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Archive for the ‘2008 Baja California’ Category


Super Ario, south of Las Tablas

Super Ario, south of Las Tablas

SUNDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2014 – CARLSBAD, CA, USA to San Quintin, Baja Norte

A quick breakfast at Denny’s and we were back on the road. The road to the border was quite straight forward and the volume of people crossing this Sunday morning was nice and light. The facilities in Tijuana have greatly improved since my first Bajathon in 2008 – officers now sit in comfortable brick build offices and there were smiles and relaxed chat rather than the tension between ‘customers’ and ‘service providers’ that I remember from past years. We were across in under an hour, despite being caught behind small party of Swiss  tourists who impressed by speaking fluent Spanish.

We found MEX1D with ease, much better signposted than on previous occasions. We had just paid our dues at the second Toll Plaza when we were directed off MEX1D and onto the old MEX1. We were aware that this would happen as close to La Mision with lots of Dudleya brittonii hanging from the road cutting, the Toll road had been destroyed by an earthquake. So no surprise, except why charge us for a road that is not accessible? I guess to pay for the repair works.

I thought that to reach our traditional Dudleya stop, we had to turn back a bit but realised that we had turned off too early. S2975. In fact we made three stops in very close succession, so S2975 (a), (b) and (c), with the last one back at the traditional stop. In addition to the Dudleya, Bergerocactus emoryi, Mammillaria dioica, Agave shawii and Ferocactus viridescens had their picture taken.

A Mexican, parked in front of us, came over for a chat. ‘What are you taking pictures of?’ We explaned that we are cactus & succulent plant freaks. Ah, great, I understand, we could not understand because with the beautiful Pacific Ocean bathing in sunshine and the beach below us, it all seemed a bit mad. Yep, that sums us up. Mad on cacti!

Usually we continue back on the toll road, but that was not an option this time. South of La Mision, the road took us past some dark rocks, rising some 10 m (30 ft) right along the road. They were covered in white Dudleya brittonii, but no place to pull over to take their picture or, with a huge truck on my backside, not even a chance to slow down for some on the fly pics. Never mind.

As a result of the detour we missed the Mirador that has been our second Baja stop in the past and arrived in Ensenada where we found a Calimex supermarket and an Oxxo to top up on supplies.

Angie was a little concerned when after passing through San Quintín I turned right onto a dirt track and I explained that this is where in 2008 Alain Buffel and I got stuck in wet sand, in the dark. and then failed to find the Hotel Mision Santa Maria. We found it thanks to a SatNav on later visits but my new SatNav had not a clue. Never mind, follow your instincts and sure enough after a longer while than I remembered, there was the hotel.

Follow the link http://www.misionsantamariahotelsanquintin.com/index.htm?lbl=ggl-en&gclid=CMXVxJPzwbwCFUdqfgod7yAACA to see how the other half live.

A large margarita prevented this Diary page from going out last night. Now breakfast calls, then the Catavina Boulder Fields!

Saturday, 29 March 2008 – around San Diego

Saturday morning, but I was up at 6, out of habit I guess. Eunice arrived shortly after 8 so that we could copy each other’s images from this trip. While the laptops were whizzing away, back to Denny’s for breakfast. We discussed what cacti locations, if any, to look at. The original plan was the cactus garden at Balboa Park, where on 8 March I had given a presentation. But were there any wild habitat locations that might be of more interest? We briefly considered and then quickly dismissed the idea of shooting off to San Quintín, Mexico and back for the day. We would have had to take out more Mexican Insurance and on a Saturday evening, it would have taken at least 4 hours to get back into the USA.
Tempting though …..

We decided instead to take a look at the coast slightly to the north of Motel 6, obviously to see if there were any Dudleya there that we had not seen before.

The first stop was a public access spot inside a University campus. It looked all very colourful with lots of aster-like flowers covering the eroding mudstone cliffs leading to the Ocean. We spotted a few Dudleya, but none that would have won prizes anywhere. Next we pointed the car to the Cabrillo National Monument. To get there, take the road from the Motel to the Airport, but carry on along the harbour instead of turning right to the Airport buildings. Eventually you drive along a peninsula that separates San Diego Bay from the Ocean. Right at the tip of the peninsula is the National Monument, complete with visitors centre offering spectacular views across the bay. Many scenery photos were taken. Then we also spotted Dudleya and decided to follow one of the nature trails. Just as I was about to suggest that we’d turn round, I spotted a cactus, Ferocactus viridescens, in flower, on the hillside, then another and another. Eunice took pictures as I risked life and limb (not really) to climb to the Feros and finding Mammillaria dioica on the way. On the way back, we took a different route and added Bergerocactus emoryi to the list of cacti for the day.

The sun & sea air (how’s the weather in the UK, guys?) makes you tired and the thought of flying home and packing yet to be done meant we returned to Motel 6, had a coffee at Denny’s until at 5 p.m. the Chinese opened and Eunice and I each had a China Camp Special, just as we had
seen Ian demolish two nights earlier. I guess that this makes it a tradition for European cactophiles to have a Chinese meal here before their flight home the next day.

Back at the Motel, a quick check that all data had been copied as planned. Eunice announced that she had earlier formatted a 4Gig card with all her Anza Borrego pictures from a few days ago, before it had been downloaded on to her computer. Good to see that I’m not the only prat to make
this mistake 🙂 As in my earlier accident, images taken by the rest of us ensure that the experiences of that day were not lost.

Eunice left for a 90 minute drive home to Bellflower and on checking my emails I was pleased to see a message from Cliff to say that he had arrived home safely. Ian’s email system at home was thought to be defective, so I’m not expecting any mail from him until he gets to work on Monday.

And that just leaves me to return the car and fly home tomorrow morning. Plans for future trips are already being planned: Ian and family will visit the Canary Islands, Eunice will come to the annual ELK cactus festival in Belgium in September and I hope to be off to Chile as soon as the clocks in the UK change to Winter Time at the end of October, probably joined by Cliff who hopes to have his future life sorted out by then.

This IS the last Bajathon Diary, at least for this trip! Honest!!

Friday, 28 March 2008 – around San Diego

Obviously, when I said that the previous Diary page that I sent out was going to be the last, I lied, although I had no intention of
writing more reports.

So, after dropping Cliff & Ian off at the Airport, I went back to the motel, had breakfast at Denny’s, changed rooms and washed my jacket, so that I won’t look like a tramp due to its lack of cleanliness (leaving just the long hair & beard and the desert boots to raise suspicion). I also started going through the pictures of the trip, taking the data from the GPS picture that separates each photo stop from the previous one. This data was copied into my stop database and from there copied to create a waypoint on Google Earth. It’s a slow repetitive process, but the boredom is relieved by seeing where we had been and how close some of the stops were (unintentionally) to stops made in February. Obviously, there was something on both occasions that prompted us to stop.

While doing this, data was being copied to my new plug in hard drive (500 GByte for under GBP 60!)

Before I realised where the time had gone, it was time for another visit to Denny’s for dinner, and after that, time for bed.

Thursday, 27 March 2008 – Carlsbad to San Diego and the party is over

Eunice suggested breakfast at Mimmie’s, the same one where I received complimentary muffins on my first visit. Ian enjoyed a fruit salad the size of a small greengrocer’s shop and yes, each of the ‘Mimmie Virgins’ received their complimentary box of 4 muffins each.

We had promised to visit Jürgen Menzel again, as he had been very helpful in giving me tips on finding various Baja cacti and we had promised to show him the pictures of our trip. Jürgen has a collection of some of the more unusual cacti, not often seen in general or hobby collections and enjoys propagation and seed producing to ensure their distribution, via the trade, to hobbyists. We were fortunate that he also had a small stock of Franziska & Richard Wolf’s book ‘The Ferocacti of Baja California’ at a ‘better than ELK’ price. Ian was impressed with a map book of detailed Baja maps and noted details, so that hopefully we can acquire a copy for any future trips, because I for one would like to return some time in the future to track down the few species that we missed this time, including most of the endemic island species.

Eunice and I had intended to take Cliff & Ian to Torrey Pines for the last ‘field experience’ of seeing cacti in habitat, but Jürgen suggested two alternative locations where Ferocactus viridiscens still survived on small plots of land, waiting perhaps to be developed, in an urban environment.

He took us to the first location where we found some 20 plants, hidden in the tall grass. These plants were much heavier spined than the plants I had seen at Torrey Pines. Jürgen explained that many more plants had grown here, but a forest fire some 10 years ago had severely reduced their number. Ironically, most of the Feros had survived the fire, but their spined had been burned off, so that, without this protection, they made juicy snacks for rodents who had lost their regular food source in the fire. Perhaps as a result, natural selection showed much heavier spined plant here today. I use my camera as a note book, so went to take a picture of the signs near the entrance to the site, after we had completed the picture session, to read:


Warning: Army Corps of Engineers has designated this site for future sweep of potentially unexploded ordnance.

Well, it’s a new approach to protecting plants. We are glad to report that we didn’t find anything explosive on ‘our sweep’.

The next stop was a narrow strip of waste land opposite a school. At first we thought that any cacti had been destroyed, but after a bit of searching we found Ferocactus viridescens again, in very tall grass and agricultural wheat! Growing there as well, a Dudleya sp.. On the way back to the car I found an attractive Oxalis sp., just one group – perhaps the result of someone dumping their garden waste there. Nearby grew Crassula  argentea, The Money Tree, an African native.

Ian & Cliff were getting tired and clearly their mind was already occupied with the journey home and the packing that precedes it, so it was back to The Motel At The End Of The Runway, where Eunice and I decided to make a quick trip to Fry’s, the discount electronics outlet, where I managed to pick up a 500 GByte external HD for just under GBP 60, as my 250GByte disc only had 12 GByte left!

When we got back, Eunice’s daughter Lachelle, had arrived to pick her Mum up, but first we went for the long awaited Chinese meal, in an interesting setting, resembling a Hollywood film set, but where the service left a lot to be desired.

Eunice, Ian and Cliff said their goodbyes and Ian set his alarm clock for 7:30. He need not have bothered, as the train right behind the Motel and the planes landing & taking off from 5 a.m. onwards made sure that we were already awake.

I dropped them off at the Airport and went back to the motel, where by midday I moved from room 117, to 128 – just around the corner from the swimming pool, I did not know that there were rooms there too.

I’m now enjoying organising my pics on the new HD and putting stop data on Google Earth for a virtual trip sometime in the future.

This will be the last Diary in the series – so, Diary Addicts, you have to get a real life, and perhaps join in with the next adventure in cactus country!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 – El Centro to Carlsbad, CA

We were ready to leave around 8:30 and decided to have breakfast on the way. We took I-5 East to Ocotillo, then S-2 north to Anza Borrego. Breakfast was in the local bar & restaurant. We ordered the usual 4 orange juices, 3 coffee and what ever Ian was having plus variations on how to prepare an egg, or, in Ian’s case, the originator of the egg (chicken sandwich).

We all pulled faces as we drank our orange juice, having got used to 4-5 freshly squeezed oranges in Mexico. ‘Don’t you like it?’ our waitress asked. ‘It’s different …..’ the British Citizens replied, diplomatically. ‘No’, said Eunice. ‘Neither do I’ said the waitress, ‘It’s thawed out frozen orange juice. Just give them back and I won’t charge you.’ Cliff had been having stomach problems and used the facilities to clear out last night’s dinner.

And so on to Anza Borrego; but first the impromptu formalities of a Border Police Checkpoint; not the smartest kids on the block, who thought that Ian’s passport had expired, while looking at the date issued. Still, spending all day in the sun among cacti didn’t seem such a bad job compared to office work in the UK, plus you got a gun to play with and a licence to kill! Oh well.

Anza Borrego produced everything that it had promised during my previous visits: several species of Cylindropuntia, Opuntia basilaris, Echinocereus engelmannii, Mammillaria dioica, Ferocactus cylindraceus, Fouqueria splendens and lots of field flowers this time, all in full bloom, in various scenic settings: on the flat with distant hills in the background and on the rocky hillsides themselves. These cacti have some of the showiest flowers in the plant family. I’m sure that I could fill a whole talk just on the Anza Borrega Desert State Park! We overdosed on photographing these wonderful sights, a bit like the last day of a Chile trip on the rocks of the Pacific shores at Pichidangui, surrounded by different species of Eriosyce in flower. We made it again to the visitor’s centre, watched a couple of programs in their cinema, more to be out of the heat (the outside temperature on the car’s thermometer reached 94 F, Ian’s thermometer reached 31 C), than because we were going to see things that we hadn’t seen already.

Coping with the desert heat adds a dimension of effort to the day’s proceedings so that we were all glad to see the familiar sight of the Motel 6 in Carslbad, where I had stayed several nights in late February / early March. We went through the checking in procedure for the pre-booked rooms, got the cards for the internet service and went to inspect the rooms. Oh, oh, just one king-size bed in each room. Now in a real emergency somewhere in Mexico, in the only hotel in town, we might have brought in our airbeds etc. but here we went straight back to reception. What had happened to the other beds? Sorry, that was how the booking came through. Never mind, can we swap rooms with ones with 2 queen / king size beds each?  No, sorry, we’re full up. Not for long, as we left them with two free rooms and after a reversal process of the checking in procedure, cancelling credit card payments etc we were on our way to the second Motel 6 in Carlsbad (they have 3). Here the rooms were inspected and found to be OK. Next item on the agenda: food. We risked our lives crossing a busy road where we had seen signs for The European Meat Company. Looked promising, but they were closed. On to a large intersection with lots of restaurant signs. We were greeted by Greek music. A quick look revealed entertainment provided by a belly dancer, but it all looked rather tatty, so we gave it a miss. On to the cross roads we waited patiently for the pedestrian light to turn green, only to start flashing red again when we were only half way across. Nothing too promising when we arrived there, so let’s cross again. Same story: red before we reached half way. We now spotted a promising looking restaurant ‘Islands’, promising Burgers and Drinks on signs with various letters missing. But it was on the other side of the road again, and so we made another crossing and got back to where we started, just behind Motel 6. All this looking for food is thirsty work, so as soon as the surfer babes (? – they didn’t live up to my expectations!) had sat us down with an ‘awesome!’ between every word they uttered, we ordered Margaritas and Burgers.

Anyway, a good time was had by all and the extra Tequila shot did the trick of filtering out the noise of Interstate 5 that runs about 100 m from our Motel window.

As a result, the Diary pages did not get finished and are therefore now being completed while I’m also chatting with Angie on Windows Messenger.

Better send them now, as breakfast calls.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 – Ensenada to El Centro, USA

It was another long day and I’m tired after a long drive through a hot desert. We made more or less the same stops and saw the same things as reported in the Diary page of 16th & 17th of February, except that we saw more Dudleya and that this time we went from El Chinero straight to Mexicali rather than make the 1 day de-tour via San Felipe.

This time, we used the Mexicali East crossing, a tip that Eunice received from another American on holiday in Baja. Not sure if it was the different crossing or the fact that it was Tuesday rather than Sunday afternoon, but we managed the crossing in just 15 minutes!

Not much later, we pulled into the Motel 6 in El Centro and after a bit of searching (we did not want to end up at IHOP, did we, Alain?!) we ended up at Famous Dave’s BBQ restaurant, where the size of our meals confirmed that we were back in the USA. Stuffed and watered, we are now gasping for air in a ex-smoker’s room – all the none smoking rooms were booked. We’re a bit away from Reception & the router, so we’ll see if this message gets through.

Monday, 24 March 2008 – San Quintin to Ensenada

The advantage of staying last night in San Quintin was that we could have a lie in – well, some of the others did as I woke up at the usual time and had a chat with Angie via Windows Messenger. It was about 11:00 when we finally left for the 115 mile journey to Ensenada. There was not much going on on MEX1, so I started browsing the AAA Baja California Guide and discovered the opportunity for two side trips: one turning east at San Telmo de Abajo would take us towards Meling Ranch and then to the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, the other turning west 6.2 miles north of San Vicente and leading to the coast at Puerto San Isidro.

By the time I had spotted these side trips we appeared to have already passed the turning at San Telmo, so had to do a U-turn (a ‘Uwee’) and drive some 7 km back.  It would take much too long to make both side trips in full so we decided to drive east until 12:30, noting potential stops for the way back. We found a nice place for a plant stop at 12:29 ad found Echinocereus maritimus (in flower) Myrtillocactus cholla (in flower and fruit), Pachycereus gummosus, Mammillaria sp. (dioica or blossfeldiana?) and Opuntia and Cylindropuntia sp. A first on this trip was to find Bergerocactus emoryi in bud and in flower. It seems to rely on vegetative propagation, as only few plants had buds and only two or three were flowering. On the succulent side, the place was awash with Agave shawii, very large single headed plants or multiheaded plants with smaller heads. And Eunice was in heaven as Dudleya were everywhere, D. brittonii was massive here and snow white, but there was also a smaller plant with cylindrical,  mainly green leaves that we later found in greater numbers at the next stop.

I noted yesterday that the area we were passing through seemed to be past its peak in terms of field flowers. Here, farther north, I estimate that it was roughly at its peak.

We made several more shortish stops on the way back to MEX1 an, hidden between the shrubs, grass and wild flowers, found a few Ferocactus, some in flower (yellow). They looked to me as though they may be the southern extreme of F. cylindraceus that tomorrow we should see in great numbers along MEX3 around Valle de Trinidad and again the next day, as we drive through the Anza Borrega Desert Park in the USA.

We found the next turn off, this time west, without difficulty and again were treated to new, photogenic scenery. Tarmac ran out at Ejido Eréndira, and rather than proceed at 15 km per hour, it seemed better to devote more time to plant stops on the way back to MEX1. There was an impressive Bergerocactus emoryi hanging down a rockface. Walking along the road, we could photograph Echinocereus maritimus, Mammillaria sp. and P. gummosus, but the stars of the show were the Dudleya. Here they were large green rosettes clinging to the rock face.

We made a few more brief stops on the way back to MEX1, and drove over a few rattlesnakes, that unwisely crossed the road as we were heading back. I think it was Ian’s way of getting even with the rattlers for scaring the wits out of him yesterday at the E. lindsayi stop.

Back on MEX1 it didn’t take long before we reached the outskirts of Ensenada and battled through traffic, anxiously looking for road names to get to the hotel district. After some negotiating and haggling about price, we’re in the Desert Inn / Hotel La Pinta – one in the chain that we had missed out so far. For Alain,: from the balcony on our second floor I can just about see the huge flag on the Malecon, a couple of blocks away. Eunice is in her element as she has discovered a Starbucks near by, although still too far to walk for American custom. Hope she brings the car back in one piece 🙂

Tomorrow will be our last day in Mexico, so not a bad thing that I’m down to my last 70 pesos (c. GBP 3.50), but well up in the group kitty.

Sunday, 23 March 2008 – San Ignacio to San Quintin

We left San Ignacio soon after 8 a.m. with a long day’s drive (347 miles or 551 km) ahead of us. There were really only two stops that I wanted to make: The turn off MEX1 to the west to Santa Rosalillita and a repeat of the stop we made on the way south, to see if we could find more plants of Echinocereus lindsayi. As it turned out, we succeeded in finding several more E. lindsayi’s (thanks to Ian, assisted by Eunice, while Cliff and I explored for 90 minutes in the opposite direction and found none) and managed five additional stops on top.

Overall impressions of the day: it had got much drier since we drove past here earlier, particularly the rape seed plants that had escaped into the wild, were over and had left brown remains, creating a parched look, rather than the fresh green look to things in February, rising to the peak of flowering on our way down south in early March (is it really only 2 weeks ago?! Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself!).

I uhmed and ahhed about trying to see if there was room at The Desert Inn at Cataviña (we had been told by the receptionist in San Ignacio, who had phoned on our behalf that they were fully booked) and suggested that as we had reached Cataviña with at least 2 more hours day light to go, we could and should push on to San Quintín. I also resisted the temptation to get some fuel off the back of a lorry as I had read warnings that this stuff could be of uncertain quality and cause more problems than it solved. I had done some mental arithmetic and worked out that we could just about make it to El Rosario where the next fuel would be available. Some 45k m before El Rosario the fuel light came on and an anxious half hour was had with frequent re checking of calculations and estimates. We made it, but judging by the amount of fuel we took on board, we must have been close to driving on vapours.

And on to San Quintín, in the dark, as the queue for the petrol station and the next queue, for the army check point, had thrown my calculations out. We made straight for Hotel Marie Celeste, but were told that they were full – although there was only one other car in the car park. Never mind, let’s try next door and Hey Bingo!  We were in. All we have to do now is work out how to get access to the internet, to send out today’s Diary page. If you receive this, we succeeded.

[PS: We did succeed, thanks to a modem cable that Eunice carried in her luggage and her know-how in getting me to my server via this cable.]

Saturday, 22 March 2008 – San Ignacio, whaling

When you’ve had a great experience and return later to do it again, there is always the danger that you’ll be disappointed. Will the whales always come to the boat? Want to be stroked? Play with the boat? Judging by today’s performance – yes! Was it the same whale as last time, that they keep on a lead and get to perform its routine on a daily basis? No, because other whales were doing their thing at other boats in the bay, while other whales seemed to be waiting their turn! A couple of times, a couple of dolphins came by and tried to get our attention. ‘Our’ whale actually seemed to leave our boat, to see them off, before coming back for more whale-play-time. I’m really not sure as to who had to come to see who.

So, was it better than the February time? No, it was exactly the same experience, both score 11 out of 10. But there were a few differences which I’ll mention for Alain’s benefit:

  • The tarmac road out of San Ignacio is now ‘finished’, i.e. it takes you some 10 km out of San Ignacio before it turns into a graded track with bad wash-board affects all the way to the launch site some 70 km down the road.
  • This time there were more people wanting to go, so we had to hang around for about an hour and wait for another boat to return. There are only 18 boats allowed to be in the watching area at any one time.
  • This time, there were 3 to a bench in the boat, i.e. Ian, Cliff & I and I missed the freedom of moving around the boat a bit that was possible in February.
  • I took fewer pictures – after all, how many pictures do you need of ‘an inflated car tyre inner tube covered in barnacles’?
    Instead, I hoped to take some classic video shots. I filmed some 10 minutes in total and may have some 1 minute’s worth of video. BUT I had all bases covered as I bought a DVD at the shop in town from which I can take clips for a presentation if need be. I’ll see that I copy it for you Alain, at least in time for ELK if not much sooner.

We bumped our way back along the track, impatient to download our images to see if they are any good. I’m pleased with mine, but have not yet seen the video.

Tomorrow we had hoped to drive in one go to the Desert Inn in Cataviña (with plant stops of course), but when Eunice tried to book it through the Reception at the Desert Inn where we are staying, we learned that is was fully booked – it is Easter after all! As we’ll be passing anyway, we’ll stop and see if the booking we tried to make in the same way had actually gone through. It seems that when the answer to the question is ‘No’, the Mexicans revert back to speaking only Spanish. Our back up plan is to reach San Quintín in time for the night – there is plenty of accommodation there and there will be less distance to drive to Ensenada the next day, which will be our springboard for a long drive via Valle de Trinidad to Mexicali and a X hour wait in the queue to cross back to the USA.  Going home is really coming closer.

Just as well, as I’m down to my last US$ 20 and MN$ 600. Fortunately I’m well ahead in the kitty, so that I have no real worries. I’ll be sure to leave Mexico with Nil Peso, although I’m sure I’ll be back some time soon.