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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.


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.

Wednesday 19 February 2014 – boat trip to Isla Santa Catalina

On past Baja trips I’ve enjoyed boat trips to islands to inspect the various island endemics among the Cactaceae. Some are hardly different, others more clearly show the concept. Isla Santa Catalina is just one of a few islands that is the home of Ferocactus diguetti, which also illustrates the concept of ‘island gigantism’. Some of these plants are true giants, up to 250 cm tall, towering over my head.

But as is not unusual, I race ahead of myself. Based on past experiences by Eunice Thompson, Alain Buffel, John Pilbeam and David Neville we had acquired the services of the Torres family who usually take people out for sport fishing, but who now know exactly where to take cactophiles on Isla Santa Catalina to photograph the giant Feros.

It meant a 5:30 start in pitch dark, no breakfast and a 15 minute drive from the nearby hotel to the settlement of El Juncolito, a small bay south of Loreto where we boarded a panga and sailed into the sunrise – a brilliant experience each time we do this. Fortunately the sea was as smooth as a pond. Not much entertainment from the dolphins on the journey out, but there was plenty of jumping around the boat on the way back, sadly too fast to capture the action digitally. On the way back we also say some Grey Whales, but too far away to take meaningful pictures.

Arriving and disembarking on the island can be a tricky exercise, especially with my back still in spasm from a previous sneezing fit. Our Capitan, Manuel Torres Snr. was wise to such challenges and had brought along an aluminium 3-step that ensured that we arrived with our feet dry. ‘How long do you need?’ he asked. I looked at the giants growing up a low hill and estimated 30 minutes. Wrong! While Manuel went off fishing, I was introduced to an almost impenetrable barrier of spiny plants: acacia, Stenocereus gummosus and chollas.

We forced our way through some how – days later I still have my arms and legs covered in scratches. We were also attached by lots of small flies and mosquito’s, or at least by small biting insects.

We soon found some great spots where F. diguetti formed a neat row leading up the hill. We managed to pose for a group picture: Angie and I plus a giant. But there were also plenty of small plants, down to orange size. At grapefuit size they already showed evidence of flowering. So they must be able to produce huge amounts of seed during their lifetime!

Looking out to sea we saw that Manuel was on his way back to the beach. Once again, his task was easier than ours as we had to do battle with the prickly flora again. We had been over an hour and had lost all sense of time.

We could have visited other spots on the island but still had to drive to San Ignacio for the night, so headed back to El Juncolito and then the drive north, satisfied with another tick on the endemic cactus islands list.

Alain tells me that although F. diguetti also grew on Isla Carmen, the re-introduced Borrego mountain sheep have practically destroyed all the giants there. Another great example of humans interfering with nature may save one species, but at the cost of others.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 – Around Loreto

We had built up a ‘spare day’ but now had to wait until tomorrow’s ‘fixed event’, the boat ride to Isla Santa Catalina. So we deceided to have a rest day!

A rest day!!! I hear you shout from behind busy office desks – How can you have a rest day when you do nothing all day long for a living!?!?

As I have explained earlier, a Cactus Trip, at least the ones that I participate in, tend to resemble a 9-5 office day: get up at 7, breakfast by 8, off to work at 9, bounce about on variable roads, then walk about in sweltering heat (OK not quite like an English Office Day at this time of year) off ‘home’ around 5, often with extra stress as you’re not sure if ‘home’ is where you hoped it would be and if there is room.

So today started at 6 a.m. with Angie telling me that the sun was rising. Nothing new there, it usually manages fine without my help! But here, with a room facing the Sea of Cortez, sunrises can be spectacular, especially with a few clouds in the sky and some ‘beach dressing’ in the foreground, such as a few islands, palm trees, beach umbrella’s and folks taking their dogs for an early morning walk. By 7 o’clock, the job was complete and I could climb back into bed. By 9, my stomach issued a ‘lack of breakfast’ alert that by 10 a.m was cancelled. We needed to vacate the room by noon, som some checking of emails and some checking world and olympic news on CNN. It seemed that it has stopped raining in England, or perhaps the continuous rains, winds and floods are just not news any more.

By noon we were on the road and on the look out for an ATM machine to top up my Pesos. My new SatNav is OK to a point but once I’m back to strong broadband I’ll have to run the update function as it is unaware of new roads and road works in progress.

We found the ATM and I recognised that we were almost in the centre of town – lots of tourist shopping and cosy café’s for a beer and pizza – well, it was almost lunch time according to my watch, if not my stomach. We enjoyed the attempts of over zealous salesmen to try to sell us – in their own words – anything that we never realised that we’d never need!  The salesmen at least understood why a massive bull’s skull, heavily decorated with beads and paint was not a practical gift to take back to the UK as I only had 12 kg spare checked in luggage allowance left. How about this smaller one? It still would have weighed in at over 12 kg – no thank you. We managed the usual range of key-rings fridge magnets and small ornamental bowls.

Next was a nice Pizza on the Plaza. Well, it was 3 p.m. by now!

We drove over to El Juncalito, to look in on Manuel Torres to check if all was OK for tomorrow’s boat ride. Yes, good to meet you – did you get your armbands? No! On past boat trips El Capitan obtained these permits for tourists to set foot on these islands that are all part of a protected biome. There had been no requests for us to obtain these in our email correspondence. No problem, they would drive to Loretto and obtain them. See you at 6 a.m.! So another early morning but without an opportunity to get back to bed an hour later.

Then on to our next hotel, Hotel Tripui, a mere 3.5 km from our boat, a new and very comfortable place, where they stressed that breakfast was included in the price! At 5:30? I asked. Ah, no, sorry. So instead we were offered snacks for the evening meal – all we could eat given the gigantic size of the lunch time pizza.

I should introduce our car this trip – we normally give them a name, whether they behave or not. Our Kia Sorento has been christened Baby. It was an obvious choice (they usually are), this one prompted by the car’s Texas registration plates that start ‘BBY”.

Today’s images are of sunrises, tourist shopping and of our hotels – not a cactus in sight. And that is how you have a rest day on a cactus trip.

Tomorrow is an all out ‘working day’ with the boat ride to Isla Santa Catalina, followed by a 3 hour drive to San Ignacio – in case you have not noticed, we’re on our way back to the US border!

Sunday, 16 February 2014 – around Ciudad Constitucion

Having found the Creeping Devils at ‘our usual spot’ along Mex 22, the Ciudad Constitution – Puerto San Carlos road, I wanted to see if we could find more locations for this plant to the north in the Llanos Magdalena. In 2008 we had tried along a track to the south, stopping every few kilometers, without joy, so how about the north?
We took MEX1 back to Ciudad Insurgentes and as Angie was driving, I took some pictures of the topiary that lines the central reservation and the sides of the road for a few kilometers. I guess the local Towns & Parks departments are overstaffed, or just take a real pride in their work and put in lots of their own time. (S2997)
We carried on north on a road, still marked MEX1; must be ‘the other MEX1’ although SATNAV had given up and just showed our car floating in nothingness. Tarmac also ran out so that we were now on sand, heading to Maria Auxiliadora

We recorded the coordinates for the place where we turned round, a flat featureless area, and found a place to park the car near by only to surprisedourselves with the plants that posed for our cameras: Ferocactus townsendianus ? Mammillaria dioica or M. hutchisoniana, Grusonia invicta, Stenocereus (Machaerocereus) gummosus, Cylindropuntia cholla, one small Ferocactus, Ferocactus santa-maria, Stenocereus (Hertrichocereus) thurberi and Pachycereus pringlei – S2998

We arrived at the pretty village of Santa Domingo and left it almost as soon as Angie had finished taking half a dozen images of the main road. There was a baseball match in progress at the small stadium on the edge of town with some 50 cars parked around the single stand. We drove past.

I pulled over to take some images of the small cemetery, attractively decked out with an array of bright flowers. As I focussed, the plants in the foreground jumped into focus: Stenocereus (Machaerocereus) eruca! Lots of them, but most hiding in the tall grass. They mist have had moisture here in recent weeks. – S2999.

So historic S3000 happened on the beach at Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, another launching station for Grey Whale viewing. There is just a narrow stretch of water between the village and Isla Magdalena – so narrow that it was easy to see the Whales ‘breath’, even though they have perfected the art of doing so to avoid Scammel and his whalers a few hundred years ago. A ‘no cactus’ stop.

My instincts told me that there was a short cut back to the hotel and found a track to take us to MEX22 (San Carlos to Ciudad Constitution road) at the junction where yesterday and in March 2008 we had stood between the ceroids to photograph the sunset. I was right, but it was just a single track, causing problems of what to do when again we spotted Creeping Devils next to the track. We had not seen another car since entering the track and so it seemed safe to take the pics as soon as we could and then move on. Just as I had taken the first few images, dust clouds announced the imminent arrival of two cars. I managed to get back in time and succeeded in squeezing the car high on the side of the track. Just as I was about to congratulate myself with my efforts, as the cars passed without making contact, a large pick up came tearing down from the opposite direction. He squeezed by with about 1 cm to spare, but I guess 1 cm is as good as a mile as long as you miss. So this was Stop S3001 with many more eruca’s added to my portfolio.

We rounded off a great day with dinner at the same Chinese restaurant that we used in 2008.

Tomorrow we head back to Loreto.