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Archive for April, 2012

Monday, 23 April 2012 – Torrey to Green River

We made the Goosenecks section in the Capitol Reef National Park our first stop of the day – S2520. Here the Freemonte River wound its way  nearly 250 m. (800 ft) below us. Spectacular views but no cacti photographed here. Some ancient tortured pine trees proved interesting subjects for our cameras.

Having seen Sclerocactus in advanced bud near the Capitol Reef National Park Visitors Center yesterday, we dropped by again on our way to Green River to see if the buds had opened – this time recorded as S2518b. Rain was forecast for later this afternoon and perhaps the majority of the plants were waiting for the extra water to open their flowers. One flower, on an offset at the base of one plant had opened and for a while that seemed to be the best that we would get, until Cliff spotted a plant with two flowers open as we were heading back to the car. We called Angie back as she was already at the Visitors Center but her arrival took a bit longer as she ran into a crested Sclerocactus on the way! Yesterday I called the Sclero S. wrightiae. Sclerocactus wrightiae is said to display considerable morphologic variation, presumably due to introgression with S. parviflorus; however, it can usually be recognized by its noticeably fragrant flowers with pink to white tepals, and magenta staminal filaments. ‘Our’ plant in flower had a yellow stamen and although Cliff had announced that he would sniff the flowers, I did not see him do so, or I would have taken a picture to be able to list him among the potential pollinators. Although S. wrightiae generally has smaller stems and flowers and shorter spines than S. parviflorus, there are many exceptions. So what were the plants that we had photographed? Just to confuce matters, the Park’s plant list suggests S. whipplei as another candidate.

That would have made it a very good stop, but it was further enhanced by Cliff spotting a Pediocactus simpsonii on the hill. Had this hillside been seeded by National Park staff? The Rangers denied this, everything that we had seen had been put there by Mother Nature. I took some more pictures of the Echinocereus triglochidiatus, their bright flowers are bound to get a Wow! at future presentations in the UK.

We had GPS co-ordinates for a Pediocactus winkleri on the way to Green River. This involved turrning off Highway 24 and as we had plenty of time, we decided on anothe scenic stop to see what was here – S2521 – just Opuntia polyacantha found.

[Mapping this spot onto Google Earth shows that I had keyed in the wrong coordinates for the P. winkleri location, explaining why we did not find it here.]

S2522 was the supposed P. winkleri stop. I double checked the coordinates and again the GPS suggested that we’d take a .2 mile hike up a hill. Cliff and I spread out as best as two people could – Angie stayed around the car – the temperature was in the mid 30’s C (mid 90s F). We could see a heavy storm depositing snow on the hills below it. No cacti were found, presumably because the rains had not yet woken the plants that were still hiding below the soil or between grasses and stones.

We made one more stop S2523 and found more Sclerocactus – they looked identical to plants found in the Capitol Reef NP Stop 2518a/b. Echinocereus triglochidiatus and the usual white spined Opuntia (polyacantha?) were also around.

We had not booked accommodation at Green River until tomorrow night, but found rooms at the Budget Inn in Green River – clean and safe, if a little noisy right along Highway 191.

Sunday, 22 April 2012 – around Torrey

Frustration, as on completion of tonight’s blog I find that somehow the first part of my report has been lost. It is also missing from the autodraft version, so here we go again! grrrrrr!!!!

We had earmarked two more Pediocactus locations for our morning’s pleasure, one some 10 miles from the hotel, the other a bit farther afield. We past the first location and decided to take a look there on the way back. Soon we became suspicious of our SatNav’s instructions. Earlier, Google Maps had suggested that the total mileage for the day would be 129 miles, while SatNav suggested that the distance to our first stop would be 155 miles. We suspect that SatNav only used US Highways, ignoring National Forest roads that would cut through the Fish Lake National Forest area. Switching the SatNav to ‘off road’ mode (i.e. as the crow flies) suggested that our spot was only 16 miles away. However we could see the significant hill that had to be crossed. We followed our instincts and disobeyed SatNav’s pleas to turn around and follow its much longer route. However, without detailed maps and SatNav showing an increasing distance on its route, decisions had to be made.

We followed Cliff’s suggestion to take a look around for plants where we were (S2515). I was not too sure as for the last hour we had not spotted any cactus in the terrain alongside the road – usually we would see Opuntia and Echinocereus from the road. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so after five minutes from parking the car, Cliff announced his first Pedio find of the day and I was left to eat humble pie. This turned out to be quite a densely populated area. Just as we repeated our observation that no other cacti occurred her, two small opuntiods were found. Does Corynopuntia occur here? Which one? What does it look like? [Note to self to check up the literature when I get home]

As we resumed our journey, we suggested that if Pedios occur on such unlikely locations, it probably occurred everywhere that we had been today and everywhere that we were going. To prove a point, Cliff pulled over at the next convenient lay by and we stomped up the hill overlooking a water reservoir – if possible this was an even less likely Pedio location – S2516. Near the top of the hill we decided that perhaps this area was not suited, but were surprised soon after, by a plant (Pediocactus simpsonii again) in flower hidden among the grass. Soon we found a few more, but only plants in flower – the others remained too well hidden.

Satisfied with our efforts we headed back to Torrey, passing the spot that we had earmarked earlier for a more detailed look S2517. On arrival at the coordinates SatNav was again confused, sending us 800 m on a non-existent track i.e. we ended climbing quite s steep hill on foot, although literature and our experience suggested that Pediocactus prefer a fairly level ground. On arrival at the top of our hill, SatNav wanted us to continue for another hundred meters,  down a hill, now at a slope too steep to consider without special equipment. Disappointed, we made our way back to the car, but with the light now in a different direction, even though I was walking over my original footsteps there was another P. simpsonii in flower. And another and another.

With our cactus quota for the day now satisfied, we headed for the National Park where I recorded two stops: S2518 for plants photographed in the National Park and S2519 for the tremendous scenery that is Capitol Reef NP. We found quite a dense stand of Sclerocactus wrightiae (not to be confused with S. uncinatus ssp wrightii) where most of the plants were in advanced bud. As we need to drive past the park visitor’s center again tomorrow morning, we’ll pop in to see if the buds have now opened.

Another cactus found, this time in full flower was Echinocereus triglochidiatus, the Claret Cup Cactus. The trick was to find the best cactus with the option to photograph it with the park’s scenery in the background. Not as easy as you might think,  considering the presence of telephone / electricity cables to spoil the view. Still, I think I managed to catch a few that will find their way into talks later this year.

We celebrated another successful day with a couple of Margaritas with dinner.

Saturday, 21 April 2012 – Kanab to Torrey

We started with another Pediocactus stop – S2509 – and found P. simpsonii almost immediately. Coryphantha vivipara again tried to confuse us but we’re wise now to checking for the groove along the tubercle – even if this is on enlarged images on the laptop back in the Hotel, my eyes are not up to checking this detail in the field, unless I get down on my knees (on gravely soils) and pull the plants to bits. The Coryphantha tend to be larger and tend to clump more, but of course that does not solve the problem for young plants of Coryphantha compared to mature P. simpsonii. It helps when plants are in flower – a) we have not found any Coryphantha in flower yet and b) Pedio flowers seen to date are quite characteristic with rounded petals. Remnants of one nibbled-at Opuntia was the only other evidence of cacti presence.

From now on, the day was unashamedly tourist as Scenic Byway 12 through the Dixie National Forest first entered Red Rock (S2510 – no cacti) before we took the turning to Bryce Canyon National Park, an absolute ‘must see’. I arranged my images into three stops here (S2511 – Sunrise Point, S2512 – Bryce Point and S2513 – Bryce to Boulder,UT). Although it was a bright sunny day and we were walking around in T-shirts, there was still plenty of snow around. This was particularly welcome at Bryce Point where Angie and I walked 20 minutes down a track below the rim, to be amongst the hoodoos. The 40 minute up-hill walk was HOT and it was good to pick up a handful of snow occasionally to cool down – always aware of the Frank Zappa advice ‘ Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’! All stops without a cactus in sight – we did look for them!

S2514  was another ‘no cactus’ stop as the road took us through hills covered in aspen – yet another aspect of this amazing scenic area.

Just one cactus stop today – must do better!

Friday, 20 April 2012 – around Kanab – to Zion and back

Although I had been in this area in 1997, we had somehow missed out on Zion National Park. Today I would make up for that omission.

As we drove to Zion, we passed a sign to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Why not take a look – we had plenty of time. There was an impressive coloured hillside to our left and we followed the first track towards it to take some pictures (S2507). As soon as we stepped out of the car, it became clear that the main purpose of this area was to allow people to tear up the countryside on scrambler bikes and ATV ‘doom buggies’. The usual tranquil peace and quiet usually found in parks was disrupted by the continuous sound of these bikes buzzing up and down the sand dunes like angry wasps. 9 images, including one of the local Yucca sp. and we had seen enough. We drove on to the official entrance in case there was more to this park, but learned that State Parks (or at least this one) was not covered by the annual pass that we had bought for the parks we hoped to visit was not valid here. The Ranger found it difficult to believe that we did not want to pay the admission and eventually allowed us to turn round on the Park’s premises.

The other stop of the day – S2508 – covers all images taken at Zion, mainly taken from the car as Cliff drove us through the impressive scenery, or from the many stops on lay-byes and later from the shuttle bus as it took us on the scenic route through the park. Unfortunately there were just 9 stop points where you could get off, take some pictures than jump on to the next shuttle bus along (if there was space). Pictures of the local Opuntia prevented this from being a ‘No Cactus Stop’. Right at our last stop in the park, Opuntia basilaris also showed up. Very enjoyable none the less.

Thursday, 19 April 2012 – Marble Canyon to Kanab

Over breakfast, Charlie kindly pointed out that Kanab is pronounced Knab, but not like knee, where the k is silent. Confused? Breakfast at Lees Ferry Lodge can have that effect in the nicest possible way. Eunice rang to say that she had arrived home safely and to enquire after Angie’s shoulder after the chiropractor treatment – some improvement but full recovery will take a while.

Todays stops were:

S2501: This was along a track off Hwy 89-A and this time it took only three minutes from parking the car to finding our first Pedio, P. paradinei. I forgot to mention yesterday that P. bradyi had already finished flowering but had not yet set ripe seed. We assume that we were just too early and that the slow reduction in its numbers reported in the monitoring paper is not due to some other factor, such as a demise in the natural pollinator. We have learned by now that not all small globular cacti found in our search for Pedio are in fact members of that genus. A close inspection of the tubercles revealed a groove from the areole towards the axil, a feature found in Coryphantha but not in Pediocactus. The Coryphantha is likely to be C. vivipara, a highly variable species with a number of subspecies. It took another half an hour to find our first P. paradinei in flower, with only the flower visible above the gravely soil, just like Thelocephala in Chile.

It seemed that flowering plants had longer, softer spination than the smaller plants not seen in flower. The latter looked similar to P. bradyi. So, does P. paradinei have distinct juvenile and mature spination? [note to self to check this out in literature when I get home]. C. vivipara was here, forming multiheaded clumps and generally larger in appearance. Also seen Opuntia polyacantha, a Cylindropuntia sp. and Echinocereus engelmannii. 

As we drove back towards the 89-A we commented that there did not seem to be any reason why the Pedio should not grow all along the track, so to prove the point, we had a quick look around at S2502 which was covered with white daisy-like flowers. And sure enough, before too long we had found P. paradinei here as well.

S2503 was a stop at a scenic view spot, with the Antilope Trails Vendors Association displaying more Navajo pottery and jewelry. I might have to get a trailor for the pottery purchases!

The next set of coordinates suggested for Pediocactus surprised us. S2504 was in a forest setting rather than in open fields as the genus name implies. After being confused by some C. vivipara, we did find P. paradinei as well and here too we saw plantys in flower.

S2505 was for a location near Fredonia where P. sileri had been seen. Despite over an hour’s worth of searching (3 ‘man hours’, considering that there were three of us) we failed to find any Pediocactus. Were we in the right place? Coordinates were checked and double checked, but I might have written them down incorrectly while collecting data, or a transcription error at source can easily take you to the wrong place. [Since arriving home I have mapped the Stop data onto Google Earth and confirm that we were in the right place].

It seems that this area was used as a recreation area for young adults – plenty of broken beer bottles and spent shot gun cartridges plus dumped fridges that had been used for target practice plus tyre marks in unusually steep places suggesting that scrambler bikes had been here to tear up the ground. Or was it our unfamiliarity with the plants, rarely seen in cultivation in Europe, unless grafted? We photographed every cactus seen and have since identified them as Escobaria vivipara and Echinocereus engelmannii.

We had more luck at S2506 in more than one way. First of all we found small cacti that were clearly not those seen at the previous stop. They seemed quite abundant, although we did not stay too long. The reason for this was that we found a sign indicating that we were on State Land Trust terrain with a warning that trespassers would be prosecuted and that entry was only possible with written permission. Too late to scribble a note to ourselves granting us permission to enter? Anyway, P. sileri got a tick on my ‘plants seen in habitat’ checklist.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 – around Marble Canyon

Angie was still in a lot of pain with her pinched nerve, despite taking the maximum dosages of the pain killers that we had brough along. She would not have many good memories from this trip if this remained unchanged. Charlie, who served our breakfast and pulled our leg at the least excuse looked up details of doctors in Page and Eunice rang to make the appointment. As we headed off to Page, Eunice set off for her long trip back to Bellflower.

The visit to the health centre in Page was easy to find, had a very comfortable and friendly reception area and the treatment seems to be doing the trick, although there are still periods when the pains are bad.

S2497 was for pictures along the road from Marble Canyon to Page and back, with a quick stop at the scenic overview of the Marble Canyon area – no cacti found.

S2498 took me back to 1997 when Anton & Christiaan and I spent 5 days in the area. Anton was preparing a project for his A Level Geography course. The task was to study a stretch of a river and identify the issues surrounding it. His friends and all students at Dorking had produced projects based on the River Mole that flows near Dorking. Anton had decided on the Colorado River between Lake Powell and Lees Ferry, Mile Zero on the Colorado River. Christiaan had assisted him, leaving me to roam on my own in cactus country – heaven.

Things had been developed and the gravel track was now hardtop. A particularly slope where Opuntia basilaris had been spectacularly in full flower was probably still there, but plants were in bud rather than in flower. We concentrated on the area where the pinkish Paria River, having come through Bryce Canyon, joined the clear dark water of the Colorado River for a two-tone effect. Other cacti found were another Opuntia sp in flower with similar or somewhat lighter flower colour but with much stronger spination. A look at the Opuntiads of the US website, run by Joe Shaw, suggests that this is Opuntia nicholii, related to O. polyacantha. Echinocereus engelmannii was here again, in bud.

S2499 was for pictures taken at and of Navajo Bridge – no cacti photographed.

We had saved all our cactus photography for S2500, opposite our temporary residence at Lees Ferry Lodge. This is the location of a plant rescue and conservation exercise by the Navajo National Heritage Program. In addition to the endangered cactus – Pediocactus bradyi – we found quite a few Echinocactus polycephalus ssp xeramanthioides in spectacular locations, overlooking the Colorado River. Also recorded: Opuntia sp. Echinocereus engelmannii, and a Yucca sp.

Tuesday 17 April, 2012 – Grand Canyon to Marble Canyon

We woke refreshed, although Angie was still in a lot of pain due to a pinched nerve in her right shoulder. Soon the spectacular views of the Grand Canyon distracted us from her pain. All images here – mostly scenic shots – are filed under S2494. A couple of large clumps of Coryphantha sp., one of which was protected by a wire cage, prevented this from being a ‘no cacti’ stop.

S2495 was at a view point over the Little Colorado River, an impressive deep and narrow canyon, but with very little water trickling through the treacle like silt. We recorded Yucca sp, Agave sp., two Opuntia sp., Cylindropuntia sp. Echinocereus engelmannii and a charming Daisy like plant in full flower that I’ll look up in the Flora of Arizona bought at the Grand Canyon’s visitors centre. There were the usual three to four tables with members of the Navajo Nation selling off their pottery and jewelry craft items. This was the same place where in 1997 I stopped with my sons Anton and Christiaan, then 17 and 14 years of age. The weather was quite different then even though it had been April again. Then, we had viewed the Grand Canyon standing up to our knees in snow and with a wind so strong that it had prevented helicopters from taking us for a ride through the Canyon. At this stop, the wind was so strong that Christiaan demonstrated this by leaning into the wind. Very nice, except that the wind was so strong that I was worried that he’d fly away – he was standing right at the edge of the Canyon and at that time there were no safety rails.

We moved on to S2496, a set of coordinates provided by friends from the UK (thanks guys – you know who you are!), but my heart sank when we turned off the main road into the Navajo market of the Little Colorado Scenic View point. P. peeblesianus was supposed to grow here but was this since the area had been developed for tourism? Angie, Eunice, Bosco and I took the walk to the canyon’s edge for more pictures and the walk back through the market where once again I had bought some more pottery. Back at the car, the search for Cliff was on. He was eventually spotted in the area behind the market ‘stomping around in search of cacti’. I joined him and found all the plants reported at the previous stop. Just as I reached him Cliff pointed at some clumps of larger cacti: Echinocactus polycephalus subsp. xeranthemoides. These were nice multiheaded clumps as the name suggests.

Eunice had planned to part company with us in Cameron, so a quick stop to say: ‘See you later this year when you come over to England, for our annual trip to the ELK cactus festival in Belgium and followed by a two month trip with us to South Africa and Namibia.’ We found a seat for Angie in our car amidst the collection of boxes and bags that had built up over the past three days.

About 45 minutes later, we were surprised by the hooting of a car horn and the flashing of lights. Eunice had decided that it was already too late for the drive back to Long Beach, so would spend another night with us at Marble Canyon, where we had booked rooms for the next two nights.

I had said earlier that she used to be indecisive!