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Archive for the ‘2016 Baja California’ Category

Sunday 20 March 2016 – LAX to Amesbury

Phew! Home safe, sound and tired at 18:00 hrs.

Empty suitcases to have my washing lined up to run the washing machine as soon as the sun hits the solar panels (if it is sunny enough). All pottery, wrapped in my laundry, got through as the six pieces that I bought!

Prepare to do list for tomorrow:

  • Check car battery (it was flat, after three weeks of no action; I should have disconnected the battery before flying out)
  • If needed, call Green Flag insurance for a home visit to get the car started. (It was needed and they arrived 15 minutes after my call!)
  • Check fuel for the car (144 miles left!)
  • Make doctor’s appointment to have toe checked out. As is often the case after walking in the desert, my toe nail (right foot this time) had come off on Friday and was still weeping, so, as all diabetics know, I need to get it checked out! Done.
  • Post the ‘arrived home’ missive for this trip. (Doing it now!)
  • Catch up on missing missives from the trip.
  • Start planning for next trips:
    • To Holland to pick up my sales plants for the coming season from Aad Vijverberg
    • Ferry bookings for trips to Cologne (Angie’s Mum) for June and September
    • To Madagascar once UK clocks turn to Winter time
    • Check clocks all around the house to see which ones I need to turn to Summer Time this coming Sunday. Hooray! Good excuse for a drink on Saturday night to celebrate! Bottle of Malbec added to shopping list.

It’s good to be home again!



Thursday 17 March 2016 – around El Cahon

The approaching end to this trip follows the pattern of its predecessors: find a convenient Motel 6, visit friends, admire collections and visit a shopping mall to get those last minute essentials – in this case an additional suitcase (carry on luggage size) for my new boots and to hold the rucksack etc.

But first, in the ‘visit to friends’ category we met up again with Juergen Menzel at his home, to see the latest cactus novelties and to see the progress of plants photographed on previous occasions. Many plants are outside in the yard where nature takes care of the watering. There is a shade house to protect the smaller plants from the intense sun and heat. After 45 minutes in there It was just too hot for me so I escaped to cool down and to admit that I had failed to find the new Mam that I knew was hiding there somewhere. Once my body temperature was back to approaching ‘normal’, Juergen took me back in and allowed me to photograph his two plants that came from Europe.

It certainly is a very attractive and unusual plant that should be available at ELK next year, no doubt at a steep price.

I sat in the shade under a tree, mesmerised by the large group of Stenocereus eruca, the creeping devil, that started as two 1 m long stems some 15 years ago. These are facts that can not be found along plants in nature.

Juergen concentrated on showing Jonathan the mature Ferocacti planted around the garden – we need not have travelled all around Baja for 18 days – they were all here! But plants in habitat have an additional charm that is difficult to capture even in the best of gardens.

Thank you, Juergen!

Tuesday 15 March 2016 – Ensenada to El Cajon, CA

After yesterday’s missive I received a timely word of warning from David Whitely suggesting that my brand new cowboy boots might be as complicated to get across the border into the USA as if we had tried to bring a collection of Ferocactus taxa home; both Pythons and cacti are after all CITES Appendix II. It is easy to be very aware of regulations applying to cacti while at the same time falling foul of buying a personal souvenir to relive childhood memories of wild west books and movies!   What to do?

It is usually best to play things straight and so, after a 90 minute drive we reached the border which at the Tijuana – San Ysidro on Tuesdays around midday has 11 lanes open and an average crossing time of 60 minutes (http://traffic.calit2.net/border/border-wait-times.php?type=passenger&sub=standard&port=250401)

As we arrived the ID check point the officer asked if we had anything to declare. I explained that I’d like advice on a pair of leather cowboy boots bought in Ensenada. We joined some 50 cars and waited a further 45 minutes to be seen. I explained yesterday’s purchase, where I had been advised that the boots were legal to take into the USA and was given a note, in Spanish that stated that the product was made in accordance to rules approved by CITES. I therefore believed that it was OK to bring the boots in. The very polite and helpful officer could not decide if the skins were real or imitation and took them away for inspection by a reptile expert. It took another 15 minutes or so for him to return to say that the expert could not be a 100% certain that they were real python leather or imitation but if I had only bought the one pair for personal use and had sought official advice I was granted permission to import the boots into California.

Doing the right thing seems to have paid off, but it is a good reminder that CITES rules apply to many things, not just habitat cactus material.

No pictures taken today although Angie and Jonathan snapped away merrily while we progressed in the queue to the border.

Monday 14 March 2016 – San Quintin to Ensenada

My first trip to Cactus Country was in 1997, with my two sons, then 14 and 17 years of age. It had been a difficult time for all of us as my wife and I were working our way through a difficult divorce.

I remember gazing through the shop window in Tombstone, AZ at a pair of ‘cowboy boots’ that clearly cost too much to be considered a sensible purchase, considering how often you could wear such master pieces of boot making in the UK. There have been more situations where difficult to cost-justify memorabilia from cactus country were very tempting but the urge to purchase was controlled. Some two and a half weeks ago I spotted a pair of gorgeous python skin boots in a shop window near our hotel in Ensenada. In the hope that they would not fit, I tried them on. Perfect fit! I convinced myself that it would be stupid to make such a purchase at the start of the holiday but that if they were still available on the way back, I might be tempted.

If things had worked out different in Catavina we would have spent tonight in San Quintin and would have driven straight past Ensenada and those boots.

But faith conspired; Catavina had been full when we passed and so we found ourselves back in Hotel Cortez in Ensenada tonight. After down loading our pictures for the day – a cactus stop early on along the track to San Pedro de Martir (S3438) with many Baja endemic cacti – previously visited in 2008 as S0936 and a non cactus stop to wind down at La Bufadora – I suggested that I might take a stroll into town to see if those boots were still there. Damn, they were! Could I try on the other boot? After all, both right and left foot needed to fit, although it was hard to think of the right occasion to wear such fancy foot wear. ELK 2016? May be. Angie agreed that they were beautiful. Jonathan commented that the toes curled up. They are meant to, was my excuse.

And so I my display cabinet for Cactus Trip souvenirs and memorabilia needs to be rearranged to make space for a pair of size 11 python skinned cowboy boots when I get home. I would not be at all surprised if they should find themselves in images for my forthcoming UK ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ presentations.

I finished our last night in Mexico with another rib-eye steak and another goldfish bowl size glass of margarita to celebrate the end of the Mexican phase of this wonderful trip.

Stories are beginning to filter through from main land Mexico where our amigos from previous cactus trips have embarked on their latest adventures. Thanks to Alain and Ian for their updates and to John, John and Cliff for no doubt taking images that will want me come back to Mexico sometime soon. Hope that Finn can catch up with you after flight delays from Denmark.

Sunday 13 March 2016 – Guerrero Negro to San Quintin.

More catching up to do as the unpredictability of broadband quality and bed space continue to mess up the best laid plans ….

We had planned to make a number of stops to see the transition of Ferocactus fordii to Ferocactus gracilis and this went very well. My back is still sore, so progress on foot is slow, but Angie and Jonathan spread out so that we cover quite an area.

We finished up at our usual spot to check up on the health of the Echinocereus lindsayi population. We found the usual 6-7 plants looking healthy and in full bud but there were also a number of holes that suggest that some recent digging activity had taken place. Jonathan was rightly amazed at the similarities of this Echinocereus with Ferocactus.

We had hoped to check in at Mision Catavina and then explore around the Rancho Santa Ines looking for the totem pole version of Steneocereus (Lophocereus) schottii that is reported from there, The rather abrupt comment from the desk was ‘no vacancies’, not even followed by the usual ‘have a nice day’! Itremain unclear to what extent these hotels are a cohesive chain, with the old names of Desert Inn and La Pinta still appearing along the Mision names, but the Catavina one remains the weak chain in the link.

The staff at Mision Santa Maria welcomed us almost like old friends – we’re in the same rooms that we had a few weeks ago and they listened to our comment that the toilet in our room did not flush on the first visit. It now worked fine. And it was great to enjoy the first hot water shower for a while!

I’ll add the full stop report for the day during the catch up phase back in the UK in a week’s time

Saturday 12 March 2016 – around Guerrero Negro

A quick look at the original itinerary just to confirm that we were on schedule revealed that we had a spare day left! Great!

Jonathan wanted to check out some more local Ferocactus locations and I wanted to take a look around El Arco which was reported as a location for Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii var. mickleanus aka the Totempole Cactus, the monstrose form of the plant that is more widespread and known in cultivation than seen in nature.

Right in the middle of the road works on MEX1, some 2o km south of Guerrero Negro we turned east on MEX18 to El Arco. The ‘MEX’ designation is a bit misleading as it is not a hardtop, but a gravel track, mostly in good shape. The first 12 km was clearly an extension of the Viscaino Desert – flat, dry, with minimal cacti on display at 60 kmh, so we made a stop (S3427) to check things out on foot. As I’m logging the co-ordinates for this stop, I notice that just 1.2 km back towards MEX1 an image has been posted of an incredibly colourful Desert in Flower. Wow! What a difference with what we saw! I wonder when that image was taken – what a shame that Google Earth does not include that information. Digging a bit deeper suggests that it was taken before 14 June 2010.

We walked through a dense forest of Fouquieria splendens, Mammillaria dioica (no flowers or fruit on display so not a clear-cut ID), Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii, Stenocereus (Machaerocereus) gummosus – creating the forest impression – and Yucca valida.

At S3428, on the outskirts of ‘town’ the same range of cacti and succulent plants plus Pachycereus pringlei were found.

At the coordinates that we had been aiming for (S3429) Jonathan was pleased to find Ferocactus peninsulae while the cacti already seen on the way here were seen again and photographed for the record.

On the way back, 7.8 km before hitting the road works on MEX1 (S3430) we were in the really dry bit typical of the Vizcaino Desert and found the Ferocactus that Jonathan had been looking for: Ferocactus fordii.

Finally we made S3431 before visiting the restaurant where passengers for the Pangas to watch the whales in Ojo de Liebre leave. No we didn’t go again; Angie and I had already made the trip here in 2013 and in any case, sailings for the day had stopped at 16:00.  I stayed in the car, nursing my back as it started to seize up after a long day.

If you want to know more about this El Arco, good luck! Searches on various internet search engines get plenty of hits but 99.9% refer to the rock formation at Los Cabos at the southern tip of the peninsula. Although the turning to ‘our’ arch is east off MEX1 on MEX 18 is also in Baja California Sur, MEX 18 heads back to the north, so look for El Arco, BC rather than in BCS.

Friday 11 March 2016 – Loreto to Guerrero Negro

What they say about busses is true. You don’t see one for ages and then a whole clutch of them appear!

Four Altos

It’s the same when I spotted this sign for a ‘4 ways’ crossing. It’s a case where first come is first served at this cross road. We first saw this sign at the start of our trip in Ensenada but I was in the middle of rush hour traffic and I had the wrong camera in my lap.

This one, seen when leaving Loreto was at a quiet time of day and I was able to pull over and find the camera. If the 4 Altos were in town, what happened to the three tenors?

When we wanted to spend the night in San Ignacio on 3 March, on the way south, we were refused entry to the town as black clouds hung above it and flames leaped up from at least three places in the palm forest.  But it seems that fires here are a regular occurrence and that the palm trees are remarkably resistant, again, according to reports on Google Search.

Still, we were a little concerned as we drove into town, to show Jonathan the Mision. Yes, there were a significant number of blackened trees, but there were also a number of young trees growing in clearings made by the burning trees or in areas cleared by the fire brigade to contain the fire. It could have been so much worse (S3423).

The next three stops (S3424, S3425 and S3426) were made as we took the turning east of MEX1 into the Sierra San Francisco. This time we did not get to the village as the road had been damaged by a combination of water and possibly a rumble or two, so that we decided that turning round would be the wiser option.

Among the plants found were Echinocereus brandegeei, a short spined form of E. engelmannii, Ferocactus emoryi subsp rectispinus and Ferocactus peninsulae subsp peninsulae (?) with reddish flowers plus Mammillaria brandegeei (in flower).

On the way to Guerrero Negro we passed a turning east towards El Ar4co, but with day light fading we decided to come back tomorrow.

The first three hotels we tried, including the Desert Inn right on the border between Baja Norte and Baja Sur were full, but the next one (Posada Don Vincente) had space for two nights plus the bonus of being one of the cheaper hotels on the trip. Sadly hot water for a shower was not available.

Thursday 10 March 2016 – La Ventana to Loreto

All good things come to an end, and so today is our turn around point. First to La Paz Airport to allow Eunice to catch her flight back to Tijuana and from there walk into the USA. In the mean time, we have a driving day to Loreto where we managed to find rooms in the excellent Hotel Oasis.

I’m still suffering the effects of yesterday’s boat ride where one BANG as the boat slammed into a wave caused my back to smack against a ridge along the side of the boat. It doesn’t feel like the usual disc problem. I’ll survive (in pain) until I get back to the UK where doctors can take a look for free.

Very much a (410 km) driving day with the cameras only clicking three times – to take pictures of Hotel Kurt & Marina to remind us of the great time we had there.

Tomorrow we celebrate Jonathan’s birthday with a look at the damage caused by the fire in San Ignacio, a trip into the Sierra San Francisco to see Ferocactus rectispinus, a side trip to see Pachycereus (Lophocereus) schottii monstrose, the Totem Pole cactus before hitting the margaritas at Guerrero Negro.


Wednesday 9 March – around La Ventana pt2

I left my dear reader (s?) hanging on to see if the weather would change and we would make our trip to Isla Cerralvo. While we were enjoying a light drizzle at the hotel a message came in from our booking agent to say that there was a window of bright weather on its way and to come to his office to meet the team. Although less than a km from the hotel it takes a while for an email to sail across the broadband and arrive, so we were already an hour ‘late’ when we rolled up. By now it was dry so that we could join the team waiting for us only a few hundred meters from our hotel.

We performed the usual acrobatics to get into the boat – and that was with the boat on dry land! and off we went. It soon became clear that the sea was suffering the after affects of the earlier storm so that the waves had ‘kopjes’ (in Dutch) or white horses (English?). Whatever the name, the effect was the same: every few seconds the boat would almost lift out of the water and return back down with a firm thump.

As regular readers will know, my old back has suffered the effect of many such trips so that it frequently goes into spasm. One really big bang and that theory was proven right again! ‘Everything all right?’ gestured El Capitain. I grimaced in pain, which he mistook for ‘yes, great!’ and on we speeded towards the island. More acrobatics and wet feet and we were on the beach. I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, but the huge Ferocactus diguetti were beckoning and in flower, so the last one up to the large giant was a sissy. That would be me then, but at least I made it!

And soon we also spotted two Mams. Back at the hotel I Googled images for Mammillaria cerralboa and M. evermannia to find a huge range of plants masquerading under these names. The yellow spined plant had to be the one named after the island. From a distance it looked to have yellow flowers but a closer look revealed these to be leaves from a neighbouring tree (Buresera?). The other Mam. was similar to the one we saw growing along the road on the way to the airport yesterday, so may be it is not a true island endemic. I’ll assume that it is M. evermannia for now until I can get to my library in England.

We walked inland along an arroyo that was nicely washed clean by yesterday’s rain. The excitement of being in this special place spurred me on despite the stabbing pain in my back and I came back with 230 images to add to the ever growing portfolio. Enrico saw us approaching the beach and directed his panga to meet us. More acrobatics to get on board, at least one of Angie’s pain killers was beginning to kick in. Do you want another stop? asked Enrico. Yes please! came my answer although the brain meant to say ‘Get me home to a comfortable chair and a bucket full of margaritas.’

The second stop had more of the same, but the highlight was probably provided by Jonathan as his face mirrored the concentration of an Olympic high jumper as he did his short run up and launched himself into the boat, made a neat roll to stop himself and knocking his head in the process. Angie has images.

Back in the hotel we downloaded our images and changed into dry clothes, making use of the spare time to add a collection of underpants and T shirts to the washing process, so that our balcony looks very festive.

What a relief and despite the aches and pains I’m very glad that we made the end goal for this trip and have a nice set of pics to remind us.

Ferocactus diguetii in flower on Isla Cerralboa

Ferocactus diguetii in flower on Isla Cerralboa


Tuesday 8 March 2016 – Around La Ventana

We had a date with Eunice to pick her up at La Paz Airport at 13:39. We woke up to black clouds over Isla Cerralvoa and spits of rain falling. Despite the less than ideal conditions, we decided to drive to the airport and hope for a few photo opportunities before getting there. A few km. from the hotel I spotted a parking place with a track leading away from the road. There was a Ferocactus near the edge of the road near where I parked the car, what a great omen. The Feros here are all said to be Ferocactus peninsulae. Checking the IUCN red list of threatened species I learned that ‘… that contrary to Hunt et al. (2006) F. santa-maria and F. townsendianus are treated as synonyms of F. peninsulae’ and not as their subspecies. That will make life interesting when I tell Jonathan tomorrow, as we’ve been having trouble distinguishing these taxa from each other. The plants around La Ventana seem to have a good amount of F. rectispinus genes in their make up as well, suggesting the need to ‘stir the mud’ some more in the hope to seek clarification.

We seem to be in the area where both Pachycereus pringlei and P. pectin-arboriginum grow together. Both were in flower and in fruit. The name pecten-aboriginum, is from the Latin, and means “native combs”, inspired by the use of the fruits as hair combs.

I also found just one white spined Mammillaria which means I’ll have to check out the distribution of M. albicans and M. slevenii that may be candidates for this plant’s ID. Shame that I could only find the one plant. There was also a small tree with peculiar fruits that caught my attention, was photographed and so will need to be hunted down for a name.

We arrived at the airport with enough spare time to enjoy a coffee and a piece of cake and to check out the facilities. I know that on my next Baja trip, I’ll be flying LHR – Mexico City – La Paz and so avoid all the hassle with ESTAS, 90 minute queues at immigration and car rental firms with a stock of -36 cars of the class that they were happy to take your money for on the internet. Eunice appeared 30 minutes after landing through the Arrival gate.

On the way ‘home’ to the hotel we attempted to make one more cactus stop, but as soon as we had found a suitable parking spot the rain started up again. We had an early dinner, just around the corner at El Rincon and watched as a thunderstorm let lose over the sea to the east and south of us. Spectacular flashes of sheet lightning lit up the skies, with the thunder following a long time afterwards, so the real trouble was several miles away.

The forecast for tomorrow is sunny with 0% chance of rain. That’s exactly what I had ordered for our boat trip to the island. Fingers crossed!