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Archive for the ‘2009 Sonora’ Category

Saturday 7 March 2009 – San Carlos to Navajoa, SON

We started the day with a visit to observe and photograph the flora of Cañon de Nacapule: A desert-bounded tropical canyon near Guaymas, Sonora, S1309. Canon de Nancapule: Agave chrysoglossa, Agave colorata (fortiflora), Ficus palmeri, Fouquieria diguettii, Jatropha cuneata, palms (3 taxa), Euphorbia ceroderma. We photographed the following plants: Agave chrysoglossa, Agave colorata (fortiflora), Cylindropuntia sp#1, Echinocereus sp., Ferocactus wislizeni (ssp herrerae?), Hechtia sp (montana?), Mammillaria sp., Opuntia sp., Paychycereus schottii and Stenocereus thurberi and probably saw but failed to identify Ficus palmeri, Fouquieria diguettii, Jatropha cuneata, palms (3 taxa) and Euphorbia ceroderma.

We headed south on I 15, turning on to a few side tracks to stop and photograph cacti; S1309, S1310 S1311 and S1312 Cylindropuntia sp#1, Ferocactus wislizeni, Mammillaria sp. Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum, Stenocereus alomosensis and S. thurberi, The lack of diversity in the cactus flora was disappointing, perhaps we’ve just been spoiled too much already.

Friday, 6 March 2009 – Bahia Kino to San Carlos, SON

Today was a reasonably quiet day, travelling to San Carlos, just a  couple of hours driving plus stops.

The first stop S1306 was prompted by some Feros being spotted along the road. The mainland Feros here seem to fit the description for Ferocactus wislizeni ssp herrerae. and some plants obliged by bearing fruits with ripe seed. We also found Carnegiea gigantea, Pachycereus schottii and S. thurberi.

Just under an hour later we stopped for a large F. herrerae in fruit along the side of the road. (S1307) and photographed Carnegiea gigantea, Cylindropuntia sp (C. echinacarpa?), C. sp. #2, Ferocactus wislizeni ssp herrerea, Mammillaria sp. Pachycereus schottii and Stenocereus thurberi.

Eunice had some scanty information to look for Agave near a microwave tower (these are used in communication systems) on the hills near Guaymas. I was a little concerned about the vagueness of the directions, but as we approached Guaymas, there was a nest of aerials and communication towers high on a hill to the left of the road. It almost seemed too easy, but we still had to find a track up the hill to get to the top. We succeeded on that point as well! We found a turning to a road that seemed to run to the base of the hill, but then stopped, turning into a cobblestone road up the hill. Knowing that we would be passing back this way, we tried not to make too many stops, but instead earmarked places for a more detailed look on the way down.

In fact all images taken between the start of the cobblestone road (next to a prison) and the summit of the hill, with all the communication masts etc are recorded under S1308 and include: Agave actides?, Agave colorata, Bursera sp (more than one I think, in fruit), Ferocactus herrerae, Fouquieria splendens, Hechtia montana, Mammillaria sp., Opuntia macrocentra (or is it O. santa-rita? – more checking to be done at home.) The plant’s yellow flowers resemble those of some O. santa-rita images found on Google, but I seem to remember that the original description applies to a limited population from the Santa Rita mountains on the border between New Mexico and Arizona. The spination looks more like that pictured on Google for O. macrocentra, but that is supposed to have yellow flowers with a red centre. Another plant in flower was a Cholla, or Cylindropuntia sp, with greeny-yellow flowers.

The Mammillaria reported from this area is Mammillaria boolii, but few, if any of the plants seen today match the appearance of these plants offered for sale by that name in the UK. I have no other name to suggest, so Mam. sp. will have to do for now.

Although the internet is a mine of information, there is also (at least) an equal amount of incorrect information out there, some from quite trusted sources. I guess the only way to resolve this naming game is to check out the original descriptions (if they can be found and accessed) to see which presents the closest match for what we see, and that is impossible on the road, as my library sits at home in Durrington. Perhaps I should start a project to publish all original descriptions (perhaps on Wikipedia?), or at least make a start

I have to mention the last cactus that I photographed today. We had spotted a giant Fero as we drove up the hill and stopped to take its picture on the way down. It was some distance away and partially hidden behind a thin white barked tree. So how big was this plant? It seemed impractical to get to it, until I saw a route by climbing up the hill to the right of the plant and, once level with it, working my way to it. Distance and steepness of the rock face were not an issue, but the huge spines on the Acacia and other flora were, so my arms were covered in scratches by the time I stood smiling next to the plant, ready for Cliff to take our picture. I could not reach the fruits at the top of the stem, which puts this barrel at somewhere between 230 and 240 cm in height.

Finally, Brian Bates posted this link to an article about the history of Lotusland, the gardens that we visited in February. Interesting background reading at
and the article in turn links to

Thanks Brian!

Do check Alain’s Diaries for his trip report as well, as every picture tells a story, as Confusius said. But do we have any pictures to tells us what Confucius looked like?

Thursday 5 March 2009 – Isla Tiburon

I woke up at 5:45, about a minute before Eunice knocked on the door for the official wake up call. By 6:30 we were at the local OXXO shop for freshly made coffee and by 6:55 we drove up the beach where our skipper, Ariel, was getting ready to launch his boat. Unlike last year in Baja, where we had to get our feet wet to get into the boat, we were able to board while still on land. A tractor then pushed the trailer with boat into the water where the boat’s engine took over.

The sun was rising and peaking through quite dense cloud cover, but the Sea of Cortez was as smooth as a mill pond. This boat was quite a bit bigger than last year’s panga.

Earlier research on the net had revealed a report by a gentleman who had made a detailed study of the flora of the island group, published at:
http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.2181/1533-6085(2007)39%5B51:RTAAOS%5D2.0.CO%3B2 and http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.2985/1070-0048-14.1.127
I had extracted a list of the plants that we were interested in: Agave chrysoglossa, Bursera hindsiana, B. microphylla, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, Ferocactus tiburonensis, Lophocereus schottii, Mammillaria grahamii and Stenocereus gummosus. The Fero was our main target, although for Eunice the Agave was the most important.

As always, I was careful to take pictures of any cactus taxon that we saw (S1300 for this Stop) – even if ‘just for the record’, of an ugly plant that will never appear in a talk or publication. Of the plants listed, we did not see the Agave, the Cylindropuntia the Mammillaria or the Stenocereus gummosus. 

However, we did see our Fero, which mysteriously has been placed as a ssp of Ferocactus wislizenii, although our observations of plants, fruits (Alain) and flower (again Alain) suggest that is more likely to be related to F. cylindraceus, just like its island neighbour F. johnstonii on Isla Angel de la Guarda that we found last year.

We also found Stenocereus thurberi (NOT S. gummosus) and Fouquieria splendens and Carnegia gigantea. This last taxa grows also on the mainland here, alongside Pachycereus pringlei and it takes some second looks to check which is which, even though it should be easy. I still need to check if P. pecten-aboriginum occurs up here, ’cause without flowers / fruits etc. that could be a candidate for some of the plants we saw as well.

The island is reported to receive only 1 inch of rain per annum and there was no evidence of vegetation (such as Tillandsia, lychens etc) that elsewhere would suggest regular fogs, sufficient to sustain such a varied and dense flora. I bet the water table is not too far down and that the rock strata is able to filter out some of the salt.  

Next stop, S1301, was of the small island to the south of Isla Tiburon, which displayed a name plate of Isla Cholludo or Isla Cholludito. The leeside of the island was absolutely jam packed with tall Pachycereus prinlei. We did not have permits to land and the disembarkation and embarkation at S1300 had been sufficiently awkward to avoid it unless there was a rare cactus to see up close. There was not, so we missed seeing Ctenosaura hemilopha, also known as the Cape Spinytail Iguana. Even with permits, it would have been a real challenge to walk between the Cardon, as they grew so closely together and had Cholas fill the space between them.

Next we headed to a larger island that we believe to be Isla Turner, although Ariel called it Isla Danti, probably the Seris (the local tribe) word for the same island. Ariel said that we would not be able to land ‘because of the wind’. We wondered what he meant as the sea was still as smooth as a mill pond. We took pictures as we sailed along the island, a little disappointed that we would not stop. Next Ariel asked Alain to close the window at the front of the cabin – clearly he knew what was coming, as soon the wind picked up and I was treated to an almost continuous sea spray shower. Nice and refreshing, for a while, but after about an hour of regular soakings I became cold and crowded into the cabin, leaving Cliff ( on the lee side of the boat, to toughen it out.

It had been a great day but I was glad that we got back to the Hotel where I could change into some dry clothes. The cameras had been in plastic bags so were OK. My note book with recent kitty entries is still drying out.

It was still early. Alain & Eunice opted for lunch while I warmed up & Cliff had a snooze. When they got back, it was Eunice’s turn to feel tired, sending the 3 men out on our own for more cactus explorations.

We drove out to the north of Bahia Kino, past the spot where we had gone last night. We were surprised to find elderly US couples sitting with garden chairs and tables along the dirt track at intervals of a mile or so – strange way to spend a holiday, getting covered in dust – until we realised that they were marshals for an over 60s (or was it over 75s) rally for off road vehicles.   Anything went, it seemed, as we overtook anything from Doom Buggies to motorised golf carts. We stopped (S1302) to inspect some flowers on Fouqueria splendens. It seemed to me that the usually orange – red flowers were yellow on some of the plants. Closer inspection showed that when the flowers were fully open, the anthers, covered in pollen, caused the yellow appearance. As we were out of the car we decided to take stock of what else grew here and found the usual suspects:

S1303 had Pachycereus pringlei, including a stem that could not decide if it was going cristate or not, Fouquieria splendens, Bursera sp.(at least 2), Stenocactus schottii, S. thurberi, Pachycereus pringlei,

S1304 was a bit farther along and in addition to the above had Ferocactus sp. – I thought it looked the same at the Feros on the island, but Alain thought it was F. wislizenii – I’ll do a bit more reading & comparing images before I decide what I’ll be calling these plants – after all, naming is a personal opinion and we can all sometimes see different things, while looking at the same object. There was also a Mammilaria species here that I’ll continue to call M. sheldonii until a better name crops up. [PS: Mammillaria grahamii ssp. sheldonii is indeed reported from this area]. They do look like plants by that name that I have grown & killed in the UK. Stenocereus thurberi here was an absolute giant and I managed to get plants of P. pringlei & Carnegie gigantea side by side in the same picture!

S1305 was the last brief stop of the day as we found signs that we were on Seri territory and needed permits to take pictures. We found and photographed a Mam. and a Cylindropuntia sp. growing along the road, but decided to turn around rather than to invite problems.

We enjoyed another pleasant evening at the Red Fish Restaurant, where we spent as much on Margaritas and Tequila as we did on food – still, you’re only young once, as my kids keep telling me.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009 – Hermosillo to Bahia Kino

Whereas yesterday had been a cactus washout, today made up for it. We eventually found our way out of Hermosillo – confusion caused by the SatNav sending us down a road that was still being constructed caused some delay and confusion before we found Mex 16, the road to Bahia Kino and the Sea of Cortez. Not the most amazing cactus scenery in the world as much of the land had at some stage been in cultivation and nothing really to entice us into making a stop. We turned off onto a side road heading south on the Habana – Ignacio Ramirez road, heading for the southernmost rock pile, a string of ‘insel bergs’ probably of volcanic origin, that stood out in the otherwise flat and cultivated terrain. We stopped at the foot of this hill (S1295) to find vegetations that we had already seen last year in Baja California, with a few strangers creeping in. We saw Bursera sp., Carnegiea gigantea (not seen in Baja), Fouquieria splendens, Jatropha spMammillaria sheldonii – the local form of the M. dioica complex, Stenocereus (Lophocereus) schottii and Stenocereus thurberi.

From here, the tracks just petered out, one by one so that in the end we  had to retrace our tracks to Mex 16, where a few miles on we made another stop (S1296) to find a mass of  Cylindropuntia sp., Fouquieria splendens, Mammillaria sheldonii, Pachycereus pringlei, Stenocereus (Lophocereus) schottii, S. thurberi. Cliff reported seeing a solitary Ferocactus. So why P. pringlei here and C. gigantea at the last stop? Answers on a post card please.

We drove on to Bahia Kino and eventually found rooms in Hotel Dolphin and a fisherman to take us to Isla Tiburon tomorrow! Bahia Kino is little more than a few miles of attractive luxurious beach houses overlooking the Sea of Cortez, 4-5 hotels and a few more apartments, with RV parks making up the balance. Tourist Information was an empty shell of building – I guess there were just too few tourists around to warrant them being open. Perhaps they re-open next month. Enquiries to local folks revealed that Restaurant El Pargo Rojo was the best place to find a fisherman willing to take us to Isla Tiburon.

While we snacked on some seafood dishes washed down with a cold Tecate, phone calls were made and a gentleman appeared who was prepared to take us to the island tomorrow. The significance of this island is that it is the home of Ferocactus tiburonensis. Last year we had managed to visit a couple of the islands off the Baja coast, and this seemed to be the only opportunity to do the same off Sonora.

Arrangements made, we booked into Hotel Dolphin, overlooking the Sea of Cortez and then went off to the north of the town where we had seen track disappearing into the hills.

S1297 was a hill next to the landing station used by our new fisherman friend. Cliff drove the car almost to the top of the hills that offered some nice views of Bahia Kino, the Sea of Cortez and the islands – there are some tiny islands, not named on our maps, as well. 

We drove a bit farther inland where at S1298 we found Bursera sp. Cylindropuntia bigelovii, Ferocactus wislizeni, Fouquieria splendens, Jatropha sp., Mammillaria sheldonii, Pachycereus pringlei and Stenocereus thurberi.

S1299 follows the by now familiar pattern of ‘Not Another Bloody Sunset’, except that it was not the best by a long chalk, resulting in only 9 pictures as the sun setting behind Isla Tiburon just did not produce the expected colour festival by lighting up the clouds – perhaps the clouds were just too thick and in the wrong place.

We’re up early tomorrow for a 7 o’clock sailing to Isla Tiburon!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009 – Tucson, AZ to Hermosillo, SON, Mexico

Greetings from Hermosillo! I’ve finally learned not to call it Hermasitas!

Not the best of days, again caused by a border crossing. We were all a bit tense and snappy, partly excitement about finally starting the Mexico trip, partly anxiety about another border crossing – they are never smooth – and partly anxiety about travelling in northern Mexico – so many people in the US had told us to be careful and of horror story murders ‘on the other side of the border’, that inevitably you start believing it. I find it easiest to compare the situation with living in the UK during the seventies, when the Irish Conflict led to various terrorist attacks and killings, usually targeted at specific victims, but innocents can easily be caught up in this.

Relations in Holland would ring up worried about reports of yet more people killed in explosions. On the whole, the worst we experienced was the inconvenience of delayed trains. That is not to say that we are complacent about the problems in northern Mexico, just to try to re-assure people back home that we’ve progressed 378 km (235 miles) into Mexico and not seen evidence of troubles yet.

It seemed to go all so smoothly as after about 30 minutes of stepping from (short) queue to queue, we got our passports stamped and Tourist Visas issued by midday – we thought that we had crossed the border and were driving through Nogales on the Mexican side of the border, heading south on Mex-15. Great!

Then there came an Aduana post – customs & excise in the UK, to get the appropriate permit to temporarily export the car out of the USA, into Mexico. Another queue and no clear signage to indicate where to go and what to do. First of all a photocopy station where a young lad took photocopies of formal documents that we would need farther along the processing line.  Next to a bank station where we needed to pay for the car’s entry permit. But disaster- all the documents received from Dollar Rent a Car failed to include a letter of authorisation, permitting us to take the car out of the US into Mexico.

I pointed at the Dollar Car Rental agreement that in the comments box had the details of the Mexico Insurance that we had bought as part of the deal. While this may imply authority had been granted, it did not implicitly state this, so no go! We asked advice about how we might rectify this. We could call Dollar and ask them to fax the letter of authority to the small shop / fax office on site. Eunice’s ‘anywhere in the world’ phone could not obtain a signal – Alain’s Belgian Railway mobile could. But we were unable to dial the US 800 number from Mexico. In the end, Eunice called her friend Gloriana in Bellflower, an avid reader of these Diaries, and through her managed to set up a 3 way conversation with Dollar. We were of  course told that what we had was fine at the San Diego – Tijuana border. Great, but we were in Nogales, and it was not! After we lost the line and redialled the 3 way set up, we finally had the promise of a fax being sent to the number of the small shop. After a couple of hours of anxious waiting – there it was! I was still sent backwards & forwards from pillar to post by genuine people just doing their job, and we were not the only ones with complications. Finally, at around 15:15 we were finally cleared to go. But by then it was too late to go to the location of Agave polana and A. zebra.

We drove straight on to Hermosillo, with just the briefest of stops for a comfort stop at a petrol station, where one of the youths hanging around was carrying a small hand gun – probably quite normal in Mexico, but enough for us to raise our awareness levels. Close to Hermosillo, Alain needed to stretch his legs – the poor lad had spent close on 72 hours without a decent opportunity to get the circulation going!

But all’s well that ends well! We’re in a reasonably priced clean and apparently safe hotel along Mex-15 towards the centre of Hermosillo. OK, so the wi-fi does not work for me from the room, but will be OK in the restaurant to send out this report.

The plus point of today is that there are no pictures worth down loading tonight, so that after a quick freshen up, we’ll be off to the bar & restaurant.

Did we not see any cacti? Oh yes, plenty, along the road, but there was simply no time to stop for a photo stop if we wanted to find a hotel before dark. We passed loads of Carnegiea gigantea, Ferocactus wizlezenii, Cylindropuntia sps. Foquieria splendens, just outside of Nogales. C. gigantea was soon replaced by Pachycereus pringlei – it would have been interesting to see them together and look out for any intergeneric hybrids. The Feros disappeared but the Organpipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) and Pachycereus schottii appeared. We had seen all these species last year, and while it would have been nice to have a few Stop numbers with images, safety concerns were higher on the list of priorities.

Better luck tomorrow!