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Archive for March, 2016

Sunday 20 March 2016 – LAX to Amesbury

Phew! Home safe, sound and tired at 18:00 hrs.

Empty suitcases to have my washing lined up to run the washing machine as soon as the sun hits the solar panels (if it is sunny enough). All pottery, wrapped in my laundry, got through as the six pieces that I bought!

Prepare to do list for tomorrow:

  • Check car battery (it was flat, after three weeks of no action; I should have disconnected the battery before flying out)
  • If needed, call Green Flag insurance for a home visit to get the car started. (It was needed and they arrived 15 minutes after my call!)
  • Check fuel for the car (144 miles left!)
  • Make doctor’s appointment to have toe checked out. As is often the case after walking in the desert, my toe nail (right foot this time) had come off on Friday and was still weeping, so, as all diabetics know, I need to get it checked out! Done.
  • Post the ‘arrived home’ missive for this trip. (Doing it now!)
  • Catch up on missing missives from the trip.
  • Start planning for next trips:
    • To Holland to pick up my sales plants for the coming season from Aad Vijverberg
    • Ferry bookings for trips to Cologne (Angie’s Mum) for June and September
    • To Madagascar once UK clocks turn to Winter time
    • Check clocks all around the house to see which ones I need to turn to Summer Time this coming Sunday. Hooray! Good excuse for a drink on Saturday night to celebrate! Bottle of Malbec added to shopping list.

It’s good to be home again!



Saturday 19 March 2016 – Westminster, CA to ‘in flight’.

Today’s date had been in my Diary for a long time: we fly home around 22:00 hrs tonight.

Usually the day of the flight is just a ‘hanging around waiting’ day, but not short before starting the trip, a solution was provided in early January by Marquita, the programme organiser for the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society who asked if I could give a presentation today. Expecting an evening presentation, I regretted that I would be in flight. After a flurry of emails across the pond we were set: the presentation would be on Saturday morning at 10:00!

After a few hickups with this new presentation about our 2015 trip to Chile, after three reboots, Kita and Eunice managed to fix the problem: run the 1080i rather than the 4k version of the presentation! Thank you ladies for resolving the cause!

In the meantime I had started a long winded introduction of Friedrich Ritter, the most active of cactus explorers in South America who had described new taxa from most countries in South America, where he had settled in Grazino, near Olmue. He bought a piece of land from Pablo Weisser’s father where he built his house. Pablo was a botanist at the time and started collecting seed of South American and western Argentina as assitant to Hans Lembcke. Many of the seeds they collected were sold to Frau Hilda Winter, Ritter’s sister, in Germany and offered for sale through her catalogue as Ritter / FR numbers. After a falling out between Hans and Hilda, Hans and Pablo sold their seeds to the then newly started nursery and catalogue of the Karlheinz Uhlig nursery.  For the full story, please refer to the  Diary pages of 24th October 2015 onwards.

The time moved on to noon, time for a brief chat with members, then six hour before we needed to do battle with Dollar Rent a Car about the insurance they charged us for our Mexican Insurance for the US$ 48 per day of our 18 Day stay in Baja after which ww could check in for our flight. What shall we do?

Eunice suggested a visit to the Orange County Show and Sales where many people that I enjoyed meeting last year during a mini tour of US C&S Societies in California and Nevada would be present. And so we drove across LA to Orange County where I met Jim Hannah who had been to four of these presentation last year, in the car park. Many more friends were found inside the hall. The balance was light (in number) on the Show, in a small side hall, but heavy on the sales of both plants and pots. Could I squeeze a few more pots in? You bet! And so six more pots were squeezed into my cases with Angie also joining in with spending the last of our dollars. They all went in and came out again without any damage in Amesbury, UK.

The chat at Dollar Rent a Car was unsatisfactory and will be followed up with checking out my rights with my credit card company once we get home. My next trip to Baja will be a flight from London via Mexico City to La Paz where we watched a very efficient looking crew at Hertz seemed to provide a very satisfacory service during the 45 minutes that we observed them at work, while waiting for Eunice to arrive.

And so the time flew by before we boarded the Airbus A-380 and I slept most of the way to England, but not before Angie received a text message from son Peter asking if we had missed our flight. No?! Why? Peter had spotted that we’d fly on 19th March and should arrive at around 15:45, but had not spotted that was due to happen the next day! Better than the other way when my pick up from LAX was expecting me the day after arrival!

Friday 18 March 2016 – El Cahon to Westminster, CA

In a way, the purchase of an extra suitcase at Walmart was the sign that the trip was nearly over and that our minds were becoming focussed on ‘going home’ issues. Today we would do the initial re-pack and visit Steve Hammer for our usual visit for interesting chat, even if we were unable to buy a single plant and without a cactus in sight.

The difference this time was that we’d say ‘Cheerio, see you back in Blighty, old boy!’ to Jonathan, who may have been a Ferocactus Fan since the early 1980s and a Copiapoa Nut since 2013, but whose real passion was for Lithops and so was keen to take more 3D videos while staying with Steven.

Today’s plant of special interest was a member of the Mesembryanthemaceae / Aizoaceae that, if I understood correctly, had not been observed in flower since the days of Linnaeus. Here, in Steve’s shade house was one of the less spectacular plants in the Family (if not THE least spectacular) but it was in bud, ready to open over the next few days. Don’t miss it in 3D, Jonathan to see if it has any redeeming features. I rely on you to tell me its name as although Steve mentioned it a few times, it was on my deaf side, so didn’t even enter one ear and out on the other side – it just never got to the ‘received’ area.

But there were the usual beauties on display that had ‘not for sale/ not affordable’ written all over them; Haworthias of the Elephant’s tooth type that looked as thought they needed ironing or looked a little pale and pots full of Lithops seedlings with all the seeds from just one fruit but incredibly variable, nicely demonstrating the concept of diversity encountered in a single species concept and so frustrating automated species name generators and botanists alike. I lit the touch paper for discussion by suggesting ‘a genus with just two taxa then? Yellow flowers or white flowers?’  It’s been a long standing joke between Jonathan and myself; I’m sure that Steven had heard it before!

We arrived at our Motel 6 in Westminster, CA where we had stayed on our first night in the US and again took Eunice, this time accompanied by her daughter Lachelle, to the Napels Prime Rib Company, where the Blue Cadillac Margaritas and the huge steaks went down a treat.

Back at the Motel, Angie again tried to improve on our previous packing effort. Not bad, but was this carrier bag and its comment coming along as well? Better have another go first thing in the morning!

Thursday 17 March 2016 – around El Cahon

The approaching end to this trip follows the pattern of its predecessors: find a convenient Motel 6, visit friends, admire collections and visit a shopping mall to get those last minute essentials – in this case an additional suitcase (carry on luggage size) for my new boots and to hold the rucksack etc.

But first, in the ‘visit to friends’ category we met up again with Juergen Menzel at his home, to see the latest cactus novelties and to see the progress of plants photographed on previous occasions. Many plants are outside in the yard where nature takes care of the watering. There is a shade house to protect the smaller plants from the intense sun and heat. After 45 minutes in there It was just too hot for me so I escaped to cool down and to admit that I had failed to find the new Mam that I knew was hiding there somewhere. Once my body temperature was back to approaching ‘normal’, Juergen took me back in and allowed me to photograph his two plants that came from Europe.

It certainly is a very attractive and unusual plant that should be available at ELK next year, no doubt at a steep price.

I sat in the shade under a tree, mesmerised by the large group of Stenocereus eruca, the creeping devil, that started as two 1 m long stems some 15 years ago. These are facts that can not be found along plants in nature.

Juergen concentrated on showing Jonathan the mature Ferocacti planted around the garden – we need not have travelled all around Baja for 18 days – they were all here! But plants in habitat have an additional charm that is difficult to capture even in the best of gardens.

Thank you, Juergen!

Wednesday 16 March 2016 – A day in Anza Borrego

Some people say that the native cacti of California are boring, with about half a dozen taxa occurring in nature, but when you drive around the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, less than an hour’s drive from LA and San Diego with a wide range of comfortable hotels and a baffling choice of eateries and where Brits and semi Anglicized Dutchmen can make ourselves understood without too many linguistic skills (except that last night a ‘small pie’ turned out to be a huge pizza, large enough to feed a family of four!).

After doing battle with our waist line at Perry’s Cafe, 0.1 mile from the El Cajon Motel 6, me met up with Juergen Menzel and Eunice Thompson for a drive along I-8 to Ocotillo, where we headed north (south would have taken us back to Mexico), past a farm of wind turbines in full swing. It was not very long before Eunice, driving the lead car, pulled over as she and Angie had spotted a huge clump of Echinocereus engelmannii in full flower. Awesome! as they say in California.

And only a few meters away another impressive group of flowering cacti: Opuntia basilaris, and yellowish flored Cylindropuntia sp. (C. wolffii?). After two weeks plus and thoroughly confused by Ferocactus hunting in Baja, we were now thouroughly confused by the variability seen in Ferocactus cylindraceus. Juergen still prefers the name F. acanthodes but at least we can agree that the plants are identical, just a matter of a taxonomic nicety as to which name to use.  This plant has a huge distribution area. Last year I saw it in Nevada, near Las Vegas and this year F. cylindraceus subspecies tortulispinus was recorded by us in Baja. subsp. tortulispinus was also present here in Anza Borrego, or at least many plants of F. cylindraceus with tortulous spines. ‘But they don’t here’ I hear a choir of experts sing out. ‘We don’t read books so well and were never taught geography’ I hear the choir of Feros respond! Well, they would if they give a damn – it seems that Homo sapiens is the only species that does.

There were also plants that would have passed as Ferocacus rectispinus at any fancydress parade, but you’ve guessed it – they don’t grow here either. Their impressive spines were flatter than the ones observed in the Sierra San Francisco.

Would it not be great if we based names on a plant’s physical characters rather than where it grows in nature? We can always write a paper to extend their known distribution! A lot more research into the different soil types where these plants grow may reveal a possible course for the twisted spines. There were some nice, predominantly white spined F. cylindraceus plants near the Box Canyon stop where over one hyundred years ago the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Stage coaches would speed past.

Mammillaria dioica and its superficial look-alike Mammillaria tetrancistra, the former in flower, the latter with typical huge red fruits containing the typical large seeds.   At the Cactus Loop Juergen had marked the spot where a huge crested Mammillaria dioica caused us to queue and for cameras to click again. Along the Cactus Trail, Eunice found a Mammillaria ‘ten trancistors’ with a dozen or so huge fruits.

Time was pressing and we could not possibly finish the day without a visit to the Julian Apple Pie shop in San Ysabel. The range of fruit pies had been extended to include Cherry and Loganberry, as well as the old favourite of Apple and Peach. Very tempting to get one slice of each.  This stop has become such a tradition since 2008, that Angie and I decided to spend some more dollars on Julian Pie Shop (JPS) souvenirs, Angie on a fleece with logo and I a baseball cap with logo. Time to pose for pictures. As by now we had eaten our pies, I needed to buy another slice. Needs must!


Tuesday 15 March 2016 – Ensenada to El Cajon, CA

After yesterday’s missive I received a timely word of warning from David Whitely suggesting that my brand new cowboy boots might be as complicated to get across the border into the USA as if we had tried to bring a collection of Ferocactus taxa home; both Pythons and cacti are after all CITES Appendix II. It is easy to be very aware of regulations applying to cacti while at the same time falling foul of buying a personal souvenir to relive childhood memories of wild west books and movies!   What to do?

It is usually best to play things straight and so, after a 90 minute drive we reached the border which at the Tijuana – San Ysidro on Tuesdays around midday has 11 lanes open and an average crossing time of 60 minutes (http://traffic.calit2.net/border/border-wait-times.php?type=passenger&sub=standard&port=250401)

As we arrived the ID check point the officer asked if we had anything to declare. I explained that I’d like advice on a pair of leather cowboy boots bought in Ensenada. We joined some 50 cars and waited a further 45 minutes to be seen. I explained yesterday’s purchase, where I had been advised that the boots were legal to take into the USA and was given a note, in Spanish that stated that the product was made in accordance to rules approved by CITES. I therefore believed that it was OK to bring the boots in. The very polite and helpful officer could not decide if the skins were real or imitation and took them away for inspection by a reptile expert. It took another 15 minutes or so for him to return to say that the expert could not be a 100% certain that they were real python leather or imitation but if I had only bought the one pair for personal use and had sought official advice I was granted permission to import the boots into California.

Doing the right thing seems to have paid off, but it is a good reminder that CITES rules apply to many things, not just habitat cactus material.

No pictures taken today although Angie and Jonathan snapped away merrily while we progressed in the queue to the border.

Monday 14 March 2016 – San Quintin to Ensenada

My first trip to Cactus Country was in 1997, with my two sons, then 14 and 17 years of age. It had been a difficult time for all of us as my wife and I were working our way through a difficult divorce.

I remember gazing through the shop window in Tombstone, AZ at a pair of ‘cowboy boots’ that clearly cost too much to be considered a sensible purchase, considering how often you could wear such master pieces of boot making in the UK. There have been more situations where difficult to cost-justify memorabilia from cactus country were very tempting but the urge to purchase was controlled. Some two and a half weeks ago I spotted a pair of gorgeous python skin boots in a shop window near our hotel in Ensenada. In the hope that they would not fit, I tried them on. Perfect fit! I convinced myself that it would be stupid to make such a purchase at the start of the holiday but that if they were still available on the way back, I might be tempted.

If things had worked out different in Catavina we would have spent tonight in San Quintin and would have driven straight past Ensenada and those boots.

But faith conspired; Catavina had been full when we passed and so we found ourselves back in Hotel Cortez in Ensenada tonight. After down loading our pictures for the day – a cactus stop early on along the track to San Pedro de Martir (S3438) with many Baja endemic cacti – previously visited in 2008 as S0936 and a non cactus stop to wind down at La Bufadora – I suggested that I might take a stroll into town to see if those boots were still there. Damn, they were! Could I try on the other boot? After all, both right and left foot needed to fit, although it was hard to think of the right occasion to wear such fancy foot wear. ELK 2016? May be. Angie agreed that they were beautiful. Jonathan commented that the toes curled up. They are meant to, was my excuse.

And so I my display cabinet for Cactus Trip souvenirs and memorabilia needs to be rearranged to make space for a pair of size 11 python skinned cowboy boots when I get home. I would not be at all surprised if they should find themselves in images for my forthcoming UK ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ presentations.

I finished our last night in Mexico with another rib-eye steak and another goldfish bowl size glass of margarita to celebrate the end of the Mexican phase of this wonderful trip.

Stories are beginning to filter through from main land Mexico where our amigos from previous cactus trips have embarked on their latest adventures. Thanks to Alain and Ian for their updates and to John, John and Cliff for no doubt taking images that will want me come back to Mexico sometime soon. Hope that Finn can catch up with you after flight delays from Denmark.

Sunday 13 March 2016 – Guerrero Negro to San Quintin.

More catching up to do as the unpredictability of broadband quality and bed space continue to mess up the best laid plans ….

We had planned to make a number of stops to see the transition of Ferocactus fordii to Ferocactus gracilis and this went very well. My back is still sore, so progress on foot is slow, but Angie and Jonathan spread out so that we cover quite an area.

We finished up at our usual spot to check up on the health of the Echinocereus lindsayi population. We found the usual 6-7 plants looking healthy and in full bud but there were also a number of holes that suggest that some recent digging activity had taken place. Jonathan was rightly amazed at the similarities of this Echinocereus with Ferocactus.

We had hoped to check in at Mision Catavina and then explore around the Rancho Santa Ines looking for the totem pole version of Steneocereus (Lophocereus) schottii that is reported from there, The rather abrupt comment from the desk was ‘no vacancies’, not even followed by the usual ‘have a nice day’! Itremain unclear to what extent these hotels are a cohesive chain, with the old names of Desert Inn and La Pinta still appearing along the Mision names, but the Catavina one remains the weak chain in the link.

The staff at Mision Santa Maria welcomed us almost like old friends – we’re in the same rooms that we had a few weeks ago and they listened to our comment that the toilet in our room did not flush on the first visit. It now worked fine. And it was great to enjoy the first hot water shower for a while!

I’ll add the full stop report for the day during the catch up phase back in the UK in a week’s time

Saturday 12 March 2016 – around Guerrero Negro

A quick look at the original itinerary just to confirm that we were on schedule revealed that we had a spare day left! Great!

Jonathan wanted to check out some more local Ferocactus locations and I wanted to take a look around El Arco which was reported as a location for Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii var. mickleanus aka the Totempole Cactus, the monstrose form of the plant that is more widespread and known in cultivation than seen in nature.

Right in the middle of the road works on MEX1, some 2o km south of Guerrero Negro we turned east on MEX18 to El Arco. The ‘MEX’ designation is a bit misleading as it is not a hardtop, but a gravel track, mostly in good shape. The first 12 km was clearly an extension of the Viscaino Desert – flat, dry, with minimal cacti on display at 60 kmh, so we made a stop (S3427) to check things out on foot. As I’m logging the co-ordinates for this stop, I notice that just 1.2 km back towards MEX1 an image has been posted of an incredibly colourful Desert in Flower. Wow! What a difference with what we saw! I wonder when that image was taken – what a shame that Google Earth does not include that information. Digging a bit deeper suggests that it was taken before 14 June 2010.

We walked through a dense forest of Fouquieria splendens, Mammillaria dioica (no flowers or fruit on display so not a clear-cut ID), Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii, Stenocereus (Machaerocereus) gummosus – creating the forest impression – and Yucca valida.

At S3428, on the outskirts of ‘town’ the same range of cacti and succulent plants plus Pachycereus pringlei were found.

At the coordinates that we had been aiming for (S3429) Jonathan was pleased to find Ferocactus peninsulae while the cacti already seen on the way here were seen again and photographed for the record.

On the way back, 7.8 km before hitting the road works on MEX1 (S3430) we were in the really dry bit typical of the Vizcaino Desert and found the Ferocactus that Jonathan had been looking for: Ferocactus fordii.

Finally we made S3431 before visiting the restaurant where passengers for the Pangas to watch the whales in Ojo de Liebre leave. No we didn’t go again; Angie and I had already made the trip here in 2013 and in any case, sailings for the day had stopped at 16:00.  I stayed in the car, nursing my back as it started to seize up after a long day.

If you want to know more about this El Arco, good luck! Searches on various internet search engines get plenty of hits but 99.9% refer to the rock formation at Los Cabos at the southern tip of the peninsula. Although the turning to ‘our’ arch is east off MEX1 on MEX 18 is also in Baja California Sur, MEX 18 heads back to the north, so look for El Arco, BC rather than in BCS.

Friday 11 March 2016 – Loreto to Guerrero Negro

What they say about busses is true. You don’t see one for ages and then a whole clutch of them appear!

Four Altos

It’s the same when I spotted this sign for a ‘4 ways’ crossing. It’s a case where first come is first served at this cross road. We first saw this sign at the start of our trip in Ensenada but I was in the middle of rush hour traffic and I had the wrong camera in my lap.

This one, seen when leaving Loreto was at a quiet time of day and I was able to pull over and find the camera. If the 4 Altos were in town, what happened to the three tenors?

When we wanted to spend the night in San Ignacio on 3 March, on the way south, we were refused entry to the town as black clouds hung above it and flames leaped up from at least three places in the palm forest.  But it seems that fires here are a regular occurrence and that the palm trees are remarkably resistant, again, according to reports on Google Search.

Still, we were a little concerned as we drove into town, to show Jonathan the Mision. Yes, there were a significant number of blackened trees, but there were also a number of young trees growing in clearings made by the burning trees or in areas cleared by the fire brigade to contain the fire. It could have been so much worse (S3423).

The next three stops (S3424, S3425 and S3426) were made as we took the turning east of MEX1 into the Sierra San Francisco. This time we did not get to the village as the road had been damaged by a combination of water and possibly a rumble or two, so that we decided that turning round would be the wiser option.

Among the plants found were Echinocereus brandegeei, a short spined form of E. engelmannii, Ferocactus emoryi subsp rectispinus and Ferocactus peninsulae subsp peninsulae (?) with reddish flowers plus Mammillaria brandegeei (in flower).

On the way to Guerrero Negro we passed a turning east towards El Ar4co, but with day light fading we decided to come back tomorrow.

The first three hotels we tried, including the Desert Inn right on the border between Baja Norte and Baja Sur were full, but the next one (Posada Don Vincente) had space for two nights plus the bonus of being one of the cheaper hotels on the trip. Sadly hot water for a shower was not available.