Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for the ‘2009 Sinaloa’ Category

Thursday, 12 March 2009 – Mazatlan to Durango

Let’s start with an update on yesterday’s Diaries, starting with the most exciting bit. It is not often that we take / get the time to review the pictures we took during the day, until the trip is over. Eunice was keen to see how good her pictures of Agave impressa were and zoomed in close on a plant with flower stalk. Imagine her surprise when, growing right next to it, she finds a ceroid with a pseudocephalium! Pilosocereus alensis! Just goes to show, never throw away ‘spare pictures until you have thoroughly checked if they contain anything of interest. Of course the problem is to find the time to make the thorough check. I hastily checked my pictures and yes, I too have the Pilosocereus alensis in the frame!

Correction: I reported for S1328: ‘… an Apocynaceae tree with peculiar fruits that may be Matelea porbifolia. The stem had large thorns on it, just like Ceiba.’ 

Please ignore the sentence. I did see a tree with a stem that almost certainly makes it a Ceiba sp. Ceiba are in the Family Malvaceae. The Matelea reference belongs elsewhere.

Today we headed inland for a journey of some 340 km to Durango. In the process we moved into a different time zone so that we are now 6 hours instead of 7 hours behind the UK.

I have tended to regard Opuntia s.s. in general as a genus of fairly uninteresting plants, They are so promiscuous that it is sometimes difficult to know what is a species and what is a natural hybrid. I refer here to the flat padded plants. Here in Mexico, there seem to be a number of Opuntias that have a quite distinct look about them, so that I’ll have to plough through the large section of hardly touched pages in the New Cactus Lexicon containing the pretty pictures, to see if I can put some names to them. In the mean time, forgive me when I refer to Opuntia sp #1 etc. It is never intended that O. sp. #1 at one stop is the same as O. sp #1 at another stop. The numbers are just for that stop.

All of today’s stops are along Mex 40, the Mazatlan to Durango road. We started with specific stops, as usual, but as time pressed on and we were seeing lots of different Agaves, things became a little blurred, so that some stop numbers refer to a fairly long stretch of road.

And Agave’s are still a mystery to me, so at this stage, they too will be referred to as Agave sp. #1 etc. in the hope that Eunice will provide names in tie to come.

Alain’s pictures and some of mine that come through Angie, should have GPS data embedded in their metadata, so get a browser that allows you to view this info (I use ACDSEE, but Picasa2, a free image browser is excellent and available as a free down load)

So, what did we see? Great scenery as the road climbed from sea level to 2,800 m. and wound its way into the Sierra Madre Occidentalis. The temperature dropped from much too hot to explore, to very comfortable. And plant wise? This was Agave Day!

S1330:  Hylocereus ocamponis, Opuntia sp. #1 & #2, Orchid sp., Tillandsia sp. #1 & #2

S1331:  Agave sp., Opuntia sp.

S1332: We had now hit ‘the mother lode as far as Agave’s & scenery were concerned, so took a few hours to cover very few kilometers but I collected 134 images along the way! They include: Agave schidigera, A. sp. #1, #2, #3 Bromeliad sp. #1, Disocactus schrankii or speciosa?, Echeveria sp., Nolina sp., Opuntia sp. #1, #2 plus a plant that looks remarkably like a Rhipsalis or similar epiphytic cactus, only seen & photographed from a distance. There are no records for true epiphytic cacti in Mexico in my dataset, so more homework when I get home. This stop took us all the way up to the monument at the Espinazo del Diablo, a kind of ridge pass with magnificent views to either side of the road.

S1333 are for images taken from Espinazo del Diablo, 199 km from Durango, as we drove east along Mex 40, before reaching the plain where Durango is located and are of scenery rather than specific plants.

S1334 was a leg stretch as we approached Durango – now on the plain, with an Agave sp.  Opuntia sp. and Yucca sp. (Y. filifera?).

The SatNav system seemed unacquainted with the town of Durango, sending us up one way streets or in circles without knowing where to go. As always, these things happen at the end of the day when every one is tired and problem solving becomes more of a challenge.

Sat in our hotel rooms, I find that we probably passed by some very interesting cacti without having spotted them, so the question becomes: will we see these again later on, or is the only way that we’ll see these cacti this trip a matter of returning a fair distance on MEX40 to do a more detailed search? And do we have the time? And do we have the motivation? For now my eyes are stinging and I badly need some sleep.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009 – south of Mazatlan

It started off a bit of a strange, strained day, as it was time to decide how to break the routine of not finding ‘plants of interest’. Part of this was due to me not having the time each day to check what delights we needed to hunt for, partly nobody’s fault, because the land we travelled through had nothing new to offer – we’re just too spoiled.

The end result was that it was late in the day when we were ready to start of expedition for the day. This would take us to Escuinapa de Hidalgo, where Eunice had a location for Agave impressa. You can see a nursery grown example at http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/225443/

After the previous days’ poor findings, we were sceptical of finding anything this time, so she knew that it had to be a good set of data to ‘impress’ us cactophiles. When we re-enacted the ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’  scenario by asking ‘Are you sure that this is the place you want to take us?’ she replied: ‘Can I phone a friend?’ and made what turned out to be 3 phone calls home to California. By the time we received the definitive data, we were already near the turn off for the spot. We knew that we were unlikely to come face to face with the plants as they were reported to grow high up on steep cliff faces and the only way to approach them was from the bottom. The habitat for this plant is said to be very restricted so it would be good to be able to slip in some casual pictures in a UK ‘Other Succulent’ presentation.

Confident with the data, we soon spotted the steep hillsides and Agave growing on them. How close could we get? We followed the GPS instructions, into a Mango orchard, down a farmer’s tracks to an enclosure where two farmers and two ten year old boys were cutting up scrub. They were as cautious as we were when I approached them with Gentry’s Agave book in hand, and in my best Spenglish asked them if they knew this plant, pointing at the picture of A. impressa in the book. ‘Oh yes, up on the hill.’ ‘Could we get near them?’ ‘Oh yes.’ As we parked the car and got ready to go (S1327), it transpired that they wanted to show us the way, cutting a path through the dense  deciduous scrub with machetes while climbing the hills at the bottoms of the sheer rock face in 30 C heat.

First Alain decided that he had gone far enough, followed 10 minutes later by Cliff and another 10 minutes, on a bit of a clearing in the scrub forest, Eunice and I also agreed that this was far enough; dripping in perspiration with warnings of spiders and ticks dropping from the trees. We could clearly see the plants through our zoom lenses and clicked away to get the best shots with reserves including pictures of Juan Luis, his brother Manuel and their sons Samuel and Jose.

It took less time to descend back to the car and we agreed there was time enough to check out another location ‘not far away’ – but everything in Mexico seems to be ‘far away’. We started to see a few interesting plants along the dirt track as we approached the coordinates for our next stop – an Echinocereus sp. , made one brief stop on the way, S1328, as there were more plants of yesterday’s Hylocereus (?) sp. along the road. Brian Bates writes:  ‘So I’m going thru NCL and find Hylocereus ocamponis from COL, JAL, MEX, NAY, SIN That seems to be the only one from Mexico.’  So that is what I’ll call the H. sp. until I learn different. For the record, there was also an Opuntia sp. (boring) and an Apocynaceae tree with peculiar fruits that may be Matelea porbifolia. The stem had large thorns on it, just like Ceiba.

We were still sceptical about finding Echinocereus here and the sun was getting now when we reached our location.(S1329) Turning a bent in the road rock boulders appeared and we were getting more hopeful.

It turned out to be a great spot as we ran around clicking away with the setting sun providing some extra colour to the plants before eventually bad light stopped play. In that time I took pictures of: Agave sp. (same as yesterday? with short flower stalk, too short for an Agave? Is it a bromeliad?), Agave orrithodroma, although with filiferous leaves, resembling A. geminiflora?, Echinocereus subinermis ssp. ochoterenae (I think, the buds look different than those in my collection in the UK), a thin 4 -5 ribbed ceroid that could be Stenocereus martinezii? clumps of orchids growing on rocks and on tree stems and a thin stemmed cactus that at first glance made me think that we had discovered Aporocactus in habitat – now that would be a find! Looking for more likely solutions, I see that Selenicereus vagans and several Peniocereus and Nyctocereus serpentinus all come from this State. Tillandsia were hanging in the trees.

Absolutely tired out, Cliff drove us back to Mazatlan where we arrived at around 20:15 and were off after a quick shower for another sea food binge with Margaritas and beer to wash it down.

Tomorrow we head inland to Durango, with great expectations of better cactus spots.

Tuesday 10 March 2009 – Culiacan to Mazatlan

Alain had studied Pillbeam’s Ferocactus book, Eunice had found Lindsay papers on the internet and between them they suggested another location for Ferocactus schwarzii, near Cofradia. Eunice had asked her SatNav system how to get there and it seemed possible to get to the area, have a look round, hopefully find the plants and drive to Mazatlan, arriving before sunset.

Getting out of Culiacan was the usual problem of a large town with insufficient signage. SatNav has its merits, but here, we often found ourselves on fresh tarmac that the Navigation system did not yet know about, even though it had received the latest updates available via the internet. Once out of the town we stopped to photograph Agaves (S1323), not in natural habitat, but fields of A. tequiliana being cultivated for the production of Mescal as only the drink produced in the state of Jalisco produced under licence from the fermentation of parts of this Agave may legally be called Tequilla – the shots might come in useful for a future talk as it illustrates one of the many uses of cacti and other succulents.

We changed from tarmac to dirt. These tracks were wide enough for one car, with overtaking bays created to deal with the challenge of oncoming traffic. Fortunately these tracks are very quiet and the drivers we have met, very considerate, just like we are. We made a stop at S1324, for an Agave found growing by the side of the road. Soon, others of the same taxon were found. We’re not totally sure of the name, so it remains Agave sp. for now. While we were there, we photographed Opuntia sp.#1 (the boring ‘seen anywhere’ type) and O. sp. #2, (a ‘different’ growing tall, with long pads and bluish fruits and Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum ‘just for the record’. As we were climbing aboard in our car, I think that it was Alain who spotted another ‘different’ cactus. This was a plant with green thin (to 5 cm diameter) stems that was growing leaning on the branches of a beaten up tree. Most of the stems had just three ribs. I’m familiar with Hylocereus as grafting stock used in Europe – and not very long lived in that role as most European growers are not prepared to provide the heat that this plant requires. I have no idea what it looks like in habitat or if it has been reported from these regions, but that would be my guess: Hylocereus sp.

If I had been in Brazil, I would have described the vegetation as Catinga, low deciduous forest. The vegetation is quite dense, with just about every plant equipped with long sharp spines to keep animals (including humans) out.  This had been quite typical for the area east of Mex15. We had been lucky to have spotted Ferocactus pottsii in this dense vegetation a few days ago. Literature seemed to suggest that F. schwarzii would be found on ‘open hills’. We searched for these as well, but no luck. 

A bit farther along, we could see a structure rising from the forest, a dam, which had created a huge man made lake. We drove to the dam (Presa de Sanalona, still S1324) to take some pictures of the lake and to see if, from this vantage point, we could see some ‘open hillsides’. No such luck. When we passed by the dam again later in the day, we saw a group of snow white pelicans on its shore. Mike H., any suggestions to name and rareness?

I believe that S1325 was just a brief comfort break stop with seven ‘just for the record’ pictures of Agave sp., Opuntia sp. (the boring type), Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum and Stenocereus alamosensis.

We had tried all day to get to Cofradia and although I had no hope that we would find F. schwarzii in the village itself, it had become important to me to actually get there before considering how to get to Mazatlan for the night and how many more stops to make. S1326 was at the sign welcoming us to the few houses that are Cofradia and more ‘for the record’ pictures of Agave sp., Hylocereus sp, Opuntia sp #1 (boring type) and O. sp. #2 (yesterday’s ‘very interesting plant with flat growth habit), Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum, as well as of some ‘interesting trees’ with interesting peeling bark that is not a bursera as far as we could tell and other with ‘interesting fruits’. These were obvious signs of frustration, of lack of cacti on a cactoholic. I stopped myself just in time taking some pictures of cow pats ‘because of ‘their interesting patterns’ before the men in white coats came to take me away.

Please send emergency parcels of cacti to be dropped liberally in the road between Mazatlan and Durango!

But seriously, we have learned a great deal about the Mexican States on Sonora and Sinaloa and have been fortunate to have found a number of cacti, some expected, some unexpected and some yet to be identified. We’ve been impressed and ultimately depressed by the amount of corn that is grown in this area – no Mexican should go hungry as long as they do not have a corn allergy.

We still have to agree the detail of what we’ll do tomorrow as I can’t get on the internet in our 4th floor hotel room overlooking the Sea of Cortez, where I just managed to snap the tail end of ‘not another bloody sunset’. I need to check data on Google Earth that can only be checked out once I have a connection – which will happen in the foyer in the morning when I send this message out.

Monday, 9 March 2009 – Navajoa to Culiacan

If yesterday was disappointing, today beat it. We agreed that we were all disappointed with cactus & succulent flora and scenery, that the solution lay inland in the hills and so we agreed to go and look for Ferocactus schwarzii in Bacurito. The distance did not seem too great and, as we speeded down Mex15, decreased as planned. Then we turned off, and although the surface was still good hard top, it seems that in Mexico the ‘hard top kit’ comes with ‘topes’ (sleeping policemen – speed bumps – suspension breakers, call them what you want), often unmarked, at all too frequent intervals. They are of course justified as the road passes through little villages and it is better to have lumps of concrete in the road than the corpses of its inhabitants. The scenery remained flat and uninteresting as we drove along wide canals (had we lost our way and were travelling through Holland?) with the hills apparently afraid of us, because,  like yesterday, as we approached, they retreated.

Just after midday, we pulled away from a crossroad, on tarmac, and heard the familiar thud-thud-thud noise: a puncture. Our first since leaving England on 31 October, so we can’t complain! Of course, we did! In true team spirit we watched and took pictures and video as Cliff changed the tyre. We were of course willing to help at any and every stage of the process, but the road was fairly busy and too many people crowding around would have made the task more stressful and dangerous. Well done, Cliff!

Having learned a lesson in Baja last year, getting the tyre fixed became #1 priority, so we returned towards Mex15 and within minutes had found a llantera where for 50 pesos (just over GBP 3.50) a friendly Mexican had repaired the tyre and checked the pressures all round. By 1 p.m. we were back at the crossroads where we had broken down. Not bad for a habitat pit stop.

Soon afterwards tarmac was replaced by dirt of variable quality.

Today’s stops were just two:

 S1321Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum, Stenocereus alomosensis (?), C. thurberi, Opuntia sp. and one single, battered but old plant of Ferocactus wislizeni. It was so hidden in the scrub that Alain had difficulty finding it again to show me, even though it just grew a meter or so from the track.

S1322 – near Sinaloa de Leyva. This was just a leg stretch & toilet stop, but Alain found an interesting Opuntia. It is not often that you’ll find me using the word ‘interesting’ for an Opuntia, but these plants were growing along the ground with a distinct growth habit, had distinct pads and spination and yellow flowers.

Sunday, 8 March 2009 – Navajoa to San Bernardo and back

Diary addicts amongst you may have spotted that yesterday’s diary was quite brief. and ask themselves ‘Is everything OK?’

Everything is fine, but I found myself dissatisfied with the plant stops we were making. Best I could master for yesterday was a stop list with the plants that we saw – not the usual banter that I hope entertains a bit as well.

Why? I guess I am somewhat disappointed with the cacti & scenery that we are seeing and it’s probably due to inadequate preparation. Had we not been to Baja last year, things might have been different but most of the plants that we have seen up to now have been ‘Baja plants’, nothing new and previously seen in a better, more photogenic settings. Nobody’s fault, but never the less disappointing. I sense a similar feeling among my fellow explorers. The Sonora that we have seen (and I hasten to add that it is only a fraction of this huge State) has been along Mex 15 and to the west, where the Sea of Cortex was a natural border. Yes, the Fero’s on Isla Tiburon  were ‘special’, but to very spoiled people, ‘not really special enough’.

The area that we’ve travelled through has been very flat, heavily cultivated, even if currently left to waste, and industrialised. Most of the time, the roads are bordered by barbed wire fences. Are these aimed at keeping people out, animals in or simply to ‘stake a claim of ownership’? In any event, to us they act as a deterrent, not inviting us to enjoy the flora. In that respect it is not too different from the coastal zone in Peru, south of Lima. There are more cacti here, but they are the same at each place that we stop, or at least – they seem to be the same taxa.

In Peru we found a much more interesting experience was had by travelling inland. As the roads climbed into the Andes, the change of altitude and the resulting changes in climatic zone gave rise to an ever changing flora and spectacular scenery.

So today’s solution was to travel 50 km inland to Alamos and returning to Navajoa to avoid changing hotels. The Database told us that we might see Ferocactus pottsii here as well as some Agave and Pilosocereus alensis. We arrived at the scenic town of Alamos still frustrated. It seemed that as we approached the mountains, they moved away to the left and the right of the road, never allowing us to reach the foothills. After some touristy pics of Alamos, we re-read notes and found that ‘our’ plants actually grew near San Bernardo, some 35 km to the north east of Alamos. Did we have a town map of Alamos? Of course not. Eunice’s SatNav system was programmed to guide us there, but did little more then tell us to ‘stay on the trail’ for 35 km, no matter which way the car was pointing. So back to first principles – find out where the North East was, take any track in that direction and ask any human being if they can help us get there. Several dead ends later ….  ‘Yes, go back the way you have just come and follow the road past three haciendas’ was the helpful answer from an elderly gent sitting by the side of the road.

Just past Alamos, now on dirt, the barbed wire fences relented a little, either being farther away from the track or missing altogether. We stopped (S1313) to take pictures of the Kapok Tree, Ceiba pentandra and also saw Cylindropuntia thurberi (syn. Cylindropuntia alamosensis) in flower, Opuntia sp. and Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum.

Near Los Tanques (S1314) we spotted an Agave , A. angustifolia and Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum was hard to miss again. We did not stop for very long.

On to Technabamba (these names were becoming very reminiscent of place names in Peru and Bolivia!) for S1315:
Agave augustifolia, Ferocactus pottsii (ssp alamosensis is said to come from here – I’ll have to do more reading to learn how it differs from ssp pottsii), Janusia gracilis (Desert Vine), Mammillaria sp #1 (I ought to know this one as it’s short stubby central spine is very distinct, or was it an Escobaria or Coryphantha? – sad when it becomes difficult to determine the genus, let alone the species!), Mammillaria sp #2, Opuntia sp., Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum.

Driving on again, I spotted a strange sight worthy of a quick stop. terrestrial cacti growing epiphytically in a tree! This became S1316 with Stenocereus thurberi and Opuntia sp, as subjects.

We arrived in San Bernardo and drove in the direction of an interesting view of 4 volcanic plugs in the landscape. The track turned out to terminate at the cemetery ( S1317) where we found Agave augustifolia, Cylindropuntia thurberi, Ferocactus pottsii, Mammillaria sp. 1, Opuntia sp., Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum and Stenocereus thurberi.

The journey back to Navajoa became a bit of a race against time, as the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky and the road just did not allow us to do the speeds needed to arrive back at the original forecast time. Bad light made it more difficult to see pot holes and bumps, so that my back is very sore of the pounding it got. We made three more brief stops:

S1318 Agave angustifolia, Ceiba pentandra, Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum

S1319 Ferocactus pottsii, Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum, Stenocereus thurberi

S1320 Ferocactus wislizeni, Stenocereus alamosensis