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Today’s stops would be north of Taltal, over the ‘back road’ to El Cobre which some 50 years back was probably one of the largest ‘Plantas’ for copper mining. There are a number of routes that we could take, but I decided on driving to Paposo and then heading inland, past the monument of the ‘Paposo Virgin’ and past the Observatories at El Paranal, currently considered the largest Astronomical Observatory in the world, to the turning to El Cobre – the most northern point of our trip. This is now a very good road and there is even a small airport – well, at least a run way – to allow scientists to be flown in rather than have to dress up as cactus explorers for the journey from Antofagasta. We made several short stops to stretch our legs and stare in awe at the empty moonscape that had been used to test the lunar vehicles in the past – or had the whole moon landing been staged here? Images filed under S3840.

What once was ‘the turning with the three dead buses’ in ‘Rudolf Schulz speak’, was now a proper sign post, pointing us down a track with safety barriers and all sorts of traffic signs, winding down to the coast where Ian and Al promptly burst out into song about their love of the seaside.

S3841 was for images taken at the last part of our descent down to El Cobre. There is now a small settlement of fishermen and just scars on the landscape of what had been a very busy place 30-40 years ago. Most of the clumps of C. solaris were dead, but there is little here to enable Nature to recycle its dead.

As El Cobre disappeared behind us, the side side of the road was free of cacti. The salt track was in better shape than I had ever seen it this far north so we made good progress at about 70 kph. There were some bends coming up where in the past, rain had often washed away the track, but clearly, with the small settlement at El Cobre, the urgency with which this was patched up had increased. One year, Cliff and I had left the group at that time playing with the cacti at Botija and had taken a look at one of these bends where Copiapoa solaris (var. luteus) made a brief appearance, but like before, most of the stems had been dead. But don’t write off a dying clump of Copiapoa too soon! Through stem sacrifice, the clump might look dead, but there is probably enough life left in some stems to recover when conditions improve! And so it was at this spot. The road workings must have encouraged the truly dead plants to be removed and what was left was enough to satisfy the appetite for cactus images. Al spotted some much smaller cacti between the clumps: Copiapoa atacamensis seedlings that was a new site for me. Well spotted! So the desert was slowly fighting back? (S3842).

There was no need for a GPS to find Caleta Botija (S3843). Copiapoa ahremephiana was in flower and so helped to find what we had come to photograph. There was no time to walk to the T junction at Botija. I had hoped that we might have been able to drive in, but there was no evidence of the track that had suddenly appeared some eight years ago.

We made some short, leg stretch stops on the way to Taltal to record the variability in size of Copiapoa cinerea subsp. haseltoniana.

It had been a long day but tomorrow we’ll visit the habitat of Copiapoa cinerea subsp. cinerea, this time without a drone to add to the entertainment.

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