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Archive for February, 2014

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 – El Centro to Anaheim

Today’s stretch was very familiar as it took us through the Anza Borrego Desert Park. I don’t propose to cover all the cacti that we saw – just turn to the Diary reports for 21 February, 1 March 20 March and 26 March 2008, 20 March 2010, 25 and 27 March 2011 for the plants we saw then.

The only exception is that Eunice took us to see Dudleya pulverulenta ssp arizonica. I recognised the spot where I had been in March 2008 because Eunice had shouted STOP, but Cliff, Ian and I had had enough of ‘lettuces’ after three weeks in Baja.

Angie and I had arranged to meet Eunice at the fuel station at the Ocotillo exit on the I-10 and the S2. In the past we had been given a hard time by the members of the US Border Patrol when they came across a UK resident with a Dutch Passport and a British National with a German accent, but today there was no one on duty.

We stopped at some specific Ferocactus cylindraceus plants from previous visits – multi headed plants with heads going cristate etc. When Eunice wanted to show us a plant that she and Alain Buffel had found during their 2012 visit she got a shock: the plant that Alain had photographed and used as his 2012 Christmas card, was no more. It seems that the centre of the multi headed stem had rotten and had broken up into bits, some still alive.

Very few cacti were in flower but plenty were in bud and with rain forecast, the flowering cacti should be spectacular! But Angie will be be back in England by then.

There were some spectacular skies as we drove towards Anaheim where a Motel 6 had again kept the light on for us.

It was unimaginable to head for LA without a visit to the Julian Pie Shop in Santa Ysabel – yum yum.

Tuesday 25 February 2014 – Ensenada to El Centro

I wanted to show Angie another view of Baja by taking MEX3 from Ensenada south and east, in the direction of San Felipe, but turning north when the road hit the plains along the Sea of Cortex, where we headed north, along MEX5 towards Mexicali and the border with the US.

I’ll look up the entries for our previous visits here, to avoid duplication and allow me to concentrate here on reporting changes. One such change was how much the quality of MEX3 had improved. In 2008 the asphalt had even more potholes than the roads in wiltshire, back home. As a result, the journey was a lot faster – or the opportunities to take pictures are greater.

My favourite set along this route is at La Trinidad where we saw and photographed huge Ferocactus cylindraceus along the northern side of the road on past trips. That site seems to have disappeared, but this encouraged us to look to the other side of the road where equally spectacular. It’s good to look over your shoulder sometime.

At the military inspection point where MEX 3 carries on south and MEX5 heads north to Mexicali, the soldiers now benefit from open sided sheds to perform their inspections. Two soldiers pointed at my feet with some alarm, as if a rattle snake had wound itself around my leg. For a moment I thought that I was going to be arrested for smuggling cacti – a couple of Cylindropuntia pads had attached themselves to my boot and trouser leg. No need to point your guns at my foot – don’t shoot! I became a hero as I nonchalantly brushed the pads away with my key ring.

We reached the border without further incident, but Mexicali at rush hour brings its own challenges and delays. The main cause for the delay was the 90 minutes that we spent in the sin bin cage of the US border patrol. Our crime? Our SatNav had sent us into a Sentri Lane – a preferential fast lane for frequent crossers. I apologised as soon as my crime was pointed out but we were still made the subject of an in debt inspection, with dogs and officers crawling over the car. Nothing illegal found, although for maximum inconvenience was caused by re-arranging the content of bags around the car – there are still bits that I’m sure are in the car, but not where I had put them.

It was only a short distance from the border to El Centro and a friendly Motel 6.

Monday 24 February 2014 – around Ensenada

With Angie’s cold symptoms persisting and my back still sore, it seemed wise to have another rest day. so no rush waking up – breakfast at 9:15, followed by checking emails before a stroll to the huge Mexican flag on the Marecon. Usually we see this as we drive by, snatching the odd picture while dodging the traffic. This time we caught it from various angles, taking images and movie clips, useful introductios to sections dealing with Mexican cacti in future talks.

We had seen tourists being driven around in a horse and carriage and knowing Angie’s love for horses, we took a spin around time. As soon as we set off, Angie burst out in a coughing fit that lasted almost as long as the ride. When she wanted to say hello to the horse, he did not want to know, clearly offended by the noisy passenger.

We then sat by the harbour and were entertained by the pelicans diving into the shallow waters along the Malecon’s wall. I was sure that some would surface from their dive with a bent beak, but it seems that they had done this before. Angie managed to capture one perfect dive on video, out of many more attempts that were deleted as she lost track of where the bird had gone.

Tomorrow we return to the US. It seems that Angie is now a proper Baja convert!

Sunday 23 February 2014 – San Quintin to Ensenada

I clearly remember writing this report yesterday – Angie received the email version that is sent to subscribers to this site, yet it is missing from the archive of postings. No idea why. So here is a copy of Angie’s email version, just to bring my archives back up to date – apologies to those that follow the blog for receiving this duplicate (for you) posting.

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Today was a relatively short drive, so we took it easy getting ready and having breakfast – well, it was Sunday after all!

We were on MEX1 some 5 km after leaving the hotel and SatNav suggested our next turn 183 km time. This stretch of MEX1 can not be accused of being the most scenic as we drove through mostly flat agricultural land and roadside villages where local traffic crossed in and out and dirt tracks crossed the main road at 4 way Alto signs, a sort of Russian roulette  where so far we have won.

Angie’s cold was now at its peak so there was little motivation to stop and search for cacti, even though some Dudleyas were spotted. Although my cold had run its course a few days ago, my back, put out during a sneezing fit, was still very stiff and sore, giving rise to the ‘old boy penguin walk’ when ever I had sat down for more than a few minutes.

I had wanted to show Angie La Bufadora, a natural ‘blow hole’ where the sea forces itself between ever narrowing rocks producing a high water spout at the end. I looked for its location on SatNav, but the nearest location by that name was near San Francisco, CA – the one where Scott McKenzie urged people to wear some flowers in their hair during the 1960s. I had almost given up, when some 15 km south of Ensenada Angie spotted the sign and left hand turn.

I had been here before in 2011 after the Isla Cedros trip with friends from Japan, but on that occasion we had  not ventured farther than the La Bufadora Restaurant. I believe it had been a weekday, so not many people around.

This time, on Sunday, the place was heaving with local tourism. The last km or so up to the blow hole was on foot, passing loads of stalls selling souvenirs, pina coladas and all manner of snacks. We told the persistent salesmen that we might come and shop on the walk back but first wanted to see people get wet.

We were not disappointed and I managed to get some 10 video clips and a number of images that illustrate what it was all about. Sadly, wordpress wants me to upgrade to include video, so a still image will have to do for now.

La Bufadora, south of Ensenada, Baja California.

La Bufadora, south of Ensenada, Baja California.

Saturday 22 February 2014 – around San Quintin

Today we visited one of my favourite locations of other succulents, the habitat of Dudleya anthonyi near San Quintin in Baja California Norte, Mexico – this time  S3020.

But first we woke up to thick fog, not an unusual occurrence here. By 10:30 the fog had made way to blue skies and brilliant sunshine.

Not only are Dudleya anthonyi beautiful plants, easily confused with D. brittonii, but they grow in volcanic rock covered in lichen. Unlike D. brittonii, D. anthonyi forms a stout short trunk, covered in blackened dead leaves from which, in time, a number of heads can sprout . The old flower stalks spread out widely from between the older leaves.

As we walked around, we found plants of all ages – young seedlings to ancient plants – beautiful farina covered leaves forming perfect rosettes.

In addition to these easily recognised plants there are two other Dudleya species here: D. attenuata and D. cultrata. We were here on 6 February 2011, recorded as S2197 but did not see or record the cacti that grow here: Mammillaria dioica, Ferocactus sp (F. viridescens?), Echinocereus maritimus, shyly pushing out a single flower, and Stenocereus gummosus. All these taxa were duly photographed this time.

A well camouflaged bird startled me as it flew up from between the rocks, about 1 meter away and settled on rocks about 20 m away. The zoom lens overcame the distance and revealed a long legged burrowing owl, similar to ones I had seen in Minas Gerais, Brazil, that time nesting alongside Coleocepalocereus brevicylindrica. We were to see another couple of owls on our way to the next stop at Molino Viejo, the Old Mill – this time not a plant stop, just an excuse for a cup of coffee and a bit of souvenir hunting.

Our backs are suffering for the beating they took climbing on the rough lava rocks, but margaritas are dulling the pain nicely!

Friday 21 February 2014 – Guerrero Negro to San Quintin

Greetings from Mision Santa Maria, San Quintin.
Yes, I know, we were going to be at Catavina BUT
I had managed to obtain another 20 or so Echinocereus lindsayi locations. Looked very exciting, then looking at traffic on MEX1, what had been a quiet road had turned into the USA in mobile villages heading south. As you know, Catavina can be sensitive to block bookings, so we wanted to get there earlyish with the option to pull through to San Quintin if need be.
We kept the number of morning stops down to essential leg stretch & toilet stops (S3016 and S3017) and although as we pulled over, they looked unpromising, we saw some nice and interesting plants. For a start there was a Dudleya that I will have to find a name for. Also found were nice large clumps of Echinocereus maritimus. There was a pencil Chola that was showing signs of growth and shyly had put out some nice but small yellow flowers; very nice and delicate for a plant that will its spines in your leg if you get too close. It never ceases to amaze me that when you stop at the least likely for cacti places, you end up with a real treasure trove of plants.
We found the turning to the ‘new’ E. lindsayi track but in less than half a k.m. it became clear that this road was not for our little Kia. A heavy-duty 4×4 may be, and better with two cars in case one needs to be pulled out by the other. We did not fancy a 5 km walk, in the heat so turned round. In the words of Arnie: I’ll be back.
As a result we got to Cataviña much too early to check in, and so headed straight to the Mision hotel in Santa Maria, with certain wifi, to catch up on some diaries.
Dudleya anthonyi day tomorrow with lunch at the Old Mill, but as we know, plans can change!

Thursday 20 February 2014 – San Ignacio to Guerrero Negro

After leaving San Ignacio, heading north MEX1 passes through the rather featureless eastern edge of the Vizcaino Desert. I was looking for a right turn to take us to San Francisco the la Sierra but turned off too soon at Microondas Abulon, only to find the track blocked by a heavy duty gate after some 30 meters. Pity. Yet, as we were there we decided to take a look around (S3010) and found Mammillaria dioica, ‘fat trees’ (Bursera sp?), Fericactus sp, Coryopuntia invicta, Echinocereus brandegeei, Agave sp, and a Mam. sp where the name escapes me for now. Not a bad crop!

S3011 was the earlier intended turning. and it had greatly improved since 2011 with the first 29 km out of 37 now glorious smooth new asphalt. What a shame that the did not complete the task – the last stretch was torturous.

It seemed that the wonderful crested Ferocactus has been a victim if the road improvement scheme. A nice Fero with its apex damaged some time back had now developed into an attractive multiheaded plant, I believe I counted 9 heads. The Fero here was F peninsulae while farther along they grew alongside F. emoryi ssp rectispinus. Echinocereus brandegeei was here too, but again it was the less attractive grey spined form rather than the sought after yellow spined form seen farther south around Mulege. At the top of the hill we had great views over the Vizcaino Desert where some low hills stuck out above the sea fog like islands.

As the quality of the track went down, so did our speed and may be because of this we were able to spot more cacti along the side of the road: a short spined form of Echinocereus engelmannii and Mammillaria (Cochemia) setispinus.  High on the cliff faces, where we had seen them during our last visit, were Dudleya rubens.

Just past the village, all these plants were joined by various Cylindropuntia and by Myrtillocactus cochal, both in flower and in fruit.

A Mexican ‘cowboy’ on his mule posed, followed by two donkeys carrying water containers. A few minutes later it became clear that they were the guide and porters for a couple of US hikers who followed. As a non-essential hiker it did not make much sense to me – why bark when you have a dog?

I thoroughly recommend this detour to break up the tedium of today’s drive.