towards the tower and the railway and you should find some nice parvs on the gently rolling slopes. As most of you will know, I always do as I’m told and so ended up at said location, S2524, where the three of us did the best we could to spread out. Some 45 minutes later we had spotted the odd Opuntia polyacantha ssp, but no Scleros. Sclerocactus populations tend to be quite local and can seemingly disappear without trace after a borer beetle attack. Fortunately, the seed bank in the soil will allow the population to regenerate once the borer beetle has died or moved on to pastures new. But usually the empty shells of the Scleros can be found but here there was not a trace.

We decided to have a day at Arches National Park, and SatNav sent us the shortest route, via old Highway 50 that runs parrallel to Interstate 70. As we entered Hwy 50 a sign warned us thaqt this was now an unmaintained route – i.e. many pot holes, just like in England. The advantage of this road over I-70 was that here we could pull off at will, which we did, S2525. Again, this time after some 20 minutes in the heat, we gave up having found only O. polyacantha ssp I’ll need a new category of cactus stop: ‘No Cacti Except Opuntia’, and this was one of those.

We had resigned to the remainder of today being a sightseeing day, with all images from Arches scenery filed as S2526 and any plant images for that location filed as S2527. The plant images include Yucca baccata, Opuntia polyacantha ssp., and Echinocereus triglochidiata (again in flower). Then, as we drove away from the Deloicate Arch view pointy car park, I spotted a large barrel cactus in flower, behind a shrub, right by the side of the road. But we had a convoy of cars behind and could not pull over. A mile later we could turn into another car park to turn round and head back to the car park that we had just left. I raced ahead, ignoring any other cacti that might be around.  Sure enough, this was Slecrocactus parviflorus, a true giant almost 50 cm (18″) tall and with three flowers fully opened and another two opening with many buds left. I looked back for Cliff and Angie who had only covered half the distance from the car park but seemed to have found their own plants as they were busy taking pictures. Their plants were much smaller but also in flower and we swapped spots. I would take more pictures here of the smaller plants then walk back to the car and set off to where the monster plant was where I would pick them up. Mission accomplished!

With a very satisfied warm feeling (or was it the outside temperature of 95F that made me glow?) we drove back to green River where we had reservations at the Super8 Motel. Or so we thought. It turned out that our paid for booking was at the Super 8 in Green River, Wyoming, 258 miles drive away. The letters WY instead of UT behind the address was the clue that had passed me by. Fortunately the duty manager was able to ring the Wyoming Super8 and arrange a complete refund provided that we’d stay the same time (two nights) in the Utah one – no problem. For a moment I had feared that I had lost US$ 256! Lesson learned: don’t make your on-line bookings while finishing the last bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

A great end to a great day was provided by a steak and a couple of glasses of the local Porter beer at Ray’s Tavern, where tonight they were out of apple pie and ice cream, but where they promised to have some in for our last meal there, tomorrow.