Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for the ‘2010’ Category

Post scripts: 11 April 2010

On this day, we drove along Carretera Federal 16 from Chihuahua to Yecova in Sonora, commenting that we were stopped at four army checkpoints that day. We were unaware at the time that two days earlier, another town along that road, that we had driven through, had been ‘held hostage’ by gunmen.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune:

‘MEXICO CITY – Dozens of organized crime gunmen stormed a small town in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, killing four people and setting a police headquarters ablaze, state Attorney General Abel Murrieta said.

The assailants burst into the town of Maycoba at around 6:00 p.m. Thursday and stayed about five hours, according to local residents.
Between 80 and 100 gunmen bearing rifles and with their faces covered entered the town on board about 15 late-model vehicles, Murrieta told a press conference on Friday.

Their first action was to open fire on the town’s police station and then set it on fire. The police in the small town were not at the station at the time of the attack and were therefore unharmed, the prosecutor said.

But the gunmen killed the father of the local police chief and three dead bodies were found a few kilometers from the town, two of whom have still not been identified. They also looted a store.

Prior to terrorizing the town, the group of gunmen had blockaded the nearby federal highway with two trucks.’

Thursday, 15 April, 2010 – flight home continued

Around 6:30 a.m. we had crossed the Irish Sea and were flying over North Wales, just as Angie was setting off from Amesbury to meet me at Heathrow. She was travelling at around 70 mph. while our plane monitor told me that we were doing 500 mph. It took exactly 30 minutes from the plane landing for me to find a seat near the Costa coffee shop to wait for Angie, slowed down by rush hour traffic, to arrive.

As we approached Heathrow, the pilot announced that passengers transferring to other flights at Heathrow should contact their airline information desks as there was a threat of flight cancellations due to a cloud of ash drifting from Iceland to the UK. It looks as if I had left taken a later flight from LA, it might well have been cancelled or diverted, so a lucky escape!

From the BBC News website:

Airline passengers are facing massive disruption across the UK after an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded planes.

The Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) said no flights would be allowed in or out of UK airspace from midday to 1800BST amid fears of engine damage.

The restrictions were imposed after the Met Office warned the ash was sufficient to clog engines. Passengers were also affected in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Passengers were advised to contact their carriers prior to travel.

Experts have warned that the tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud would be sufficient to jam aircraft engines …..

Wednesday, 14 April, 2010 – Bellflower, CA to LAX and flight home

One of the smoothest departures for homeward bound journeys that I can remember: up at 6, MSN chat with Angie, a quick repack as always, then, by 9 a casual drive from Bellflower via a coffee shop for a light breakfast on to LAX. Check in desks here have been replaced by electronic check in machines at each counter, with a member of staff only appearing once you have completed all the questions and the machine has printed your boarding ticket. Their task is limited to checking the weight of the luggage, sticking on the appropriate stickers and moving the luggage on its way to the plane.

The plane left right on schedule at 12:45 in the afternoon and after a light lunch I settled down for 10 hours or so of snoozing.

Tuesday, 13 April, 2010 – Tucson, AZ to Bellflower, CA

Today was all about covering the c. 440 miles (we left kilometres behind in Mexico), so the only stops were leg stretchers and toilet stops and not plant stops. At one such stop, at Desert Centre, CA we spotted some very affordable Native American textile souvenirs, that were quickly picked up, as bags and purses are always useful. Back on the road, closer inspection of labels revealed that they were indeed Indian produce, but the country in Asia, rather than the Red Indian nation. Never mind

We left Tucson at 6:30 and had lunch around 8 near the place where I-10 splits into the I-8 and I-10. We took the 10, passed Phoenix, crossed into California at Blyth, drove between snow capped mountains before passing Palm Springs and then started battling with increased volumes of traffic indicating that be must be approaching Bellflower.

Arrived safely around 4, got the car cleaned by 5, returned it by 6 (very smooth; they were very busy), went shopping at Fry’s for hard drives, then for the almost traditional Chinese meal at Ming’s (more than we could eat as usual) and now doing panic repack while downloading each others pictures.

Monday, 12 April, 2010 – Hermosillo, Mexico to Tucson, AZ, USA

Today was always going to be a ‘mainly driving day’ with just two target plant stops suggested by John from trips he made here during 1972 – 38 years ago, one some 22 km north of Hermosillo for Mammillaria mainiae and another for Mammillaria goldii.

So when the posts along Mex 14 announced km 22  we stopped (S1890), once again squeezed through barbed wire fencing and found Cylindropuntia sp. #1, sp. #2 (in flower) and C. leptocaulis (in bud), Stenocereus schottii, a light spined Mammillaria that I assume is M. grahamii and a darker spined, fatter stemmed form that could be M. dioica – no flowers or fruit to help with IDs and Stenocereus alamosensis (s.n. Rathbunia alamosensis). At first I thought that it was Stenocactus gummosus that we had seen so much around Baja California and along the coast in Sonora. On those occasions, we had seen some flowers, off white in colour and tubular cup-shaped. But the plants here had very different flowers: pink to red coloured, recurved petals and anthers and stamen poking out, almost like Nopalia flowers, designed for hummingbird pollination.  This and S. gummosus can not be accused of being the most dynamic plants in the desert, so while I take ‘for the record’ pictures at each stop that they appear, I never pay close attention, unless there are flowers, fruits or cristate stems, so I may have seen this species before without recognising it for what it is. This one is called the Octopus cactus, because of its sprawling habit. Stenocereus thurberi was also here, in bud and some open flowers as was Fouquieria macdougalii. John spotted a couple of caudiciform trunks of Ibervillia sonorensis and then found four individual plants of M. mainiana. growing in shade under Acacia trees. A very nice stop!

S1891 was for twelve images at a roadside comfort stop (a.k.a. a P break) along Mex 17. Pachycereus pecten-arboriginum (in fruit)  Stenocereus thurberi and a Bursera sp. were among plants of interest photographed.

Two hours later, the same excuse (P break) gave us S1892 where we saw Opuntia sp. C. sp. #1, Stenocereus thurberi, Fouquieria macdougalii. and one large Mammillaria (some 20+ cm in diameter) with large flowers (for the genus). Does. M. winterae occur here? Unfortunately only plant was found, as we had a limited time budget.

We arrived in Nacozari where John had found Mammillaria goldii, Echinocereus rigidissimus, Coryphantha recurvata and Agave parviflora in 1972, 38 years ago. His notes called for us to follow Mex 17 into town (there is now a bypass), cross two railway lines (there are no railway lines now, but a steam engine in the centre of town is a monument to a Mexican, who drove a burning ammunition train out town, where it exploded, killing the local hero, sometime in the 18 hundreds) and then look for the plants on the two low hills just outside of town (these were now built on as part of the urban expansion). We drove through town and around it on the bypass in the hope that John might recognise some likely features to suggest that M. goldii might grow here as well. Such locations needed to be accessible from the road, with an opportunity to park the car safely.

S1893 was judged to be a best fit and we allowed ourselves 30 minutes for a quick exploration. An hour later, we had found all the companion cacti, but sadly, not the Mam. It might have been here, but this is a very small growing plant that would be hard to find in the vegetation (denser than John remembered it) if not in flower.

Time had again beaten us – we had to be out of Mexico today (car insurance) and took two hours to cross at Agua Prieta. Potential travellers wanting to take their US rental car into Mexico should know that a recent change in law now necessitates a US$400 deposit to be paid as part of the import formalities. When we entered Mexico at Pedra Negra, the office to import the car was actually some 20 km inside Mexico, at Allende. Here, the office was actually at the border control, but at the point where you enter the country, not where you leave it. The process went very smoothly and friendly, but  contributed to the two hours that it took to enter Agua Prieta and cross the order into Douglas, AZ.

It was still a fairly lng drive on to Tucson where we stayed at the usual Motel 6 and had dinner at our usual steak house, The Silver Saddle, where a sign said that they did not accept the recession. Fine, but where on earlier visits we had to queue for a table to become available, today the restaurant was only about 20% full – may be because it was Monday night?

This report was written as we drove from Desert Centre to Riverside along I-10 on 13 April.

Sunday, 11 April, 2010 – Yecora to Hermosillo

The last few days I seem to have started the daily reports with what happened at the end and then work my way back. I’ll continue that tradition today. We are at Hotel Bugambilia (no not one of my infamous typos) in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

Quite fittingly, our last night is spent in the same accommodation where we spent our first night in Mexico in 2009. There are some minor changes, in that the restaurant has gone down market, is no longer allowed to sell Margaritas and seems to sell snacks rather than a last night of a cactus trip dinner. We stopped off at Walmart and managed to get a bottle of Santa Rita 120 from Chile. On top of that, John believes that the LA Lakers (basketball for the uninitiated) have won their game in the play offs.

We overcame the Margarita problem by crossing the road to the (comparatively speaking) magnificent Holiday Inn where the Margaritas were great, the steak as rare as I like it and the guacamole was served with a parmesan cheese dusting that made it the best guacamole of the trip for me.

We have gone back for a night cap (more wine) so I better finish the stop listing. I recorded six stops: S1884 to 1889 incl.

S1884 was an impromptu stop as Eunice had spotted some Agave’s along the side of the road. She has already retired for the night, so I can’t ask her to confirm the name.

Last year she had very much hoped to see A. bovicornuta (The Cow’s Horn Agave), some 250 km to the south east of Hermosillo. That location just did not fit into that year’s schedule, so this year it was on the agenda. Sometimes I have been disappointed by Agave’s in habitat not looking distinctly different from other taxa that we had already seen, but this time I has pleasantly surprised by a very distinct bright green (to my colour blind eyes) plant (S1885). Some searching on Google explains why we also saw a bluish form growing side by side with the green form. Also here was Agave vilmoriniana, the Octopus Agave, for which we had searched last year around Alamos, to the south from here. Here it was growing with the Cow’s Horn and it seems that there was at least one intermediate or hybrid. An octopus with cow’s horns? Also spotted: Opuntia sp. Mammillaria sonorensis. Dasylirion sp., Tillandsia sp. Bursera sp. and Echinocereus aff. polyacanthus?

We had remarked how, during our travels through the Chihuahuan Desert, we had not seen any ceroids. Finally, as we descended into the Sonora Desert, we spotted our first tallies: first Pachycerus pecten-arboriginum, then Stenocereus thurberi (The Organ Pipe cactus) and finally, Carnegia gigantea, the Saguaro. (S1886). Here we also found Fouquieria macdougalii, huge plants, with a small trunk and flowers at the end of their branches.

We made another stop as we saw the Octopus Agave, A. vilmoriniana hanging from the rock face to the left of the road  (S1887). Also photographed 

S1888 – just a brief roadside stop to photograph Fouquieria macdougalii, Stenocereus (Hertrichocereus) thurberi and Cylindropuntia versicolor (in flower).

S1889 was another unscheduled roadside stop where we saw Fouquieria macdougalii, Mammillaria dioica (?), M. grahamii (?), M. mainiae (?), Stenocereus (Rathbunia) alomosensis, Stenocereus (Hertrichocereus) thurberi and Cylindropuntia versicolor (in flower).

Saturday, 10 April, 2010 – Creel to Yecora

What a difference a day makes. Last night we were living it up in the Best Western in Creel and today we are in Hotel Michel in Yecora, that is still being built. There is one electricity outlet per room and so far we have not been able to get hot (or warm) water from any tap. We had dinner at the grandiose named Meson de Lucy, next to the police station. The total bill for the meal for three people tonight was less then our tip for dinner last night. Needless to say , there is no wifi in the Hotel, although Eunice’s mobile phone did pick up a wifi signal in the restaurant, but that turned out to be the Police Station’s router, and they did not want to give us the key.

This year, we commented how relaxed security had been in Mexico, with only two check points where they waved us through with big smiles and ‘Have a nice day!’ Today we passed from Chihuahua into Sonora and had four inspections with every one out of the car and armed men checking random bags. This was the reason why last year we stayed along the main road along the coast and missed the hilly area where all the interesting cacti grow.

Once again, I race ahead of myself. S1878 was a roadside stop prompted by magnificent views one side of the road and Agaves, A. wocomahi I believe. Closer inspection of the rock wall behind the Agaves revealed a number of Echeveria chihuahuensis, this time in full flower. I also discovered that what I had been calling Echinocereus scheerii on a number of stops on previous days, since we entered the Copper Canyon area, is more likely to have been E. polyancistrus. Here it was again. The German Echinocereenfreund have added another taxa, E. rischerii to this group, and I need to check up how this differs from E. polyancistrus and which one it was that we actually saw. More homework to be reflected in the stop list once it is finalised (will it ever?). John also found a nice red flowered herbaceous plant that he believes might be Lobelia sp.

Farther up the road, S1879 brought more scenery on one side of the roads, with plants on the other. E. polyancistrus, was the only succulent plant that I photographed and remembered seeing.

S1880: more scenery, E. polyancistrus, A. wocomahi, the tiny Sedum sp. that we had first spotted yesterday, another, different Crassulaceae sp., an Opuntia sp. and Echeveria chihuahuensis.

The road from Creel had been of variable quality with lots of evidence of work in progress to make the stretch to Basaseachi hard top.  Shortly before arriving at the waterfall turn, we joined the road that we had taken last year. S1881 (= S1368 in 2009) was for the stretch from the car park in front of the souvenir shops to the viewpoint at the top of the waterfall. Here we each did our own thing, me just sitting on a rock, soaking up the view and trying to remember that by Thursday this would be another holiday memory back in England. The scenery remained magnificent, with the light kinder to the rock faces than it had been last year. We did not make the walk to the bottom of the waterfall (See report for 20 March 2009)

S1882 was another scenery and rock wall plant stop and, as the light was turning reddish in the late afternoon sun, gave us Agave parviflora (or was it A. schidigera?), Echeveria craigiana

S1883 is where I realised my mix up between Echinocereus scheerii and E. polyancistrus as the two were growing here side by side, both in bud, and eventually we found a few plants with the magenta flowers closing at the end of the day. They grew either exposed, on the top of large boulders or in the the shade at the base of the rocks, in faltering light. We also found a ‘new’ (for me) Mammillaria sp., densely spined with strong pink coloured flowers. John remarked how it looked like a Parodia with straight spines.

Yecora, our home for the night, has a long way to go before it becomes a magnet for tourists, the way that towns in neighbouring Chihuahua are striving.

Friday, 9 April, 2010 – Guachochi to Creel

I could just copy the Diaries for 18 March 2009. It would be much easier, as we’re on our second bottle of Norton Malbec at the Best Western in Creel.  I guess that I’ll just run through today’s program and put the 2009 stop numbers in brackets.

We managed an early get away, negotiating for a 7:00 breakfast (well 7:05, by the way that we rattled the door of Restaurant Los Pinos to alert the staff of their side of our agreement). We then thought that the Mexican road building system had performed miracles by putting down an almost brand new asphalt road to take us to the Baranca Sinforosa. We were well ahead of schedule, when the fun started. Eunice’s SatNav target was NOT the Baranca Sinforosa but a way point from her database, where a friend had made a stop last year. We drove on until we met a gang of workmen, continuing the road improvements and asked them if we were on the right way. Noooooooo! came the reply, the directions took us back all the way to our Hotel, in Guachochi!. But the track that we had followed from there last year had improved dramatically and there were now clear signposts to the Baranca, which offers one of the most spectacular views that I have seen. This time, I walked the complete edge of the view point holding the video camera to try to capture the spectacle.

But first we made a quick stop (S1871) at the point in Eunice’s Data Base (EDB) which had sent us 30 minutes in the wrong direction. No cacti or succulent plants were found, but the ground between the pine trees  was covered with a dwarf lupine: tall flower spikes but the leaves very close to the ground.

So S1872 (S1358 in 2009) was reached around 10:10. It was John’s first view of these Canyons and he agreed that they were very impressive. But I had taken all the pictures that I needed from here and I knew that a certain Mammillaria senilis was waiting for us at the suspension bridge that we could see some 1000 ft below us, 4 km along an impossible track. Where is Cliff when you need him to take control of the steering wheel? The alternative was simple: walk.

While Eunice stayed at the top, photographing her favourite Agaves. A. shrevei (?) NOT A. maximilliana as she had suggested last year A. wocomahi,  and (see
http://www.globetrotters.ch/botanik/pflanzen/botspezies_seite_en.asp?main=5070&menu=1&bgt=am&genus=AGAVE&gnr=110), John and I walked to the bridge. I explained how last year I had crossed this several times, just because I could, Eunice had crossed it once and chosen the alternative route back. John said he’d like to give it a try as at college he had taken an additional course in circus skills which involved tightrope exercises, for which he holds Diplomas!. It came useful during his Service years in the Navy where he was able to impress his colleagues with these skills. I would of course now show you pictures of John crossing this ravine balancing on the wires of the suspension bridge, instead of the meter wide planks that I had used, but he admitted that he had left his tight rope walking shoes at home, blaming me for not telling him to pack them!

The walk downhill was a reminder of the excellence of Cliff’s driving skills – I would not have dared to take our Jeep down here.   It made me also think about having to walk back up, around midday (Mad Dogs & Englishmen ……) 

S1873 (S1359), and I headed straight for the rock where I have a clear memory of M. senilis in flower. I must have taken some twenty pictures of the one plant to milk the subject in talks. Cliff and Alain had walked on and had found many more plants, here accompanied by large butterflies. I had told myself not to expect miracles. ‘My’ Mam. might no longer be there and some three weeks later in the season, would certainly have finished flowering. But maybe the Echinocereus scheerii, in bud then, might be in flower this time?  M. senilis was there exactly as expected, but with more flowers! More pictures were taken. The E. scheerii were again in bud, from memory less advanced then last year. So they must have had a cold long winter here too. We then walked on farther and found more M. senilis, but only one or two large swallow tail butterflies.

Soon it was time to start our climb back and I was really chuffed with myself as we managed the 4 km in just under an our, arriving back at the car 1 minute after noon.

We continued the rest of the day with ELO’s greatest hits on my juke box, just as in 2009. Cliff & Alain were here in spirit, if not in person.

S1874 was a leg stretch & comfort stop with again A. wocomahi and a small herbaceous plant photographed.

S1875 was for 26 images taken from the car of the breath taking scenery.

S1876 (!361 in 2009) was for Echinocereus scheerii and Echeveria craigiana, photographed in much better light this time.

The last stop of the day, S1877 was prompted by a suggested location from EDB, but at the coordinates suggested, we were looking at a 50 m drop along side the road. We expect that the explorers had taken an earlier track that ran parallel to the road, along a dry river valley. About 1 km farther along, we were able to join this track and soon had found the moss covered rocks that is the favoured habitat for E. scheerii and another Echeveria, E. chihuahuensis.

Another excellent day!

Thursday, 8 April, 2010 – Durango to Guachochi, Chihuahua

Today was very much a driving day, covering some 550 km., quite a bit of these on winding roads or through topes filled villages.

Only 53 images taken today, spread over four stops, (S1867 to S1870) record scenery to record that MEX 45 from Durango to Parral leads mainly through boring flat (high plateau) cultivated or unused land. We did see some cacti, but nothing worth reporting here. Details in the field list available on request after I have pieced it together in months to come.

Alain & Cliff will be pleased to know that tonight we are staying again in Hotel Cumbres and that the range of food served in Restaurant Los Pinos has not improved; still no guacamole!

Tomorrow we plan to drive through Copper Canyon to Creel. I should have left last year’s wireless keys on my laptop.

Wednesday, 7 April, 2010 – Gomez Palacio to Durango

During breakfast at the Best Western in Gomez Palacio, the head waiter approached me and asked if he was correct in thinking that I had stayed with them before, about a year ago. Yes I had. Then I was with two large gentlemen; were they alright? Yes, Cliff & Alain are fine – nice to be remembered I guess – I trust that it was for the right reasons.

We are now entering familiar territory for Cliff & Alain, as our first stop (S1862) was just before the Presa where last year we were able to see Agave victoria reginae through telephoto lenses. They were still there this time. I’ll have to look up the list of plants seen from last year’s Diary, so that I don’t contradict myself this time. I can tell you that the Opuntia rufida, the Cylindropuntia spinosior and the Coryphantha durangensis were all in flower this time.

S1863 was at the Presa itself, a brief stop and nothing new to report since last year.

S1864 was a stop along the Rio Nazas, close to where we stopped last year. Then we had photographed a white flowered Fouquieria splendens. John tells us that this is known by the name of F. campanulata. Wikipediea has it down as F. splendens ssp. campanulata. Anyway, here is where we first encountered it this year

We stopped again at last year’s stop where we first saw the white flowered Fouquieria, (S1865) although our real purpose was to look for Ariocarpus fissuratus and Leuchtenbergia principes. That time we only found one Leuchtenbergia, but this time I was able to find that plant straight away and then found numerous plants – five near by, others higher up the hill. I believe that that time, short of day light hours left, we were unable to find any Ariocarpus. This time we fared better, over the hill, on to a second hill, finding a dozen or so plants, dead & alive, in the time allocated (actually, we overran, leaving John waiting at the car, sorry again, John! All the other plants reported in 2009 were found again (yes, I know that I’m chickening out). The database suggested the name A. intermedius, but according to the Living Rock’s website, this occurs in the Cuatrocienegas area in Coahuila, not here.

What next? Last year I was ill prepared with my stops – no break from five months continuous cactus travel had taken its toll. This year Eunice had accepted the challenge of planning a route that would take us past interesting plant locations and she has done really well. She reported two stops of Mammillaria, a little out of the way: M. theresa and M. guilzowiana.   We made it to the first, the one for M. guilzowiana, but the road was poor, approaching roads in Bahia, so our speed had been far below the 60 m.p.h. (100 km.p.h.) average on highways. I was none to hopeful at finding our plant as we stopped (S1866) near a pass, with a cooling wind howling through. Hats were left in the car. The hillsides seemed to be covered by the remains of ferns, thick layers, not the best place to look for small Mams. And yet, within minutes, John had found a flower poking through the ferns. Cameras clicked, and, after some of the dead plant material had been cleared away, clicked again, now at four or five small globular Mams, nowhere near as woolly as plants in cultivation had made me expect and much smaller. The flowers were on longer tubes, so that they could poke above the competing vegetation.

While trying to stay upright in the storm (we later discovered that this is the norm here) I found my first Stenocactus (Echinofossulocactus) with the body practically obscured by spines and a few white flowers with darker mid stripes on the outside of the petaloids. There was also a nice Echinocereus of the triglochidiatus group in flower.

Once again we had run out of time and even though the M. theresa stop seemed only 9 km away, it was along that track in poor condition, with light failing fast. Instead of driving to Hidalgo del Parral, some 250 km away, we headed for Durango where we had stayed in the Best Western in 2009. Nothing had changed here.