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Archive for the ‘2011’ Category

Monday, 21 March 2011 – rest day in Bellflower, CA

Just a quick message to say that we arrived safely in Bellflower, late last night and in the pouring rain! The song says ‘It never rains in California.’  The song is wrong!!

We have had a number of extremely long driving days to get back to Bellflower, when on arrival each night I have been too tired to write up the Diary entries. On other occassions the wifi connections and my laptop problems prevented the Diaries to be written or published. I hope to rectify some of this over the next few days.

We now have a couple of days until Angie arrives on Wednesday for a 2 week look around the US SW area.

Sunday, 20 March, 2011 – Tucson to Bellflower

Tucson, AZ to Bellflower, CA is ‘only’ 487 miles (784 km) – 8 hours drive, which ever way you want to count it through some of the less inspiring landscapes on fast highways. That’s a full day’s task, so we were perhaps a bit silly to arrange a visit at Miles Anderson’s Miles to Go nursery out in the desert near Tucson (S2337). We managed to tear ourselves away just after noon, so expected to make it to Bellflower by 8 p.m. The visit was well worth it with excellent cactus chat and opportunities to photograph the cultivated versions of plants that we had seen shrivelled and dry during the last few weeks in habitat. Thanks Miles!

The weather forecast for California suggested rain – hard to believe when you’re standing in the burning (for a Dutchman) Arizona sunshine, but sure enough, as we approached Blythe, clouds gathered and by the time that we had some 100 miles left to go, it started to rain, ending up with a good old English style down pour.  It was at this time that Ruby, who had been so well-behaved during her Mexico adventure, started playing up. Warning lights that had told us that an oil change was due ‘soon’ started to insist that the time had come now, another cryptic message said that the right hand rear indicator light was malfunctioning and to cap it all, when the heavens were raining down at full strength, a new message told us that we had ‘low tyre pressure’, with an icon of a punctured tyre on display. We almost ‘swam’ off the highway and to a garage, fortunately where Eunice had studied at University, so where she was familiar, at least 30 years ago. The guy at the fuel station kindly switched on the air line but we had four round ones, and as far as I could tell in the wet and dark, the tyre pressures were fine. The temperature had fallen from 85 F to 40 F, so that might have caused a fluctuation in pressures? Or do cars in California really dislike ran?

The important thing was that we arrived safely home with Eunice driving the car through some awful conditions, avoiding the Californian drivers who still have a lot to learn about driving in these conditions.

Friday, 18 March, 2011 – Bustamante, NL to Tucson, AZ

There was no time for Plant Stops as we had to drive 487 miles (784 km) over not the fastest roads in the world and deal with the time consuming bureaucratic nightmare that is crossing international borders.

! have yet to be convinced of the benefits of such activities, other than keeping huge numbers of people from contributing to the unemployment statistics. Once upon a time they used to affect travel between countries that now make up the European Community. Where once cars queued for miles or kilometers, they now flash by the man made boundary lines at the maximum speed permitted on the local motorways and none of the countries seem to have collapsed as a result of the change in attitudes. Of course it took many years to get to this and I understand that the process was not without difficulties, but worth it none the less.

Once again, we had to report to the Mexican customs office to obtain a refund of the US$400 deposit that we had to pay on entering Mexico. The lady examined the pile of documents that we presented and returned a couple of them and, with a smile said that we had to go and get more photocopies of these. There was a photocopier one step behind her. ‘Only for office use’ she explained. Not for copies of customer documents. Aargghh! I would gladly have paid what ever commercial cost there might be for the copies to be taken there and then, but again we had to walk in the burning heat some 300 m. to the little Cambio kiosk where we had these exact documents copied before, on entry. There was no point in arguing the logic and inefficiencies of the process, the staff involved are on the whole not motivated to improve the customer service that they are paid to provide – they just do as they are told and seem to enjoy the power that this gives them.

On to the US entry point. After 30 minutes in a slow moving queue it was our turn. My non US passport was the first note on the yellow card and Eunice’s black mark of having received unsolicited plant material from a plant friend in Thailand nearly a year ago was the second, so on to the inspection area. We were marched into the admin hall while a team of officers decended on Ruby. ‘Sit down’ was the instruction, as we took our place in a hall full of rows of chairs, with about 50 Mexicans waiting their turn. After about five minutes I had worked out that on entering the hall you were supposed to get a number, not unlike the system in use in UK post offices, where there are lots of notes to tell you what was expected. Not here. Some Mexicans who had entered after us were therefore now ahead of us in the queue. This was spotted by one of the officers who called me over and put me to the front of the queue. I was not about to complain. I had a valid entry stamp and permission to stay for 3 months from entering on 3 February, so what was the problem? Best not to ask as there are lots of ways in which life could suddenly become a lot more difficult.

Back to the car that had now been searched from top to bottom and declared as clean as we knew it would be. There is nothing anti-American or anti-Mexican intended in this little rant, just frustration at the inefficiencies experienced at yet another international border crossing anywhere in the world.

Sigh!

On the positive side, the whole drama, crossing from Ciudad Acuna took just over an hour, which probably makes it one of the fastest during this winter’s crossings.

We arrived in Tucson as dusk fell, still in the mood for a steak at the Silver Saddle where, on a Saturday night, Eunice had reserved a table by phone, in advance, so that we sailed by the queues waiting outside.

If only we could reserve border crossings this way! 

Friday, 17 March, 2011 – Around Bustamante

In 2010 we had spent one night sleeping on the cold floor of a cold hall at Rancho Minas Viejas, the Old Mine Ranch, owned by a friend of the owners of the Hotel where we stay in town. Although the Hall is only some 20 km from the main road, the track up the hill is in places extremely testing, so that is takes over two hours to cover the distance. In 2010 we had two punctured tyres before getting back to the main road, so I was not looking forward to making the drive again, although the views and plants found on the way and at the top were well worth it.

I agreed that the ‘Ghost of the Double Puncture’ had to be laid to rest and the only way to do this was to repeat the drive and return with all four tyres still in tact.

There was really no reason to spend the night in the cold hall again so we returned back to the comfort of a hotel bed and restaurant food.

And why did we do this? The Minas Viejas is the type locality for a particularly nice new Agave, A. ovatifolia, known in US nurseries as the Whale’s Tongue Agave. This is a fairly recent (2002) described species but has been known about for many years when it was first brought from Mexico into the US by the late Lynn Lowery, who found it growing between 3,000′ and 7,000′ elevation. It was planted around Dallas and survived for decades unscathed by cold. Agave expert Greg Starr, curious to know its identity, retraced Lynn’s route and found the original population in Mexico. It looks like an Agave parryi on steroids, forming a 36″ tall x 5′ wide (in 5 years), symmetrical clump of wide grey leaves. It has proven to be one of the best agaves for cold, wet climates, far outperforming almost all other species and in its natural settings on limestone terraces, it makes a wonderful photogenic subject. All pictures today are all recorded as S2335 and I ignored most of the cacti and succulents already reported during our 2010 visit and focussed my mind and camera on the Agave to get some very nice pictures.

On return to Bustamante we just caught the daughter of the owner of our hotel before they intended to go home as there was hardly any business. They gladly opened up and we bought some replicas of Mayan art at very reasonable prices as well enjoying nice Mexican food.

Wednesday, 16 March, 2011 – Monclova to Bustamante

‘What?’ I hear you say, ‘are they doing the Mexico trip all over again?’  It does seem that way, as today kind of repeated what we did on 26 February. Why? On that occasion we were passing through, on our way to new cactus territories. As a result we did not take the time to visit ‘The Old Mine’ again, a 2010 adventure when we experienced a double puncture. That adventure meant that we had to cut short our photography of Agave ovatifolia, a fairly recent discovery and so far unique to these hills.

Our ‘trip fatigue’ of a couple of days ago had passed, as yesterday we repeated our stops from 2010.

Monday, 14 March, 2011 – Ciudad San Luis Potosi to Gomez Palacio

The laptop that has been my faithful travel companion since 2007 seems to have finally given up. Not entirely unexpected, so I had already brought along a 10″ Notebook for emergency use and a replacement laptop awaits our return to Bellflower.

Our drive to Gomez Palacio took us through Zacatecas, a very uninspiring state as far as our cactus finds are concerned. At times I thought that I was driving through a very dry Holland, the scenery was so flat, but with hills on the horizon.

We were probably experiencing Explorers fatigue, all ‘cactussed-out’ after the incredible range of plants seen in San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas. I certainly had to push myself to go looking for cacti. I had hoped to see and photograph at least one Stenocactus here as an excuse to show off the longest (old) cactus name: Echinofossulocactus zacatecasensis.

Just one stop today, S2327, where all we found, cactus wise, were Opuntia sp, Cylindropuntia sp and Mammillaria gummifera which at least cheered me up by being in flower.

We were quite looking forward to our fourth stay in 3 years at the Best Western Hotel in Gomez Palacio. After our first visit in 2009 we were recognised and greeted warmly on subsequent visits, which always makes a difference. This time was no exception – the gentleman who has the unenviable task of cleaning our car after weeks on limestone / gypsum dirt tracks called on two friends to give Ruby a good rub down and the car looked as good as it did when we picked  her up from Dollar Rent-a-Car.

Just one event soured our experience of Gomez Palacio. As we turned off the highway into town we were stopped by a traffic policeman on motorbike. He claimed that we had driven through an ‘Alto’ sign without stopping. Neither Eunice, who was driving, nor me in my navigator’s role had seen such a sign, but in such situations the officer of the law is always right. He only spoke Spanish, so it was difficult to argue our case or plead for a warning only. The ticket book came out and when Eunice asked how much the fine would be, he said that this would depend on how much the judge might decide in three or four days time. ‘But we are passing through!’ Eunice explained, ‘You’ll get the verdict in the post, in the US.’ He explained. ‘Roughly how much?’ Eunice asked. ‘About a day’s earnings.’ he said. But, as we did not offer to pay him cash here and then, he started to tell us that he could tell that we were good people and that in his heart he would be happy to let us go, but that he was hungry and that if we could give him some money ….. Eunice offered 200 pesos (less than US$20) and this was eagerly accepted. We then asked him for directions to the hotel and he told us to follow him, until we knew where we were.

At the hotel, reviewing the event we realised that for the first time of driving in cactus country we have fallen victim of bribery / corruption at the hands of law officers. Shame.

Sunday, 13 March, 2011 – Ciudad Victoria to Ciudad San Luis Potosi

We had a long day and my eyes are struggling to keep open, so I’ll just list the stops with the key plants photograhed. The amazing thing is not what we saw, but what we passed without stopping. And that is just the locations that have been reported and thathave made it through to my database. If I were to link the dots and assume that a particular species occurs virtually everywhere within that area, then many of the plants thatI had assumed were virtually extinct are in fact fine and exist in large numbers in habitat. Of course neither the doom stories that we hearand my overly optimistic view are true but somewhere between the two extremes lies reality and that reality changes day by day.  

What did we see?

S2320 was a stop requested by Eunice along MEX 101, as on the three occasions that we drove past this spot she had been admiringthe Agaves, Hechtia and other flora at about roughly 100 km.p.h. as huge lorries were chasing us and there were very few pull off points. It was Sunday, so traffic was much lighter and so a stop could be made. We still have to analyse what Eunice saw through her 400 mm lens and I still need to blow up the images I took of plants growing way out of reach on a steep cliff.

S2321 were sightseeing pictures of the village of Jamauve. During our stroll along the square we had nice friendly chats with some of the inhabitatnts, including policemen on duty – a very friendly village, juding from this brief visit. We learned that the town has a hotel, a bank and a Pemex, in brief, everything that a dedicated cactus explorer needs on a future visit.

 S2322 was to be a stop for Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus but it seems that again the road building that we are reaping the benefit of may have caused the destruction of this location. There was nowhere to park for a decent exploration and if there had been, we would not have had the time for anything but a cursory look.

 S2323 was just outside Tula and soon it will probably part of the growing town. We thought that we might have had to dig up the foundations of a bungalow to get to the GPS coordinates for this location but found our target plant, Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus v albiflorus eventually, about half a dozen plants encrusted in the gypsum / lime stone silt. We’ll have to assume that the original explorers ID for the white flowered form as being correct – there was not a flower to be seen. Lots of other cacti too. 

 For S2324 we had pulled off MEX 101 just before El Huizache, on to a track sign posted for Los Amoles.  Various cacti found but nothing special.

S2325 was at the microwave station on top of the hill that overlooks Entronque EL Huizache, aka Huizache Junction. Lots of cacti and a nice view with the star plants in my opinion Ariocarpus retusus ssp elongatus, although the ssp. name could only really be applied to one large multi headed clump growing in the shade of a Hechtia. All the other Ariocarpus conformed to the normal retusus tubercles. A thirteen headed clump of Lophophora was also worth a picture.  

That would have made my day perfect, but Eunice had one more stop up her sleeve, the Type Locality of Ariocarpus bravoanus (S2326). These were perhaps the easiest plants to find as, after we had walked some 300 m. through quite dense scrub – yes, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis once again stapled our trousers to our legs!! – the tiny plants had been painted bright red with indellible paint and tagged to discourage unscrupulous visitors from collecting the plants. This project has been the subject of an article in the CSSA Journal a few years back (Cactus and Succulent Journal 81(2):56-58. 2009) and it is good to see that the paint is still in tact. It also shows how slow growing these plants are.

It was approaching dusk when we rolled back into the Holiday Inn Express at SLP – our third and last visit here this year, but with the intention of returning sometime in the future.