Today we said goodbye to Durango, which had restored our faith in Mexico as a country to see cacti. We moved on to Chihuahua, yet another time zone, so that we gained / lost (which ever way you want to look at it) an hour.
One thing we have found is that Mexico is big, Real BIG! There is a farm in Chihuahua that has an area equivalent to the sum of the area of Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Switzerland! I’m sure that they could have squeezed in Luxemburg and Liechtenstein as well if they had tried or knew about those countries as well.
Our first stop of the day was an impromptu leg stretch, still in Durango. If it had been up to me I would have waited a few minutes as the hills seemed to be approaching MEX 49 (this was the ‘Libre’ – free road instead of the quite expensive Cuota = toll road), but general consensus was that coffee drunk at breakfast needed to be set free. Even this apparently flat uninteresting waste land along the road was a cactus gold mine. S1347 at km 63 on MEX 49 offered a clumping Coryphantha sp. (C. werdermannii ? tight spination in the dry, so difficult to any tubercle grooves), Cylindropuntia sp (2), Echinocactus horizonthalonius, (looking very similar to Thelocactus bicolor ssp heterochromus or was it?), Echinocereus enneacanthus (it seems that the plants here go by the name ‘variety dubius’ – honest!), Ferocactus hamathacanthus – again, large clumps that would have been impressive if they were less overgrown by grass and weeds, Fouquieria splendens (standard red flowers), Mammillaria sp. (M. grusonii?), Opuntia sp. (3) and Sclerocactus uncinatus ssp wrightii.
We had earmarked a stop (S1348) known as the Microondas Conejos (the Conejos Microwave tower). It seems to be a popular place among cactophiles, probably because this had been recorded as a Charlie Glass stop in 1974. We saw all the taxa reported for S1347 plus Agave lechuguilla, A. scabra, Echinomastus unguispinus (since seeing my first Echinomastus in habitat I have been doing a bit of on-line back ground reading and it seems that this taxon has a list of synonys as long as your arm, that include E. durangensis and E. mapimiensis), Mammillaria lasiacantha (again just a single snow white plant) M. pottsii (large clumps) and Thelocactus bicolor. No wonder that this is such a popular location. The views are not bad either!
Eunice had been keen to go to the Zona del Silencio, a nature reserve that is in the corner of three states: Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. It is a huge reserve and we made it to the visitor’s centre, 7 km from the main road, where we were the only visitors and the live-on-site caretaker had to open up and give us a presentation in fluent Spanish – not a problem for him, a bit of a challenge for us, although I was surprised how much I could understand. Try this for size:
The main centre, where meteorites are reported to have fallen, was another good hour’s drive away on average dirt. It was very hot and there was no guarantee of seeing cacti – or at least anything that we could not see here, so one the 3:1 decision rule, we headed back to MEX 49. We had stopped on the way into the reserve, at the visitors centre and again on a track off the main track between the entrance and the centre. As all the plants seen were the same, they are all recorded under one stop number – S1349. We saw: Cylindropuntia sp (kleinei?) Echinocactus horizonthalonius, Echinocereus enneacanthus ssp dubius, (several in flower), Echinomastus unguinispinus, Ferocactus hamatacanthus (really very common here and very large), Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia sp (3), one of which may be Opuntia microdasys ssp rufida or the other way round.
It was time to leave Durango and enter the last state on our Mexican sojourn, Chihuahua. So far we have only seen plain, flat cultivated land and we used the toll road to get here, but tomorrow we’ll have more time – I hope!