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Archive for the ‘2011 – Baja California’ Category

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 – Catavina to Bahia de Los Angeles

S2980 was just a few kilometers from La Mision Catavina, still in the Boulder Fields, along MEX1, prompted by Angie spotting a tall Ferocactus; well, taller than her 1.63 m (5 ft 3″) but not as tell as my 1.94 m (6 ft 4″). It looked taller, standing on a boulder itself.

We arrived in Bahia de los Angeles, via S2981, still along MEX1, at the Echinocereus lindsayi spot – usual number of plants found, S2982  and S2983 both along the Punta Prieta to Bahia de Los Angeles road, with S2983 from the spot overlooking the Bay with a handful of islands seemingly carelessly tossed in the water.

We made straight to Hotel Costa de Bahia where we had a comfortable stay in 2011 as our previous preferred haunt Raquel & Larry’s place, was no longer up to scratch now that Larry had been moved into care in the US by his kids.

Yes they had space for us and yes, I could start with a Margarita and was allowed to buy the glass, so I now have one for each of my stays here.I enquired about the where abouts of the huge Great Dane that had been here last time – sadly he had passed away.

It was the size of the two Margaritas that I downed and my health – yes, another post flight cold, that account for my early night and lack of Diaries. But fear not, all the names of the plants seen have been recorded since 2008 and will be added as soon as health and time-wealth permit.

The number of cacti that accompany us in Baja remains overwhelming.

Saturday, 19 February, 2011 – Ensenada to Bellflower

It had poured down during the night and it was still raining heavily as we ventured out to breakfast.

We had half planned visiting the type locality of Dudleya brittonii, off MEX1, farther to the north, but that would mean coming back to Ensenada as we wanted to take the MEX3 to cross into the US at Tecate – a much quieter crossing, especially during the weekends. There was another option, to take secondary roads from the MEX1, cross country to MEX3.

The rain continued at a steady pace and as we left Ensenada there was plenty of evidence of small landslides depositing large boulders on to the roads. What would the back roads be like? Was the poor light in the rain really worth the extra detour? In the end we settled at heading straight for MEX3, the Baja Wine Route, and just get home.

We made a stop (S2247) at yet another road cutting and again, found Dudleya – D. brittonii, with cameras popping in and out of rain coats. It felt cold and miserable, reminding me of a February day in the UK.

Another road cutting and more Dudleya spotted from the road and again we briefly braved the rain (S2248) – again D. brittonii.

Tecate was a typical Mexican border town, with a road alongthe fence that seperates it from the US. Did we not celebrate the coming down of the Berlin Wall not too long ago? This fence feels just as wrong – hope we can celebrate it coming down too during my life time. Neighbours should settle their quarrals rather than build walls and fences.

After the usual slow crawl for 30-45 minutes we reached the border and after the passport check were directed to a random control check for drugs, weapons etc. Dogs crawled in and over the car and looked utterly bored by the time they came back out. We had not taken the opportunity to give the inside of the car a good clean out to the Ministry of Food & Ag. confiscated a half dried orange that must have rolled under the seat over a week ago.

It had stopped raining as we drove along CA Route 94 to San Diego and could not resist one more stop, S2249, as we passed another road cutting covered in Dudleya. We were still close to the border and our stopped car soon drew the attention of a Border Patrol helicopter thatbuzzed the car once or twice. We gotback on the road and around the next bend found another Dudleya road cutting. Not wishing to cause unnecessary exitement for helicopter pilots in the area we took pictures on several drive bys. About half of them had to be deleted – out of focus.

And so another cactus trip came to an end. We have two rest days in Bellflower before starting on the next one – through Big Bend in Texas to mainland Mexico.

Friday, 18 February, 2011 – San Quintín to Ensenada

We seem to have established a fairly stable daily routine of alarm set for 7, shower and ready for breakfast at 8 and on the road by 9. We usually snack on oatmeal bars, nuts and raisons etc on the road and aim to find a roof over our heads by sunset.

While in California and Baja Norte, Angie and I usually ‘meet’ on Messenger for a chat during ‘my’ breakfast, which is usually 16:00 in the afternoon for her. But today she left a message to say that she would be out, so that I got on with publishing yesterday’s Diary report and looking up some Reid Moran Field Book data. Eunice was keen to get going, as we had a full program today. She came back to the breakfast restaurant from a nicotine break with the news that it had started to rain, which put a bit of a damper on our plans. Around this time Angie came on line so time for a brief chat after all, to discover that her check on my house showed that the electricity had gone off, although fuses etc seemed to be OK. Great! NOT!!!

As we got on the road, the drizzle had eased up and we could see a blue sky in the direction that we were headed. I have started to describe weather in terms of the ISO setting on my D300 for an exposure of less than 125th of a second at f5.6 (the smallest aperture on my 18-200 mm lens). So a really bright day in the Desert will be an ‘L1.0 day’, light shade or lightly overcast weather is an ISO 200 day while today’s drizzle made it a 400 ISO day with ISO 640 for Dudleya growing on the shadow side of a road cutting.   

The reference to road cuttings was very appropriate as all our Dudleya stops were at such locations. So not many long walks – very handy!

S2241 was for a population of dark green Dudleya, consistent in appearance, with thick, succulent pointed leaves, growing in the shaded side of a road cutting along MEX1 near Camalu. We’re calling it D. pauciflora for now, because it looks a bit like the picture of a plant with that name in Jacobsen – not the most up to date reference, but the best that we can do for now. A single Cylindropuntia prevented this from being a ‘no cactus’ stop.

S2242 was outside the gate to Rancho Ayala, North of San Telmo and south of Colonet, again on MEX1. We were given strange looks by passing drivers – some hooted their horns. Dudleya attenuata grew here as well as D. paucifloraMammillaria dioica and Bergerocactus emoryi prevented this from being a ‘no cactus’ stop. Some D. pauciflora plants with longer, thinner leaves could be natural hybrids between it and D. attenuata? Or just a display of natural variation within the species?

S2243, still along MEX1 was for plants of D. pulverulenta, still growing on a road cutting, this time a very rocky one. These were huge, mature plants with around a dozen spent flower stalks suggesting that if every seed produced had germinated, the whole area would have been covered in Dudleya. I looked around and found Bergerocactus emoryi and Mammillaria dioica to again avoid this becoming a ‘no cactus’ stop. For those of you who saw my Baja California at ELK 2010 in Belgium, strains of ‘Stairway to heaven’ ran through my mind: ‘…and I wonder …’ I saw two types of Mam. Each might well fit within the concept of M. dioica, but they looked very different from each other, especially when I found both forms growing side by side.

As in 2008, we turned west to Erendira on a very good asphalt road. Then we were in a rush to get to Ensenada before night fall. On this occasion we had more time and again let Dudleya by the side of the road dictate where we made our stops. Eunice tells me that S2244 was a repeat of a 2008 stop but I really can not remember. There were magnificent specimen of old D. ingens here, large green plants on top of impressive trunks, still covered by many dried up leaves, giving plants a majestic appearance. And again I looked and found some cacti to avoid this becoming a no cactus’ stop. Bergerocactus emoryi obliged once more.

Once again, a few miles farther on, with an almost dry river bed to our south, another cutting and Dudleya ingens on the rock wall and the ridge above. S2245). I can’t wait until I get home to see what we called these plants in 2008. Echinocereus maritimus, Mammillaria dioica and Bergerocactus emoryi and Ferocactus viridescens var ??? make up the numbers. We turned around at km 15, unlike 2008 when we continued to the Ocean.

Back on MEX1 it started to drizzle and the light went to an ISO 640 day. Still, we could not resist one more stop, S2246, where the leaves seemed longer and thinner than the D. ingens that we had been seeing: I’m calling them D. lanceolata for now. I thought that I had spotted another Bergerocactus for the usual reason, but in the comfort of our hotel room in Ensenada, it turned out to be no more than a collection of dead branches on a dead shrub – making this the only ‘no cactus’ stop of the day.

We found a nice hotel in Ensenada and managed to get our luggage in before the heavens opened – it poured down! Rain coats came out as we ‘swam’ across the street to a restaurant for dinner, then back again. The heavy rain was blamed for the failure of wifi to reach my laptop – although Eunce was able to receive a (poor) sigal.

Tomorrow we head back to Bellflower.

Thursday, 17 February, 2011 – around San Quintín

In 2008 we had taken the turning east off MEX1 at San Telmo – a good hard top road signposted to the Parque Nacional de Sierra San Pedro de Martir. On that occasion our time budget was very limited, so that after a few brief stops we had to turn back, some 20 km from MEX1. This time we drove some km into the Parque – about 80 km from MEX1 before deciding that it was time to turn back.

As we seem to be on a Dudleyathon, it comes as no surprise that we stopped at every Dudleya that we spotted along the road, unlike in 2008 when Cliff, Ian and I were firmly focussed on the cacti, eventually having to ignore Eunice’s pleas to stop for yet another Dudleya, as we did need to get to a hotel before dark.

This time we drove through the green rolling hills past the 2008 stops. Once we had broken into new territory we stopped for Dudleya spotted growing in the shade on the side of the 3m high road cutting (S2237). We think that the plants in front of our lenses was Dudleya ingens, but will check the late Reid Moran’s on-line field notes to see what he has reported from this area. It all seemed so straight forward. All the plants were very uniform in appearance. Except that we found just a couple of plants growing close together that looked like D. attenuata. And then we drove off.

Hardly 100 meters down the road and we screeched to a halt again. We spotted a batch of Dudleya pulverulenta  or, from Reid Moran’s field notes, D. pulverulenta ssp. arizonica, which prompts me to make a note to look up the differences between the species and ssp. arizonica. I went back 100 yds to the first part of this stop and low to the ground found a number of (assumed) young plants of D. ingens, or where they? And it seemed that there was another form, a hybrid? between what and what? It had much more lanceolate leaves, but D. lanceolata is not reported from this area. This is not a matter to ponder after a couple of margaritas! The longer I look at the 100 images of Dudleya I took at this spot, the more confused I become. Eunice is helping by adding another half dozen candidate names to the confusion.

S2238, higher up in the mountains (929 m. altitude) was a lot easier: Echinocereus engelmannii and no Dudleya! And a Cylindropuntia sp. – a genus that I’m ignoring as too difficult on this trip.

The scenery changed dramatically – we were now in very rocky terrain with conifers and we had not seen cacti or succulent for the last 20 km. We stopped to take a GPS reading and scenery picture for what became our turn around stop. (S2239 at 2,308 m altitude). We noticed that Elsie had lost one third (off- side corner) of her front bumper unit. When did that happen? Eunice looked back through her images and found that the part was missing as long ago as our trip into the Sierra San Francisco.

On the journey down, with some spectacular views right to the Pacific Ocean, it was my turn to bring Elsie to a screeching halt as I spotted a mound of Echinocereus that has to be E. pacificus, (S2240) and so another tick on my list of cactus taxa photographed in habitat. And we had hardly got moving again, just around a bend and Eunice shouted ‘Stop!’ for another Dudleya pulverulenta. So what? This was at 1,615 m. altitude which makes me wonder what the highest recorded habitat is for Dudley and what species this applies to. There were 4 plants within the reach of our lenses. Very nice clean plants.

By now I have a real head ache. Too many margaritas? Too many unanswered Dudleya questions? Tomorrow will tell.

Wednesday, 16 February, 2011 – Bahia de los Angeles to San Quintín

All good things come to an end, as indeed did our stay in Bahia de los Angeles.

We made four stops on the way to San Quintín, where we were looking forward to the luxury plus of the former Desert Inn.

S2233 and  S2234 were along the excellent road from Bahia de los Angeles to MEX1. We were looking for Dudleya but found none. All the other suspects reported in 2008 were still here.(Cylindropuntia sp., Ferocactus sp., Fouquieria columnaris, Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii, Pachycereus pringlei, Pachycormus discolor, Tillandsia sp. and Yucca valida)

S2235 was at the 2008 Echinocereus ferreirianus ssp lindsayi stop. This really brought home how much drier Baja was this time round when compared to our February and March 2008 visits. We found half a dozen plants without too much trouble but with a long drive ahead to San Quintín did not allow ourselves time for extensive exploration to get a better understanding of its distribution area. A good reason to come back sometime.

S2236 was still in the hilly stretch of MEX1 before the flat area south of San Quintín and was prompted by Eunice spotting D. pulverulenta. The weather had changed dramatically from the windy but sunny weather at Bahia de los Angeles to a light drizzle. It was threatening during this stop, but actually forced us to switch on headlights and windscreen wipers as we approached San Quintín.  The plant list for S2236 was again impressive: Agave sp.., Cylindropuntia sp. #1 and #2, Dudleya attenuata, D. cultrata, D. pulverulenta, Echinocereus engelmannii, E. maritimus, Ferocactus sp., Fouquieria columnaris, Mammillaria brandegeei, M. dioica, Myrtillocactus cochal, Opuntia sp., Stenocereus (Machaerocereus) gummosus and Yucca whipplei – 16 taxa!


Tuesday, 15 February, 2011 – around Bahia de los Angeles

 Today was a day full of surprises – what a day!

The plan had been to start our journey back towards the US today, but yesterday’s great day had persuaded us to spend another day in Bahia de los Angeles where Kyle was keen to show us some cave paintings in the hills near the track to San Borja. We did not want to spend another night at Raquel & Larry’s – Angel was doing his very untrained best to be the caretaker but at US$60 per night for accommodation where we had to use the toilet in the room next door because ours was blocked and also the shower in the room next door as ours had no water pressure to it, this was not good value for money despite the fact that it offered some of the best sunrises in the world.

So on Kyle’s recommendation we moved into Hotel Costa del Sol where at 9 a.m. we were treated to a first class cooked breakfast. The location, still along the main drag along the Sea of Cortez has potential for excellent sunrise pictures, but 6 a.m. may be a bit early for me. Kyle joined us for breakfast and then offered to take us to cave paintings out in the desert.(S22

While Kyle was very knowledgeable on marine matters, he was keen to learn more about the cactus and other succulent plant flora around Bahia de los Angeles, so as we drove slowly along the sandy desert track (S2231) we pointed out all the cactus & succulent plant species that we encountered, explained about the cephalium on Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii – we saw some amazing specimens with stems over 3 m (9 ft) tall! – explained the three different types of Chola, the three different species of Fouqeria that we saw (columnaris, diguetii and splendens) and how the ribs on the stems of Pachycereus pringlei allowed the stem to expand significantly through a concertina effect once rains became available. Kyle might well try this out as he is keen on time lapse photography and has the plant material right on his doorstep. We look forward to seeing the results, Kyle!

We turned the car round to move to another location but then heard a strange noise that at first sounded like a scrambler bike coming up behind us. After a minute I asked Kyle to stop and saw my worst fears realised – a punctured rear right tyre.

The car was a Chevy Silverado Suburban – a great car in its day, but that was several years ago. It was on loan to Kyle by the project Director. We found the spare tyre easily, but where was the jack? This was eventually spotted in the engine compartment as was the length of metal rod to raise its height. But where was the spanner to undo the eight wheel nuts? We searched high and low but this essential tool could not be found.

We took a long hard look at the tyre that seemed well past its best-by date and found the large hole where a sharp stone had punctured the tyre – we agreed that it was beyond repair. And so the only solution was to sacrifice the tyre and drive with the puncture at least to the main road (some 24 km we guessed) where we could flag down a car and borrow their spanner. The sandy nature of the path made this a reasonable crawl at under 10 km per hour and slower when the track became more rocky (all pictures filed as S2232). Including one toilet stop, it took us some three hours to reach the main road where two days ago Eunice and I had kissed the tarmac when we reached its safety after our adventure with dodgy electrics and a leaky power steering system in Elsie.

It took 10 minutes before the first car was spotted – and we watched in amazement as it drove straight past us despite our waving and shouting. We had more luck with the second car, five minutes later and owe a vote of thanks to the driver, Stephen and his friend Ricardo who lent us their cross key and their much better quality jack. In no time at all the old wheel, with tyre in shreds, was off and the spare tyre in place. This was probably at half the recommended pressure, so that the last 20 or so km ride on nice smooth hard top in the fast fading light was made at a slow and steady pace.

We had an invitation for dinner that evening, as guests of Kyle’s neighbour – Mary and George Fricker. This had come as another tremendous surprise to me, as in the UK, Sonia Barker Fricker is still quoted as the main British authority on the genus Dudleya even though she died suddenly some ten years ago.

Last summer, I had been able to borrow the slides of her Dudleya talk from the BCSS slide library in an attempt to identify some of the plants that I had photographed in habitat in California and Mexican Baja California. I have a small collection of Dudleya at home and each of the vendors and friends from whom I obtained the plants assured me that they were propagated from original Sonja Barker Fricker material from habitat collected seed. As a result I have been working on my own Dudleya presentation of plants that I have seen in habitat of only those species that I have been able to give a positive identification for. It was great to meet George and his new wife, Mary and to learn how they enjoy life six months of the year in Bahia de los Angeles and the remainder in Bath, back in the UK, where they still attend some meetings at the BCSS Melksham Branch. A most enjoyable evening with lots of digging up of old memories and we hope to meet up again in the UK this summer.

This really was a day full of surprises! 

Monday, 14 February 2011 – trip to Isla Esteban

What would a cactus trip in Baja be without a boat trip?

So today we set the alarm for 5 a.m., watched the sunrise and around 6:35 we were on our way to Isla Esteban. This is one of the more difficult islands to get to, half way between Isla Tiburon (technically part of Sonora) and Isla Angel de la Guarda that protects Bahia de los Angeles. The reason for this boat trip? To see Echinocereus grandis and Mammillaria estebanensis, two species that are endemic to the island. 

Kyle joined us for the day. He had used our Capitan, Pancho, many times for the Field Study trips that focused on Marine Biology. We would spend some three hours on the water to reach a bay that Kyle had selected on Google Earth as the most fertile looking site on the island. Despite the forecast for a nice sunny day and a sea as flat as a mill-pond, I had taken the precaution of putting on a T-shirt, Shirt, jumper, safari jacket and windproof jacket, as these boat trips can be very chilly, particularly first thing in the morning. No regrets there.

We interrupted our journey as Kyle had spotted a pod (?) of whales – not the grey whales that we were used to seeing on the Pacific Ocean side; these were sperm whales. Much larger and much less willing to interact with us. They seemed to be sun bathing, occasionally taking a deep breath and short dive. They were not bothered that our panga drifted close to them. As they moved by, a pod of dolphins provided the entertainment by swimming around and underneath the boat. All very useful fodder for cameras – still and video.

We passed by Isla Raza (??) where millions of birds were amassed on the rocks, flying off in all directions when our panga approached.

And so we arrived at Isla Esteban where Pancho found a nice bay with beach suitable for landing. We have become experienced enough cactus explorers not to expect the plants you are looking for to line up and greet us when we arrive at a location name from where plants are said to come. Do they live on the hills, a day’s walk away from our landing or on the other side of the island? Another 3 hours in a boat to reach?

But Lady Luck was with us (again) and as soon as we were off the shingle beach – there they were: Mammillaria estebanensis and Echinocereus grandis, together with Agave desertii, Stenocereus gummosus, Cylindropuntia sp and Pachycereus pringlei. Although not reported from the island I had half expected to find a Ferocactus as well – but not this time.

The Mammillaria was larger than I had expected, based on plants that I owned and killed in the UK. It is variable in spine colour from almost while to yellowish and some heads have hooked spines while others do not. E. grandis looked much like the plants in cultivation – but a bit more battered by the elements. Their habitat on a rocky hillside made for excellent photos. Kyle and Eunice went on to explore just over a low hill and found the same plants growing on flat soil. They also saw and photographed an island endemic iguana.

We were in good time and took up Pancho’s offer to stop by another island on the way home. Our landing on Isla Salsipuedes was less productive. Once we were off the shingle beach we were confronted with a solid wall of Stenocereus gummosus, with Pachycereus pringlei dotted in between, right down to the beach. We tried farther along on sand rather than shingle – same story. There were Cylindropuntia here as well. I took some close-ups of the hillside to enlarge at the hotel, but so far these have not revealed any small stuff like Mams, Feros or Echinocereus.bThe Pachycereus looked different from their main land brethren in that they branched right from the base, rather like Stenocereus thurberi, the Organ Pipe cactus, instead of a meter or more above the ground.

Back on the boat, we spotted our pod of sperm whales again. It may well have been the same group that we had seen in the morning. We counted 14 individuals, including at least one calf – the size of a boat! As you can imagine today’s picture count was in excess of 600, with probably a number of rejects where the whale or dolphin had disappeared below the surface just as I pressed the shutter.

We arrived back in Bahia de los Angeles exhausted and after a meal of grilled fish were in bed before 9 p.m.

While we had been enjoying ourselves, Angel, the young lad who is caretaker at Raquel & Larry’s, had arranged for his father to take a look at Elsie. When we came back the hose to the power steering pump had been replaced and the dodgy electrics had been replaced and taped up as well. Tomorrow we can be confident when hitting the road again!