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Archive for the ‘USA – 2011’ Category

Tuesday 5 April 2011 and Wednesday 6 April – Flight home

It was the usual last day routine – take the rental car to the carwash while we had breakfast in the bakery opposite.

My back was twitching as we moved our luggage to the car for a weigh in at the local postoffice. It got no better as we switched bags from the rental car at the return to Eunice’s car for the last miles on US soil to Departures at LAX.  We were glad to drop off our hold luggage and made our way to Gate 101. At around 14:00 Angie made a toilet call and came back with the news that our gate had been switched to Gate 138 – right at the other end of the airport. By now my back had ceased up, but once again we shouldered the back pack and stopped off at a Pharmacy to get some painkillers and a bottle of water. No idea how I got to the Gate, but I must have gritted my teeth as a filling started to crumble and eventually came out. No problem – I was on pain killer’s already. Don’t remember much of the rest of the journey, other than that yet again I had a row of 4 to myself, while Angie could have had the one behind me, but decided to stay next to me on the other side of the isle. The seat next to her was empty too, so no space restrictions.

Due to the empty seats, the hostesses were handing out 2 bottles of wine when you asked for one – 281 ml each (standard full bottle is 750 ml) and Angie tells me that I had 4 on top of the pain, so slept well until breakfast was served somewhere over Ireland. I moved through immigration and luggage retrieval like a robot. Peter was waiting for us and I fell asleep as soon as my bum was on the seat of his car.

All souvenirs arrived home in tact.

Tomorrow I’ll start looking at the next trips – to Bolivia in November 2011 and a Pediocactus-athon for May 2012 – and preparing the second half of What I Saw Last Winter 2010-2011. Winter is officially over!

Monday, 4 April 2011 – San Diego to Long Beach

Angie enjoyed her ‘Motel 6-at-the-end-of-the-run-way’ experience and despite the activities and Amtrack had slept like a log! In fact, she complained that there were not enough planes landing and trains whistling for her to get a decent video. She had taken up a spot by the swimming pool from where she could record the plane appearing from over near by buildings and watch them skim the top of the Motel’s palm trees before skipping over the airport boundery wall where the howl of engines switched to reversed thrust announced another safe landing. She was having a great time reliving childhood memories of Sunday afternoons with her parents plane-spotting at Cologne Airport.  All good things come to an end and so I dragged her away to another non-cactus related memory of my past California trips.

For this we had to go back in time to 22 February 2008, to the day that Alain Buffel and I forgot our age and had a day being kids again at Seaworld. That time it had been a rainy start to the day and still early in the season. This time many kids were on holiday for the Spring Break, and the weather was fine.

We headed to the Dolphin Stadium and made sure that we were sitting above the soak zone, so that our cameras would stay dry. Angie took video clips while I fired of 9 frames per second to achieve more or less the same result as the bottle-nosed dolphins and two pilot whales took turns with the trapeze acts and trained exotic birds to entertain us.

Next we moved to the Poles, where we first saw hundreds of penguins, except the Humboldt and Maggalenic penguins that we saw in nature in South America. I wonder why? Then on to the North Pole for Polar bears and Delphinapterus leucas, the Beluga Whales.

We went through the hall of mirrors and were unsure which of the deformed images was really us.

And then it was time for the Big Splash, a date with Shamu and the pod of other Orca – Killer Whales, once again in action after last year’s fatal accident that cost the life of one of its carers.

The 90 minute drive to Bellflower was without incident. Once at Eunice’s, we emptied out our cases and started the serious task of repacking all our clothes and souvenirs for tomorrow’s flight home.

Sunday, 3 April 2011 – Longbeach to San Diego

Not long to go now until my winter 2010-2011 travels come to an end – we fly home on Tuesday. So just two days left to show Angie my favourite highlights of previous stays here. And despite the prospects of a sleepless night, this included a night at the Motel-6-at-the-end-of-the-runway in San Diego, and as I write up these notes, the sound of the train passing some 10 meters from the hotel and warning the public at the near-by crossing of its presence, this feature should not be forgotten. This is my sixth stay at this location since February 2008 and I have always enjoyed a good night sleep here, but then I have a reputation as the ‘Martini Sleeper’ to keep up – any time, any place, anywhere. But as usual I run ahead of myself and should start with what we saw today. The Motel-6-at-the-end-of-the-runway just provided the main reason for driving south.

By the way, I promise to start filing the gaps in the Diaries once we get home later this week.

First port of call was the Torrey Pines State Reserve (S2357) where in 2008 Eunice had shown me that Ferocactus viridescens, Opuntia litoralis and three species of Dudleya could all survive wedged between San Diego’s urbanisation, with the next door golf course causing some confusion as I briefly thought to have found Epithelantha micromeris  way out of its range. Once again we used the back door entrance to the state park and strayed off track so that the first Dudleya that Angie has ever photographed was also one of the rarest and smallest: D. blochmaniae ssp brevifolia. This plant is highly sensitive to the rainfall in the area, with a population explosion after a wet season and shrinking back after dryer seasons. The recent rains meant that they were easy to find. The eroding coastline and D. lanceolata again proved interesting input for our cameras.

As we had parked our car under a ‘tow-away’ sign, we thought it best to move on to another favourite location, at the Torrey Pines Glider Club at La Jolla (S2358). Here we had no trouble finding D. pulverulenta and D. edulis (aka ‘Ladyfingers Dudleya’). We were a little wary as we made our way through the low scrub, as we had been warned in the past that the plants here shared their habitat with rattlesnakes. None were seen or heard. As we reached the area where heavy erosion had made the soil rather unstable, we found Ferocactus viridescens bursting with buds and with some flowers already open. This time these plants looked as they had taken steroids, again evidence of recent rains. A nice contrast with plants found on earlier visits.

S2359 was just a few hundred meters farther along and was not a plant stop, but for pictures taken of the hang glider activities and the vistas along the shore line- Angie had spotted that we were right above a nudist beach! Ironically, this is where most pictures of the day were taken – of the hang gliders of course.

As we made our way back to the car we took a few more plant pictures filed again under S2358, and this included one with a shriek of ‘Snake!’ from Angie. The poor reptile seemed more frightened than she was, so we took a few more pictures while it slowly moved away, revealing a straight pointed ‘tail’ rather than a rattle.

We had planned to visit the Cabrillo National Monument tomorrow, but as it was still early we felt that we could fit this magnificent view-point in today and perhaps catch a good sunset. We arrived at 4 o’clock  (S2360), to discover that the gates closed at 5, so no sunset pictures from here. Still, we found the time to take some great scenic shots, before booking into the famous Motel-6-at-the-end-of-the-runway.

Thursday, 31 March 2011 – Tucson to Palm Springs

Not much to report: drove over 300 miles through mostly boring landscapes, bought souvenirs at the various fuel stations and general stores where we stopped for fuel or toilet needs, arrived later than expected at a huge shopping outlet near Palm Springs and spent too much money on presents and souvenirs. Had another great day, even though we did not stop to take pictures – and yet Angie took hundreds of pictures – all from the car – of the hundreds of ‘wind mills’ generating electricity just east of Palm Springs.

Had another great steak and excellent Margaritas at LG’s in Palm Springs. It’s a hard life being a Cactus Explorer!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011 – Around Tucson

Angie had told me that she’d like to prepare a program of ‘Cactus and Succulent Plant collections around the world’ to contain images of cultivated plants grown in private collections, nurseries through to Botanic Gardens.

At ten o’clock we arrived at Miles to Go (S2350) where we added images of wet plants to our portfolio, as Miles was watering – I already had pictures of many of his excellent plants from 10 days ago when they were due to be watered – it seems to be a daily activity in the dry heat of Tucson. So it is OK to water and feed your Ariocarpus in March, provided that you grow them in 80% pumice and temperatures rise to 85 F plus and the plants grow in the semi shade, under shade cloth. Again, it was all too soon before the clock suggested that we should try to visit another nursery. Once again, thanks Miles for your time and interesting information about the plants that you grow so well. Wish we had a nursery like this in the UK.

Our drive through the Saguaro National Monument proved a photostop (S2351) in its own right as we drove through a forest of Carnegia gigantea. Thank goodness for fast food, as McDonalds stopped the stomach grumbling, so that by 3 p.m. we arrived at Arid Lands (S2352), the US equivalent of Ernst and Marita Specks’ Exotica nursery in Germany. That means a comprehensive range of  other succulent plants, although if you are determined, you can find some cacti as well. Now Angie has a major headache – how to select images from the huge amount taken. And that problem will just get worse / better as the days get on.

We finished the day with a quick dash back to Picture Rock Road (S2353) , into the Saguaro National Monument,  to add more sunset pictures to our hard drives. Did I need more sunset pictures? Can you ever have enough?

Another great day!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 – Around Tucson

We had planned a day at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and as we had an early night after a steak the size of half a cow the night before, we were up early and decided to have breakfast at the Desert Museum and catch many of the exhibits before the crowds arrived. We managed to take a good amount of pictures of the local cacti and Agave with labels, for future IDs of pictures from habitat and managed to get a good number of desert animal images to place throughout the 2011 presentations for that Ooh effect; pictures taken so that it is not too obvious that these animal pictures were taken in captivity, although all will be revealed in the Credits. There were some good Hummingbird shots but the cactus wren and Gila woodpecker were taken ‘in the wild’. The javelina, coyote and Mexican wolf were safely behind wire.

By noon it had become quite hot and we had seen all the exhibits that we wanted to see, so we decided for a drive through the Coronado National Forest to Tombstone, a stroll around town, a burger in the local saloon and a bit of souvenir hunting – after all, this was a holiday as well.

We arrived back safely and booked ourselves into one of the many hotels where I-10 crosses Ina Road, a good starting point for tomorrow’s visit to Miles to Go.

Monday, 28 March 2011 – Ajo to Tucson

The rain seems to have stayed behind in California, so we enjoyed the first non stop sunshine day since Angie arrived.

We arrived at the visitors’ centre of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at around 9 a.m. and after spending about an hour chatting with the rangers (we would never have spotted two Peniocereus greggii without his help and later, on the way to Tucson his mile markers helped us to see two crested saguaro -S2346 and S2347 respectively, we started the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive (S2345). It was a stop-start drive that took us three hours to complete. Every twist and turn in the track offered a new vista of saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus. We have enough pictures of Saguaro with arms in funny and naughty poses to fill an evening long caption competition at a cactus club. At the highest part of the trail Echinocereus engelmannii was in flower. Ferocactus wislizenii and F. emoryi were the barrels on display and Mammillaria grahamii / microcarpa could be found hiding under Brittlebush and Creosote bush.

We took the Az 86 to Tucson and found the Silver Saddle Steak House without trouble. Angie agrees: best steak she’s ever had – fit for a Queen! I had the Cut for a King Prime Rib as usual.

Sunday, 27 March 2011 – El Cajon to Ajo

On my previous visits to the US there were numerous plants and places where I thought: ‘Angie would love to see this!’ so the theme of this phase of winter’s travels is to take her to those plants and places. And so we’re on our way to Tucson, Arizona. Last month when Eunice and I drove to Tucson, it was a mammoth drive, and Angie had asked if we could avoid those when ever practical – this should be a relaxing holiday as well. That’s why we left from El Cajon, rather than Bellflower and why we would spend the night in Ajo (translated: Garlic!) and why we made a side trip back into Anza Borrego so that Angie could get an appreciation of the plants and scenery at the southern end of the park.

Our goal was the multi-headed Ferocactus chrysacanthon that Juergen had first shown Eunice in 2009. She had emailed me the coordinates but I had forgotten to write them down, so we were fortunate to get a phone signal after we had entered the park so that Eunice could read out the coordinates to us while I punched them into SatNav.

We made a couple of stops before reaching the target Fero – brilliant sunshine with a cooling breeze whistling through the Fouqueria splendens – again the Ferocactus, E. engelmannii, Cylindropuntia bigelowi, Opuntia basilaris and Mammillaria dioica were in bud with one or two plants of each species in full flower. That’s the way to spend a Sunday morning.

We returned to I-8 to continue our journey east. After a few hours we stopped for fuel at a settlement called Dateland – resisted the temptation to buy a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Where the heck is Dateland?’ but bought some other souvenirs and at Gila Bend took the 85 south. We sailed through all the Border Control check points, obviously looking more like US citizens then illegal imigrants, despite my suntan after 6 months travel.

A impromptu stop north of Ajo confirmed my believe that Angie had seen Ferocactus wislizenii in fruit rather than in flower. She also spotted and photographed her first saguaro in the certain knowledge that she will see more during the next few days.

Saturday, 26 March 2011 – Carlsbad to El Cajon

Carlsbad is ideally located about half way between LA and San Diego, right along I-5. A scenic coastal drive will take you the Torrey Pines, head east for Julian and Anza Borrego or enjoy the Carlsbad Marathon next week. It was good to catch this last snippet of information as we learned that due to the marathon most hotel room was booked for our planned 2nd visit next week. No worries, there is plenty of accommodation nearby.

Eunice arrived fashionably late and joined us for the tail end of breakfast at Denny’s. At exactly 10 a.m., just as arranged, we arrived at Steven Hammer’s Sphaeroid Institute and were welcomed by the man himself. Despite the fact that it is almost impossible and most impractical for us to purchase plants to take back to the UK, Steve gave up his morning to guide us through his shade houses and show us some of his favourite curiosities. This was my third or fourth visit in as many years but the experience is always inspiring and Steven’s choice of current favourites changes from year to year. Again, the cameras clicked and I’m pleased to say that this time the images came out much better as I had changed my zoom lens, with limited aperture range for the 60 mm macro-lens.

All too soon it was time to move on, as I was due to give my ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ presentation at the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society in nearby Escondido. About 60-70 members again made us very welcome just as they had done at the Los Angeles and Orange County C&S Societies. There were lots of plants for sale (Angie thinks that they were all from one nursery) and the whole event made us think that we were at a UK zone convention rather than at the equivalent of a monthly branch meeting. The meeting ran from noon to 3 p.m. and apart from the usual club business and my one hour presentation, one of the members gave a presentation concerning the genus Acacia in the family Fabaceae – very appropriate for a C&S audience as it seems that we have been stung, scratched and torn by these plants or by members of other genera in this family that share their habits with cacti. I learned that many of the Australian Acacia do not have these thorns – not much use tome as Australia has no endemic cacti to tempt me for a visit.

Again we had lots of invites to join members for a visit to their collections but again, our packed itinerary did not provide time to follow up the invitations this time as we had arranged to visit Juergen Menzel in El Cajon for the remainder of the afternoon. Juergen is an excellent grower of cacti and succulents with the emphasis on Mexican cacti and the propagation of the rarer and more unusual taxa. He had set aside the afternoon to allow us to admire his plants and again, cameras were clicking, even though he was off on a camping holiday to Texas the following morning. We finished the day with a meal at his favourite, Thai, restaurant – a nice change from steak.

We fell in bed exhausted – another great day.

Friday, 25 March 2011 – a daytrip to Anza Borrego Desert Park

We woke up to a grey day, lots of rain pouring down. Shall we proceed with today’s plan, a visit to the Anza Borrego Desert Park or look for some shopping outlets? Although yesterday’s visit to the Huntington Botanical Gardens had increased the number of cactus images on our hard drives, Angie was still to see her first US cactus in habitat, so Anza Borrego it was.

It was still raining but only a light drizzle as we arrived at Santa Ysabel where we stopped at the Julian Pie Company for a traditional Dutch Apple Pie with Cinnamon ice-cream – yum yum. We passed the 4,000 ft altitude marker, still in rain, but we then dropped quickly to 2,000 ft and we were in the dry. Remarkable! But obviously what ever had stopped the rain from following us is the reason why this area is a desert. There are occasional rains, causing flash floods that disappear again in hours, as we saw during the video in the visitors centre, but they are far and few between.

The sun had come out but the clouds over the hills all around us made an impressive addition to the scenery. We saw Ferocactus chrysacanthus, Mammillaria dioica, Echinocereus engelmannii and cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelowii and C. wolfii and Fouqueria splendens as well as millions of desert wildflowers.

So not only did Angie see her first US cacti in habitat, but as in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the beginning of my ‘Winter Break’, she again saw the desert in flower. Nice for our upcoming presentations in Europe.

We arrived safely in Carlsbad where we easily found the Motel 6 on Carlsbad Drive where I have stayed for at least one night per year since 2008. Nothing had changed much.