Just as was the case for yestreday’s ‘Paposo’ circuit, the last few months had established a ‘Guanillos Valley’ circuit. We decided to take Ruta 5 to the turn off to Pan de Azucar / Esmeralda but it seems that the Park wardens had not only closed access to the north of the Park from within it, but it seemed that the usual signs had been removed and replaced with signs to Cifuncho / Minas Las Luces, so that I ended up on the track that takes you to the centre of Pan de Azucar.
No choice but to turn back and try again on the ‘next’ track east that I had rejected nearly one hour earlier. We arrived a little later than planned at Ritter’s Type Locality for Copiapoa cinerea ssp columna-alba. (S2188) Every time that we get here, the light is a little different and the area presents new photo opportunities.
This time I focussed on the Eulychnia (iquiquensis I assume, but there were no buds, flowers or fruits to confirm the ID). It appears in Ritter’s image in KiSA, with a man and a woman standing next to it, to give us an idea of its height. This time it was John who offered to be ‘the Bowdery’. It seems that the plant is now 3/4 of a Carr in height – not much growth considering the c. 45 years that have past since the original photo was taken! And not surprisingly there were no signs of recent growth, although the plant looks to be alive. Compared to the Copiapoa that grow around it, this individual seems to have almost stood still! John and Juan managed to find a few Eriosyce (Thelocephala) esmeraldana between them – the easy ones, with fruits sticking above the surface to draw attention to their pressence.
S2189 was an ad-hoc stop near Secret Valley, but on the opposite side of the track where Juan (who has never been to Secret Valley) saw C. columna-alba and C. longistaminea growing together. It made a nice picture, especially when these two were joined by Thelocephala esmeraldana growing at the feet of the columna-alba. Also nice views from the top of the hill of the cactus covered hills, although many of the plants were ash-mounds, having died probably many years ago. Things seem to be getting dryer here in general.
S2190 was another visit to Alan Craig’s memorial. It looked as though the stones and shells had been tidied up since our November visit. Juan found T. esmeraldana here too.
S2191 was just after our Puma Bay camping spot, again for the magnificent (although suffering) C. longistaminea and C. grandiflora below the hills of Las Lomitas.
And finally S2192 was the regular spot for C. laui, where this time we pointed John in the right direction with instructions to find the miniatures (he did!) and C. angustiflora (still C. grandiflora ssp esmeraldana in my book). I climbed one of the hills in the other direction and took some nice wide angled shots of the track.
Around 4:30 it was time to head home and we decided to take the track that eventually takes you to Minas Las Luces. This had become rougher than I remembered it in November, but clearly maintenance has been reduced now that they seem to discourage visitors to Las Lomitas from the north. While driving my mind wandered what this track would be like on a future visit and thought ourselves lucky that we had not had any punctures since we started this trip on 1 ecember, via Patagonia. Always a bad thing to do. Five minutes later, Juan reported that the wheel under his backside had a puncture. Not a disaster in itself, as we were well rehearsed in the changing of tires. But with a dodgy spare going on to replace the puncture and some 40 km of rough track until we would reach a Vulcan. in Taltal, we needed a certain amount of luck with the remainder of today’s journey.
We celebrated our luck with ice creams while the vulcanisation man gave us the bad news. Either this time, or on a previous occasion (the tire had been repaired before we reted the car) it had been driven for a while when flat. As a result the inside walls of the tyre had worn badly. He could patch it and recommended that we’d keep it on the back and keep speeds down, especially around bends. 100 km p hr max!
We have to look at the options and have some rescheduling to do.