Mexico 2007: Voice Memo Transcriptions
I spent February of 2007 on a motorcycle trip in Mexico. The principal purpose of the trip was to locate and study conifers of Mexico that I had not previously seen in habitat. During the trip I took voice memos to record what I saw and thought about. Until I find some time to reduce those to a connected narrative of botanical discovery, here are my journals. Darwin it ain't, but still I found some interesting things.
I wake up at 0300 and open my eyes and realize that my dog is one inch away, breathing on me. She wants to be let out into the back yard. Probably there's a possum or a coon out there. I get up and let her out, and go back to bed, but I can't go to sleep because I know that this is the morning I head to Oaxaca. After a few minutes I realize that I'm going to be getting up and leaving now. I spend that few minutes savoring the last time that I'll sleep with Bonnie for awhile. Then I get up, make final preparations, and hit the road.
(Final preparations become routine for the next month. First I plug in and turn on the GPS, a Garmin eTrex, small but adequate for Mexico, where decent GPS maps are not yet available. Then I check the oil and tires, zip on the tank bag, bungee on the duffle, jack in my electric vest, don my Aerostich riding suit, put in my earplug/headphones, put on my full face helmet, and finally my gloves. Ready for ignition.)
At 04:25 I'm on the move. Its frosty, but not as frosty as the last few mornings in Seattle because it stayed more or less overcast through the night, though the nearly full moon still casts plenty of light. I'm glad of the light cast by the new PIAA driving lamps. It's cold, about freezing, and I'm wearing nearly all the clothing I bought on this trip—two polypro t-shirts and polywool longjohns under heavy jeans and cotton shirt, with a face fairing to keep my neck warm. I'm still cold but the highway is nearly empty and progress is fast. I cross the Columbia River at Vancouver at 07:01 and hit the Dennys in Jantzen Beach for a hearty breakfast and six cups of hot coffee. The rest of Oregon flies by almost as quickly (and slightly more warmly) and seven hours into the trip I leave I-5 behind at Grant's Pass. I'm struck, as I go along, by how much the world starts to resemble California as soon as you cross the Columbia. The oak woodlands of the northern Willamette Valley are very close to the same woodlands I ride through the next day near Ukiah and Healdsburg, and are not so different from those I see a month later near San Luis Obispo.
Highway 199 out of Grant's Pass finally starts to feel like real riding, not too twisty but rural, folks doing their weekend chores, forests and farms. I slow down and enjoy the trip. Here again the road is frosty in spots, reaching a bit over 2000 feet elevation, have to watch the traction. The highway goes through a tunnel right about at the California border, though, and its character quickly changes as it starts down the Smith River Canyon. The road drops quickly to 1300 feet, it warms up, and the snow and frost disappear. The road becomes very twisty but also very scenic, raising the pleasant dilemma of whether to focus on the riding or the countryside. I stop along the way for short hikes, once through a serpentine barren, another to visit a stand of the pitcher plant Darlingtonia, a couple more times to stroll through redwood (Sequoia) groves. I follow the scenic bypass thourgh Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a gorgeous drive beneath 300 foot tall trees, and reach the seaside village of Trinidad at about 16:15. Here I visit and spend the night with friends Steve and Marie, tree climbers and canopy ecologists. We had a fabulous dinner and I talked science with Steve for hours. There's no other friend I can talk science with like Steve, we're always having great ideas the whole time. Should record it sometime. Then I slept, comfortably but fitfully with many vivid dreams in unfamiliar settings, dreams of new people and new places and new experiences. Now it's 06:30, I'm fully rested, Steve and Marie are getting up, and I'll be hitting the road shortly.
It's the morning of day 3, about 04:30 I'd guess. I woke up a little after 04:00 and decided it was time to hit the road, because I've been here since 20:00. I'm at WP11, which is next to an irrigation ditch and a plowed field and a railroad that's been quiet all night; about 10 miles northwest of Visalia, California. There's a light haze hanging on the fields and a gibbous moon high in the sky, illuminating things pretty well.
Yesterday was a long day. I set off from Trinidad at about 06:45 and had a fine morning ride down US 101 to Mill Valley, a bit north of San Francisco. It was pretty foggy to about Garberville, and after that it cleared up and the road had pretty heavy frost in spots, so I had to be careful of black ice. Eventually it warmed up. I took the scenic loop through the trees—Avenue of the Giants?—ends at Philipsburg after about 30 miles. I stopped for a little hike near Bull Creek Flat in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home of the world's tallest tree canopy. Had a big breakfast at a decent restaurant in Ukiah and rolled into the Stolte Grove, which is up at the end of Fortson Street just outside Mill Valley. It's a xeric grove, a little grove of redwoods that transits to chaparral as you go up the hillside on all sides. Basically a riparian grove, with trees up to about 2 m in diameter. The trees are mostly growing in atolls with abundant stump sprouts, which probably indicates that the stand has been burned out a lot of times in the past. The folks who met me there, who are custodians of the land trust and all live right there, also are pretty sure that it was logged by the Spanish about 200 years ago and think those atolls may be related to the Spanish logging. There were about 10 people, 30 to 70 years old, led by Curt Oldenburg who contacted me about stopping by to see the grove. They were full of questions about forest ecology and redwoods and trees in general—roots and canopies and such—so we talked about those things until about 3:15. It was fun. I didn't get any pictures (but Curt later emailed me some). Then I rolled out of there, past San Quentin prison, and picked up I-580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, through San Jose and onward to I-5 in the desolation of the northern San Joaquin Valley. San Quentin is in a lovely spot, right on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. It's a lovely prison too, bearing a certain architectural similarity to a Spanish cathedral. I don't know if it was intentionally ironic, but maybe it was designed to look like a home for the penitent. I-580 was a terror, classic southern California freeway, 350 lanes wide, filled with cars driving erratically at 80 mph. At one point I got stuck in a traffic jam at a giant intersection where three major interstates come together. Not hard to find my way through but apparently it poses a problem for some people because there was a jam there. Meanwhile, in some distant stadium the Super Bowl was being fought, so traffic was probably lighter than it would have been otherwise. Anyway... 580 led to I-5, another fast road through a very boring landscape, and after about 40 minutes of that road I realized that facing another 300 miles of this only to encounter LA at the end, to the tune of Monday morning rush hour, was not a promising route to a pleasant vacation, and certainly wasn't worth saving a few minutes and miles en route to Sonora. So, I nipped off onto CA-140, a lean dusty 2-lane that led to Merced, where I picked up CA-99 toward Bakersfield. This route still was no picnic, but at least had some human culture such as the peculiar agro-industrial odors of the area. Traffic was pretty crazy, though, so a couple hours after dark I headed down a little agricultural road until I was out of sight and sound of the highway, and then off into a disused field for a half mile or so, where I spread my sleeping bag under a starry night sky and drifted off to sleep.
Today I head toward Nogales, probably not all the way but as far as I can get. I checked the Web this morning and Saltillo and Monterey are still in the grip of a major cold spell, so I think I'll reverse my planned route and head down the Pacific coast, returning via Saltillo at the trip's end. It's a chilly and clear morning, still pitch dark but for the moon. I'm outta here.
There's a lot of cool stuff that happens on a motorcycle trip that you can't remember until later. Yesterday when I left it was cool and it was 100% humidity so my face shield fogged up instantly. I stopped off to look at an ornamental Pinus radiata and took a picture of its cone. Radiata seems to be planted pretty widely as an ornamental. From Trinidad to the junction between 101 and 1, which is kind of at the east side of the coast range, I was in fog pretty much the whole way, either patchy fog down in the lowlands or, after I got into the hills, continuous fog, sometimes with visibility of only a few hundred feet. It was kind of cool to experience the redwood forest in dense fog conditions, which are the norm but which I don't think I've seen before, except maybe when I visited the Lost Coast many years ago. Right there where 101 and 1 join, I came out of the fog—poof!—and then the problem was frost on the road, in places where the sun hadn't hit it yet. That went on for 20 miles or so and then the day was sunny and I was riding through a beautiful blue oak woodland, along the Eel River many times early in the day and then in a densely dissected landscape near the Russian River. I'm not sure when I finally got into the grey pines (Pinus sabininana) but I think it was north of Ukiah. I've always liked them. Those are the main things I remember of yesterday, along with the rather unpleasant trip down I-580.
Today, well, last night I spent the night in a field. Dawn found me at Tehachapi, the town, which is just east of the Summit. Riding up to Tehachapi there was starting to be enough light that I could appreciate the scenery. There are a few pines in there, by the way, some grey pines and I think also some ponderosa. I had a nice breakfast at Henry's Cafe in Tehachapi. I had breakfast while the sun rose, because I was going to be riding directly east, and then I headed into the east. I passed Mohave, which has been the site of a number of movies, it being a big place to fly fast and experimental planes as well as the gateway for Edwards Air Force Base. Test Pilot for one, and Terminator 3 for another. It's quite a striking desert landscape. Then Barstow struck me as the perfect place to film a postapocalyptic movie; the whole town just looks blasted. Anyway I road east through Barstow and just past town I picked up old Route 66, which is prominently signed on the Interstate—you can't miss it. I followed that, parallel to I-40, for 40 or 50 miles and took some pictures along the way. Then it breaks away southeast on something called the Old National Historic Road or something like that because of course US66 doesn't exist anymore, the number was decommissioned. I followed that old road down to the little town of Amboy, where I planned to get gas—there was a gas station/restaurant with a little historic plaque noting that the town had been there since 1858 and had long been a whistle stop on the transcontinental railroad—Southern Pacific, I suppose. There still seem to be more trains than cars down that way; at least that was the story during my ride. There was no gas in the tanks but there was an old hippie in the restaurant and he sold me a gallon of gas for $3 and told me how to find the dirt road cutoff that would take me to CA62 without having to go into 29 Palms. So I rode down that way—pretty busy road, lots of people take the cutoff from I-40 to 29 Palms—but then CA-62 was pretty empty, and went through totally empty country, vast spaces without any dirt roads or antennas or any other sign of man, now or ever, except for the highway itself. It was big country, too, the kind of landscape you can drop a freight train into and it looks like a millipede. Anyway, that road eventually took me down to Parker, Arizona, where I crossed the Colorado River, at about 14:00 California time or 15:00 Arizona time. From there I followed AZ-72 east to a town called Vicksburg, where I dropped down due south to I-10. I-10 in Arizona has a speed limit of 75 mph and everyone drives at least 85 mph, a lot of them drive 95 mph, so just keeping up with traffic on I-10 was pretty stressful, not least because I'd been riding continuously for 10 hours at that point. Anyway I got off I-10 here at AZ-85, which drops south to pick up I-8 at Gila Bend, allowing me to bypass Phoenix. The sun was pretty close to setting so I turned off AZ-85 to the west into this little area of rocky hills, a park called the Buckeye Hills, just 10 miles south of I-10—I can still hear it. I don't know if they allow camping here—there are some other folks nearby in a trailer, and I didn't see any signs prohibiting it, but it looks more like a picnic area than a campground. Anyway here I sit. There was a gorgeous sunset and I've been waiting for my dinner of smoked baby clam noodle roni to cool down, and it's warm. It got very warm today. Starting about Parker the temperature got up to about 75 or 80 and I got quite hot and had to peel off a bunch of layers. Anyway those were the high points of the day. Time to eat my noodle glop.
OK, it's 17:30 and I'm in my room at the San Andres Hotel, 420 pesos (11 pesos to the dollar, by the way), in Hermosillo. Kind of in the old town; I took a few photos. Hermosillo is not the most scenic of Mexican towns. It seems a little cold, but it's interesting. Anyway, it was a long day. I got up at 05:30 and had packed up a lot of stuff before I went to sleep, so it only took a few minutes to pack the rest and hit the road. Even at that hour, though, there was a lot of traffic on AZ-85 south to Gila Bend. I blasted down to Gila Bend, passing a prison on the way and not much else, and then followed I-8 east to Casa Grandes, a really fast ride. Had breakfast and got gas at a truckers joint in Casa Grandes, and then cruised southeast on I-10 again. Went through Tucson at 08:30, rush hour, and the only evidence was a little bit of traffic for 2 or 3 miles through downtown. Tucson, surprisingly, didn't seem much bigger than when I lived there over 20 years ago. I guess the economic boom hit some rough spots.
The border crossing at Nogales was totally perfunctory—not even a stop sign. Riding through Nogales was a little bit exciting, but Nogales isn't that big a town and actually readjusting to Mexican drivers after two years out of the country has been no big deal, although in this part of Mexico people are a little more like norteamericanos in their driving habits. Then, 20 km south of Nogales is a complex where you go through the vehicle entry process, which involves getting things stamped and copied and certified, standing in lines—but it really didn't take all that long, maybe I was there for an hour.
Afterwards I got all set, packed up ready to go, and the bike didn't start. I looked down and there was a rapidly growing pool of gasoline under the bike. So I shut everything off, unpacked the tools, and pulled off the left fairing cover and discovered that the left fuel injector hose had somehow come unclipped while sitting there in the sun. I just reattached it and put everything back together and then I was on my way. From there I rode the 150 miles or so from Nogales to Hermosillo, by which time it was about 15:00 and felt like a very long day. I'm just getting a little burned out on riding 500 mile days, and I was feeling pretty dusty and sweaty, so I just picked this place out of the Lonely Planet book and got a room. It's a pretty nice place, got some character, a little courtyard, a restaurant. It's in the old quarter, a block away from a square with a church and a collection of old men soaking up the sunshine. I went for a walk, looked at the square, the market, the church, the shops selling western clothes, hats and boots.
I've been sitting here poring over maps and trying to figure where to go and how long things will take. My original plan puts me in Nuevo Casas Grandes tonight instead of Hermosillo, and NCG is 250 miles east of here. After that I was to do a 400 mile day to Hidalgo del Parral and then a 500 mile day to Saltillo. This is maybe not realistic. Saltillo may have to wait for another trip. Instead tomorrow I may head east on Mex-16 into the Sierra, maybe spend the night near Basaseachic Falls, and then on to Hidalgo del Parral at which point I would be one full day behind schedule, and then to Durango, to Mazatlan, and then on down the coast towards Oaxaca. I still want to get deep into Mexico, but the southern extension of the Great Plains between Hidalgo del Parral and Saltillo is really big and looks really boring.
I discovered my cell phone works down here. Its on digital roaming and probably costs a lot, but I can call every day or two to say hi and let people know I'm alive, which is nice. There's also an internet place here in town and I was thinking of walking over there but probably not. Durango sounds like a nice town, maybe I can do stuff like that when I get there.
It occurs to me that I didn't provide any local color. Right now there's a huge cacaphony of Bullock's orioles outside. I understand they're a big thing at sunset in Hermosillo. Mexico south of the border isn't terribly interesting. There are some big barren rocky mountains in the distance, kind of like in southwest Arizona, but the area around the highway (which is mostly a cuota, costing 89 pesos) is flat and is mostly covered with thorn scrub. A few places have some medium-sized cactus, mostly jumping cholla, occasionally a garambullo, and one small area of saguaros near a town called Saguaro. The vast majority, though, is mesquite and other small thorny trees, reaching to the horizon. I found it monotonous. Riding through the Sonoran desert near Tucson and from Tucson down to Nogales, in contrast, had a lot of saguaros and more cactus diversity in general and more vegetational diversity overall. It seems to be a landscape less hammered by cows and other human influences, notwithstanding the road does pass a huge strip mine and some massive housing developments.
The weather has been pretty good. It stayed moderately warm during the night, pretty clear with fabulous stars until the moon rose. There was one stretch about halfway between Gila Bend and Casa Grandes where it got really cold for awhile. I was crossing a basin and I think it was cold air drainage off the neighboring peaks. Then we crossed a low pass and it got warm, and then late in the day it got really warm and I removed all my warm clothes and opened all the vents on the Aerostich. Even then I was pretty damn warm sailing along at 70 mph. So, it might be that the cold spell I was seeing in the Internet data has passed.
I'm listening to the orioles. [recording of Hermosillo traffic noises and cries of orioles]. That's the noise of about 200 orioles in the palm trees in the hotel courtyard.
Mex-16 starts into the mountains at about La Colorada, at km 45. Up to that point it crosses the flats outside of Hermosillo and then climbs bajadas for a few kilometers. I expect La Colorada is probably there because the bedrock comes near the surface, causing springs or at least shallow water. Now I'm at WP20, just a few miles past La Colorada. Here where I'm getting into the rocky Sierra Madre Occidental, vegetation is getting a little more interesting. Still no conifers since a few junipers at Tehachapi, but lots of mesquite and paloverde and a decent assortment of cacti, mostly organ pipe. Birds. Maybe some silk cotton trees. I'll take a picture.
Now I'm taking pictures at about km 80. At km 72 is a little village called San Felipe de something, where you can get groceries but not gas, and its at a stream of the same name and the stream has water in it, the first such I've seen I think since crossing the Colorado River. By the way, back there at La Colorada the road just went through a small outlying range and then went onto the flats again, and through here is pretty much foothills country. There are a few sweepers in the road but mostly long straightaways, and I believe we're slowly gaining elevation.
Now I'm at about km 150. I had breakfast [WP21] at Tecoripa, km 119, which by the way has a Pemex. I stopped off at a little grocery for some faux orange juice and pan dulce in the town square, and waved at some kids. That was breakfast. Cost 10 pesos. At about km 130 everything changes—the road becomes exceedingly twisty, mostly 3rd and 4th gear curves, sometimes down to 2nd, and here it climbs over a pass at about 2400 feet. Now I'm dropping again and it looks to stay twisty for awhile. Really nice. Still thorn forest, rocky, with a lot of organ pipe cactus. Traffic is very light, which is good, because I'm not looking forward to getting stuck behind a truck on these curves.
WP23, about km 165. The highway here crosses the Rio Yaqui. This is a serious river, bigger than the Colorado, probably 75 m across bank-to-bank and flowing vigorously—quiet, but fast. There's a big dam upstream regulating the flow. At this point there's a rocky bench on the east side, where the river is cutting into a fairly hard conglomerate. I've seen cormorants, great blue herons, flycatchers, shorebirds, and I'm looking at a tiny bright red bird. I wonder what the hell that is. Anyway, it's just gorgeous. There's hardly any traffic. There's no settlement here, though I think there is one just a few km on. I'm going to take a few pictures.
About km 241 I turn a corner, about 13 miles from Yecora, and suddenly I'm in a forest of pines.
This happens at WP26 and km 242 exactly, at a nice pullout. They are all P. oocarpa—small cones, thin needles, long, looks tropical. This is the first conifer since Tehachapi. Also there's a lot more traffic on the road than there was earlier. I'm gonna check out these pines.
This doesn't look quite like the P. oocarpa we saw in Michoacán in 2005. It has more rounded cones, but they have no prickle and a flat apophysis as they should, very consistently has 5 needles per fascicle, decurrent pulvini, twigs about the right size, needles 25 cm long, and holds its old cones for several years.
That forest was at about 1050 m elevation. It only lasted for about a km, locally on N-facing slopes. Then no conifers until the next WP, WP27, another pocket of pines amid the thorn and evergreen oak forest, again on N-facing slopes, and it appears to consist mostly of P. devoniana although I see no cones to confirm that. Still I have a pretty clear notion of what P. devoniana looks like. Elevation here is 4001 feet.
After that there are no continuous pine forests for quite a ways, until km 259. On the way are scattered trees that might be P. teocote or P. leiophylla, but I didn't stop to check. There are also some isolated P. devoniana. At km 259 begins what seems to be a mixed stand of P. devoniana and P. oocarpa, magnificently situated at the foot of a monumental rock outcrop. This site also has my first Cupressus of the trip. It's about 6 m tall, single trunk, bark gray, flaking into longitudinal plates, on the twigs also flaky or light red-brown.
I'm at WP28, 1950 m elevation, pretty close to Yecora. The N-facing slopes here have snow on them, coming part way across the road in places. There is a mixed conifer-oak forest, about 100% canopy closure, with P. pseudostrobus, P. chihuahuana, probably some P. devoniana although I'm still looking for cones, and it has Cupressus. [By the way on this trip all Cupressus are just “Cupressus.” I can't distinguish C. arizonica from C. lusitanica, let alone other putative Mexican species, and in fact I doubt that they actually are different. It's probably safe to say that everything I saw was C. lusitanica, but these Sonoran examples in particular could arguably have been closer to C. arizonica.] The juniper remains unidentified, but I suspect J. scopulorum.
It's 3:25 and I've decided to camp here at WP31. This is where Mex-16 crosses a ravine that has a little stream, about 20-30 km east of Yecora. Another stream joins it here as well. Both look quite clean and are cold, coming down out of the pine forests. I think this place was originally built as a rest area because there's a transportation department trash barrel here, but as with most Mexican infrastructure it was left to maintain itself. There are occasional trucks that pass and make great roaring noises with their Jacobs brakes. I'm hoping that will die down when it gets dark. I'm pretty well off the road and not visible from the highway, so this should be a pretty secure campsite.
Just downstream of me, this stream descends into the northern part of the Barranca del Cobre area. The highway offers great views south into the barrancas. The stream itself is lined by a forest of oak and cypress with an occasional P. arizonica, and some of that flaccid-leaved juniper which I suspect is J. scopulorum. Anyway, since it's a couple of hours before dark, I'm going to take some time to ponder my pine books and road maps, and take a little walk along the stream, and whip up dinner along about dusk.
I'm going to take a picture of this Juniperus.
Evening now. 6:00 and it still isn't dark, but it's getting on there. There's also still some traffic, now and then. I'm having cheese and crackers for dinner because I forgot that I brought cheese, and it's gotten very warm and is demanding to be eaten. It's not a particularly interesting dinner, though. I'm sitting here wondering what to do, because my travel plans are in a shambles. I think I had a too optimistic expectation of how many miles I could ride in a day in this country. On cuotas or on straightish, levelish roads, it's not unreasonable to go 300 miles a day. From km 130 to here, about km 301, it's been a very steep winding road, and even slow for that because of Mexican road factors like gravel in the corners and seriously beat-up pavement, so that I spend most of my time towards the low end of third gear. On such terrain 200 km per day is a good day's ride. My draft schedule doesn't account for this time dilation that occurs on twisties, and also doesn't really have any time off. So what do I do? Just go down the Pacific coast and back up? Just cut out Oaxaca, even though it was sort of the inspiration for this whole trip? Do I still want to cross over to Nuevo León, where the greatest diversity of new-to-me conifers occurs? I don't know. Also, Bonnie has decided to fly down and meet me in Palm Springs, so now I should allocate more time to the returning-thru-the-States portion of the trip. Anyway I've decided to go ahead and follow down the left side of the country at least as far as Jalisco, by which time I'll have more experience of the country and will be able to make a more educated decision about how to spend the remaining time. I have a hunch, though, that Nuevo León will have to wait for another trip.
Hello, Bonnie. I figure since you're not here, since I'm in the middle of nowhere and can't call you on the phone, I will dictate a letter to you. It's night now, and I'm lying here in my bivy sack next to a little stream in a little canyon 20 or 30 miles north of the Barranca del Cobre. I'm at the edge of Barranca, into that kind of rock formation, which makes for some great scenery. The canyon is lined with oak and cypress trees, and the stream has a little fish; they started jumping for bugs in the twilight. There's also a highway, but nobody has been by since it got dark, so maybe it will be a quiet night.
It was a really good day's ride, about 300 km. The first 130 was getting out of Hermosillo; it was mostly flat and straight and not very remarkable. Then it got really twisty and started to climb up into the Sierra Madre, and after that it was a winding remote Mexican road. Mostly there was no other traffic. I'd see a car, or more likely a truck or bus, maybe every 15 minutes. After about 200 km I was finally into the pine forest. I crossed the mountain crest at an elevation just under 2000 m and there was snow along the sides of the road, and some bits of ice on the road. It's slow going. The road is really winding, and a lot has pretty bad pavement and a lot has gravel on it, washed on by streams or laid down by trucks in the icy bits.
One of the drawbacks to traveling alone is that there's no one with whom to discuss the natural history and other wonders of the journey. Of course, nearly all the great natural historians have also hit that same problem. Consider Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Douglas, Darwin; generally speaking they were alone, or at least had no one along who could appreciate the things they were seeing. So, I don't mind that so much. I do feel a little low sometimes in the evenings. In the mornings I'm usually filled with ambition and rarin' to go. I am looking forward to seeing you on the 24th or 25th, though, when I hit Palm Springs. Then we'll have a couple days to explore southern California.
It feels really remote here. It has taken me five days to get here, after all. It's a full day's ride from a city, Hermosillo to the west, Chihuahua to the east, both of them pretty big agro-industrial cities. It's dark now. Taurus and the Pleiades are both near the zenith. I'm going to sleep.
I hit the road the next morning at 06:00 sharp, when it was still kind of dark but getting light in the east. I immediately noticed that my speedometer was not working. In fact it broke exactly 14.35 miles this side of the last gas stop, at Yecora. The road goes through continued oak woodland, usually with a fair bit of Cupressus, to Maycoba. There were also a few pines, mostly P. arizonica, but really not many trees overall. Then, around here – which I think is about km 338 – there is again a continuous pine forest, for the first time since just west of Yecora, and right here its mostly P. chihuahuana, but I've also been seeing a lot of P. arizonica and now I'm standing here next to a 2-needle pine with very flexible needles, very short fascicle sheaths, prominent in the understory but not common in the overstory. There's also some of the suspected P. devoniana but I still have not been able to find a cone.
It's too bad about the speedometer cable, which I think broke on the bumpy descent and stream ford to get to last night's camp, but it's not really critical. The highways have km markers, and the GPS tells me my speed and lets me pick waypoints.
At about km 350 from Hermosillo the road crosses a pass at 1650 m and enters Chihuahua. The markers then start counting down from about 347 km. Road quality immediately improves; it now has lines, sometimes guard rails, and is a bit faster but still plenty twisty. This really is a world-class motorcycle road overall. The forest continues to be mostly Quercus with a lot of Cupressus and a fair bit of Juniperus, and a lot of P. chihuahuana. There's a nice one here I'm going to get a photo of. There's also some P. arizonica and I did finally confirm some cones on P. devoniana. I haven't yet seen a white pine anywhere.
I take an extended stop at WP32, where I can walk in the pines after parking in a spot that's out of view from the road. It's a lot easier to get off the road in Chihuahua than it was in Sonora. I find a stand of P. chihuahuana and P. arizonica. By the way I discovered that the 2-needle sapling I photographed was just P. chihuahuana; they have 2- and 3-needle fascicles when saplings. Also, I've noticed that the P. arizonica tends to have particularly long needles as a sapling, almost as long as on P. devoniana, and then they're a bit shorter on the mature trees. Anyway, I got a lot of good P. arizonica pictures, although for all the saplings, I could not find a seedling anywhere. I think this species has a grass stage but anyway, no evidence here. Anyway, the sun is up, things are warming up. I'm going to check to see if there's a BMW dealer in Chihuahua and then I'll mosey on towards Basaseachic, which has the next Pemex.
I stop just a few km onward at WP34 to investigate a new tree that turns out to be an old tree. Its seems to be a forma of P. chihuahuana that has extremely droopy foliage. I took a number of pictures. There's quite a bit of it right around here. It's growing on an undistinguished rocky soil, and it grows with erect-leaved P. chihuahuana. However, all the trees are either definitely droopy or definitely erect, and the droopiness is expressed even in small saplings less than a meter tall, and continues in trees maybe 12 m tall, the tallest I've seen, which are canopy codominants. It mostly has 2- and 3-needled fascicles.
It's turning into a nice day. The next BMW dealer is Guadalajara. I'm going to mosey on towards Hidalgo del Parral.
About km 319, WP35, the road climbs, good road, very twisty and gravelly in places because of the ice, but anyway climbs to over 2250 meters. At one point there is ice all the way across the road, in a very shady area, and here I find white pines. By the way I've been searching for Picea and Abies too, but without any luck so far.
WP38 is on a hill overlooking Tomochi. Still in the conifer forest that I entered a little while after setting forth this morning, but it's starting to change character. Before Tomochi the pines were starting to be spread out and scattered, and they were interspersed with Cupressus, and now on this hill for the first time I have encountered P. cembroides, piñon pine, and a Juniperus that is new to me though I might have been seeing it for a few km here because its foliage is similar to the cypress, erect rather than flaccid like the J. scopulorum. I'll get a leaf and berry sample from the female plant here. Meanwhile, there is still a bit of P. chihuahuana.
At about km 186 comes the highest point on the whole Sierra Tarahumara traverse, at a pass overlooking the plains of Chihuahua. From Tomochi to that point the road starts to straighten out, there are some long sweepers, 4th and 5th gear. Then you're pretty much out of the twisties. At about km176, 10 km later, you hit the plains and the P-J forest finally gives way to grassland. The road then is pretty much straight and fast until km 127 where it enters foothills and becomes a little twisty, at least enough to be interesting. These hills are wooded with P-J. I'm still in those hills.
I am reporting to you from an aged 386 in the lobby of the Hotel Acosta in Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua. The trip has been going pretty smoothly, not quite as planned but not bad. Day 1 was a freezing blast down I-5 to redwood country, where friends fed me and beered me and warmed me and we talked science and that was very nice. Up at the crack of dawn on the next day, another cold one through valley fogs and over frosty twisty roads to north of San Fran, where I gave a little workshop on forest ecology to some people whose land trust owns a redwood grove near the Muir Woods. Then, just as the Super Bowl was starting, I blasted off across the Bay area on I-580 for a fast and boring run that ended in a field northwest of Visalia, where I crashed for the night. Good stars out there at least, but it put me off the freeway track. I hit the road the next morning (still cold, wearing every stitch I brought) at 04:30, through Bakerfield to Mohave to Barstow, then off on old Route 66 on a ride reminiscent of Cars (the movie), desolate little ghost towns in the stark desert, and along the way I found the Baghdad Cafe. I guess the Hollywood crowd like to cruise old 66. From there I went on even emptier 2-lanes, hours without cars, until eventually down to cross the Colorado at Parker, AZ where it was finally WARM. Spent the night in a little illicit campground north of Gila Bend, under a million stars, only to rise and again hit the road well before dawn and blast through Casa Grande and Tucson to cross the border (not even a stop sign for those entering Mexico) at Nogales, survive my first flush of urban Mexican traffic, and check thru the bureaucracy (located 20 km S of town) by noon. I ended up spending the night at a nice little motel in the old part of Hermosillo, a major cattle town and about as far from conifers as you can get using a BMW.
Hit the road early the next morning, the road being Mex-16. For 130 km nothing happened except fast riding in a chill clear morning. Then I hit the Sierra and the next 350 km was twisty, beat-up Mexican highway to the max, endless hairpin curves replete with giant potholes, loose gravel, big trucks, wandering cattle, and the occasional rig broken down in a blind curve. It was glorious. About 80 km into the twisties I hit the pine forest, and that went on forever, and of course that distracted me too, as did the gorges, mountains, and other bits of spectacular scenery. I spent the night by a stream in a rocky arroyo, in a cypress forest, about 50 km W of the Sonora-Chihuahua border. During the night the cold came back. I hit the road an hour before dawn (at which time my speedometer cable snapped, the trip's first mechanical event of interest) and took 6 hours to ride the next 100 km. In places there was ice across the road, as it climbed from 1400 to 2400 m elevation. Finally, about 1:00 this afternoon, I popped out of the mountains (and the forest) and onto the plains of Chihuahua, the very, very, wide open spaces of Chihuahua, and quickly rolled off the 300 km to here, Hidalgo de Parral, a small, historic bustling city in the desert. And now I REALLY have to go find some food. Tomorrow ... Durango!
South of Hidalgo del Parral (I mentioned it in the photos, where the waypoints were) was a juniper, pretty widespread, usually a bush, occasionally with a single trunk and forming trees up to 10 m tall with a globular crown. It was fibrous bark, so not J. deppeana, but although I probably looked at close to a hundred trees, I never managed to find any with cones. Also, back there at I think WP46 where the river that goes through Rodeo first meets the highway, there are big Taxodium, up to 2 m dbh growing on the floodplain, usually right at the bank of the river with their roots in the water. From there on down through Rodeo the river has a beautiful floodplain filled with green cottonwoods and mostly brown Taxodium. They are just breaking bud and starting to leaf out. I made a short excursion out to I think WP49 to view the lower part of the floodplain and saw more Taxodium growing all along the river, obviously the production of natural regeneration. Nearly all of them, though, are big trees, meaning episodic regen or really rapid growth rate or possibly a recent interruption in natural regeneration.
Got gas in Rodeo, it's almost 13:00 here and I'll probably be in Durango in another hour and a half or so, find a hotel.
I'm sitting in a restaurant. San Jorge. It's a Brazilian restaurant, and its just about as nice as the best Mexican restaurant I've ever been in. It's in a big indoor stone courtyard. In the middle is not a bad salad bar. The main part of the meal, though, is more memorable. I started off with a beer, and then the waiter came around and pretty much insisted that I try this red wine he had. So I did, and I'm glad he insisted. It's a Spanish wine – I wrote down the name somewhere – and then the meal itself unfolded kind of like a Brazilian dim sum. Every few minutes a waiter comes out bearing two swords on which have been impaled about two dozen small cuts of meat – beef mostly, some turkey and pork, sometimes wrapped in bacon. Each sword has been differently spiced, marinated and cooked. The waiter gives you a cutlet or two from each sword and you nibble them and sip your fine wine until the next waiter comes by with the next selection of meats. That goes on over the course of twenty or so swords, maybe an hour or an hour and a half of leisurely eating, until you're stuffed and ask them to take the plate away, after which they come by with a cart of luxurious and decadent desserts. I passed on the dessert but did accept a shot of Tres Generaciones añejo, which I am slowly sipping, at the end of my dinner in Durango.
To step back a bit farther in time, the day started off leisurely as I sat at the computer in the lobby of the Hotel Acosta in Hidalgo del Parral, answering emails and composing a fairly lengthy report on my adventures since leaving Seattle. At 8:00 or so I finally rolled the Beemer out of the lobby of the hotel and rolled off the 400-odd kilometers to Durango. It was mostly a very unremarkable road. One stretch did not have a curve for over a hundred kilometers, though other bits had some very good curves. There was a juniper along the way that I stopped several times to try to identify but never could find a cone, so it will likely remain a mystery to me. Along the banks of a river that runs, among other things, through the town of Rodeo, there was a magnificent stand of Taxodium. A lot of trees were over 2 m in diameter, and I saw some off in the distance that might have been contenders as big trees; big Taxodium are over 3 m in diameter, often over 4 m. Still, it was a large, beautiful, naturally regenerated gallery forest of Taxodium, testimony to a reliable water supply and some responsible management by the local people.
The city of Durango has about a half million people. It's small enough that I didn't have any problem finding my hotel. As for the traffic, well, I'm getting pretty blasé about Mexican traffic. I've concluded that Mexican drivers in general are more careful and much more courteous than American drivers. In fact there are very few controls on traffic in Mexican cities, and the drivers have adapted by looking out for each other; no one gets hurt, not because it is illegal, but because it would be rude. It does leave a lot of room for creativity, though, so eternal vigilance is necessary. Anyway I got to the hotel and they carved out a parking place for me right outside the front door of the hotel, fitting into a 2-foot space between two parked Beetle taxis (had to remove the saddlebags to get in). Then, any time after 20:00 I could just bring the bike into the hotel lobby and park there. [Actually it ended up spending the night locked inside a nearby garage, because getting it over the hotel threshold proved to be a big problem.]
In the evening I strolled around the square and the market district. It's a very clean, popular square. Old men in cowboy hats talking or just sitting, families with ice creams, young couples strolling. I should have taken more photos but I always feel self-conscious taking pictures of people, like a tourist in a zoo, invading their privacy. Maybe its because I'm the only gringo I've seen the whole trip, since the border crossing. There was one picture I wish I could have gotten. About 20 people were waiting for a bus, and they were all standing, one by one, against an old stone wall of the cathedral. They represented a perfect cross-section of Durango society, from fashionable young women to grimy urchins to old cowboys to men in suits. Unfortunately by that time the light was too dim, the picture would have been blurred.
Durango is an old city with lots of character, far nicer than Hermosillo but I still don't see a lot to do here. The hotel I'm in, the Hotel Roma, is very pleasant – historic, tiled bathrooms and functional beds, tall ceilings, old furniture, interesting architecture, etc. All for the princely sum of $21 a night. Maybe I could find more to do here if I could speak the lingo but that's not an option. However, I will be happy to leave tomorrow because the journey toward Mazatlan should be one of the most interesting stages of the whole trip, both botanically and from a motorcycling standpoint. There are a lot of interesting sites on my list to and around El Salto, and I'm really looking forward to that trip.
At WP 52, which is about km 30 on the Durango-Mazatlan highway, I reach my first pines in a long time. This is a stand of piñon overlooking a nice canyon, near a "tourist overlook." I got out of town fairly early this morning. Its a Saturday, so there wasn't any traffic to speak of, but I kind of got lost in N Durango trying to find the highway and probably put on an extra 10 km that way. Elevation here is 2350 m, which is pretty high, so I think that like Ciudad Cuahtemoc on Highway 16, Durango is basically on a plateau. We have climbed a few hundred meters above Durango. I suspect than that as we pick up forest it will be more in response to the influence of Pacific airmasses than to increasing elevation. This is another 2-needle piñon, I'm pretty sure its just P. cembroides again. Doesn't seem to be cone-bearing. Growing on basalt boulders with some big prickly pear, I think two different species.
By WP 53 only a couple of km along, near the Rio Niño which is the cañon I was looking into before, we have picked up P. pseudostrobus and P. chihuahuana, both growing relatively dwarfed. No trees are more than 10 m tall. There's also some Cupressus but it could have been planted here. P. cembroides remains the dominant tree. The understory is grass (a pasture) with scattered prickly pear and occasional subtree yuccas. Open woodland. See photos.
At WP 54 I get some photos of a mucronate-leaved juniper. Unfortunately cannot find cones but collect foliage and take photos. The bark looks like J. deppeana. Its in grassland, growing with P. cembroides and P. pseudostrobus. I suppose there's some P. chihuahuana out there as well. The shrubby P. pseudostrobus is quite common. It seems to be very successful as a tree on sites where it never gets more than 5 or 6 m tall.
Just a couple of km on, at WP 55, 2352 m, I find the same juniper, a roadside tree loaded with berries. I take photos and take a berry-foliage sample for later study. I strongly suspect it is J. deppeana. At this point the woodland is pretty much a mix of the three pines talked about before. They are all codominant and a tree more than 5 m tall is uncommon.
At WP 56, about km 51, there are a few trees of P. lumholtzii by the road. The forest overall is getting taller and denser. There are now a fair number of trees up to 15 m tall and in places, especially N exposures, the canopy is closed. Evergreen oak is still a significant component, but P. cembroides seems to have dropped out. J. deppeana persists in the understory. The dominant conifers are P. pseudostrobus and P. chihuahuana.
At WP 58 I take a bunch of pictures of P. durangensis growing at Restaurant Los Pinos. It looks a lot like P. hartwegii. I"ve been noticing it for a few km here and was looking for a good place to stop and check it out. The main difference between it and P. hartwegii seems to be that P. durangensis has smaller cones; not a lot smaller, but enough. It also seems to grow at lower elevations. Here we're at 2515 m and we seem to be in a nearly closed canopy, pure stand of P. durangensis.
I'm currently at the exact spot where Adams collected J. blancoi, as described in his paper, because he was good enough to give coordinates to three decimal places. The setting he described is exactly right, but all that grows here are a few plants of J. deppeana, var. robusta by his account. The J. blancoi have either died or been cut down by the rancher. It's a cow pasture, and there are stumps by the streamside. Adams said they were growing on the banks of the stream. Its a flaccid juniper, so it should be conspicuously unlike J. deppeana, besides which deppeana has very distinctive bark. A quarter mile S of here along the road I also found the white pine, P. strobiformis by Farjon's account and P. ayacahuite var. brachyptera by Perry's. Certainly the cones have far more pronounced apophyses than are usually associated with P. strobiformis. The forest here also has a lot of P. leiophylla and P. durangensis. (I soon afterwards found J. blancoi growing in a ponded water area very nearby, on the other side of the road. There were only a few plants, and none bore cones, but it was a flaccid juniper so J. blancoi is the likeliest identification.)
Now I´m at WP 66, 2810 m. High point for the trip so far. I took the road toward Pueblo Nuevo from El Salto, down to I think WP 65. It was a nice ride. Very peaceful road, unlike Mex-40 which carries all the Durango-Mazatlan truck traffic. I found the type locality of J. blancoi down there and I think I found a few plants of it. Also found a white pine. Now I´m up here in the high mountains and it seems to mostly be P. durangensis and something that seems to be a tall, slender forest interior form of J. deppeana with slender but not flaccid foliage. It has the checkered bark so I think it must be a deppeana. Mostly though its a forest of P. oocarpa. There's also a madrone—I took a picture but the lighting sucks—and there are oaks in here that are as tall as the pines, about 15-18 m, but they don't seem to be too thrilled about that, so I suspect that it's a successional thing—that the oaks were here first.
I've also been thinking about P. leiophylla vs. P. chihuahuana and I've decided that they are the same species. There seems to be a gradational change between them. P. chihuahuana tends to be shorter, to grow more towards the country's interior, where sites are drier and climate is more continental, has somewhat stiffer needles, 3 per fascicle, and somewhat larger cones, and the needles have a sort of "brushed" appearance, as if the tree was painted. P. leiophylla has 5 needles per fascicle, doesn't have the brushed appearance, and tends to occur as bigger trees, closer to the ocean, in stands with higher basal area. However, all of these things are transitional in the zone between where you find only chihuahuana and only leiophylla, so the two taxa end up representing the endpoints of a cline. Leiophylla is the species and chuhuahuana the variety only because leiophylla was described first.
P. oocarpa? I'm still working on that. Its kind of surprising to see it here at 2800 m this far N in its range, but maybe latitude doesn't count for as much when you get to the tropics. It doesn't hold its cones as well as the books say it does. Some trees hold their cones for a long time but others don't, at all. It has intermediate length needles.
I saw P. arizonica var. cooperi earlier. I looked quite a bit and only found one tree. The needles are about the same length as on P. durangensis and the cones are about the same size as on P. durangensis but they are attached to the branch like on P. pseudostrobus and the bark resembles P. ponderosa, though not so pretty. Anyway you look for those things as you're flying down the road trying to pick it out from all the P. durangensis which otherwise resembles it closely.
WP 80 [correction, 70] is where I find Abies durangensis, right where Vladimir Dinets said it would be, growing in a kind of shady site at the base of a BIG cliff, area probably shaded most of the day. There's a very dense angiosperm shrub understory and the trees are growing on a very steep hill, I can't really get to any of them and anyway the branches are too high to get at the foliage. Its growing with pines and oaks; the pines include P. montezumae and P. herrerae, and I think P. leiophylla. I kind of have to get going because its getting late in the day and I should find a place to stay, but definitely the best part of this highway is the bit after El Salto. From El Salto it just gets better and better and this past 10 or 15 miles has been spectacular mountain scenery. Pretty good highway, too, all things considered. Its in a lot better shape than much of Mex-16. Having a great time.
Just past El Espinoza del Diablo, less than half a km, I find a small copse of P. lumholtzii on the side of the road. There are superb photographic conditions. Unfortunately none of the in-situ cones are close enough to get a shot of, but I pick one up to take a picture of later. I mention in a couple of the photo remarks that P. pseudostrobus is growing in the area, like back at the Espinoza, but now I've decided that they're P. montezumae. I think we left P. pseudostrobus behind back there in the drier forest around El Salto, and at least since the P. oocarpa, probably all the pines like this have been P. montezumae.
OK. WP 81 [correction, 71] is tonight's campsite. In a pine-oak forest at about 1900 m, a little ways past .. hmmm ... a little town just over the border into Sinaloa. So I'm in Sinaloa. I found a logging road just past the town and went up it about a km, and then went up a washed-out spur that trucks can't get up but motorcycles can, and drove down that a ways to this peaceful spot in a forest of oaks, P. herrerae, P. montezumae and P. lumholtzii. The oaks are full of bromeliads and there are even a couple on the pines. We've been around P. lumholtzii sporadically ever since the place I stopped to take pictures of it. Anyway the sun is going down any minute now and I have to make dinner, make camp, stuff like that.
At WP 77 I find an interesting flaccid-leaved juniper about 7 m tall. Its growing here at 2030 m in a nearly closed canopy, nearly pure stand of P. maximinoi. It has no cones and is the only juniper of this kind that I have seen [I saw only that one]. Might be J. durangensis or
J. jaliscana, there aren't many flaccid-leaved junipers that could be here. Took a foliage sample for photography.
To summarize: WP 80 is the Tropic of Cancer. WP 79 is km 213 and is at a pass where the road finally starts its long decent toward Mazatlan. WP 78 is km 209 and is where I stopped to take a bunch of pictures of P. lumholtzii and P. maximinoi.
At WP83 the Pacific Ocean finally comes into view. To summarize: At km 236, 1150 m, we leave the pines behind. From there back up to about 1500 m it varies between being a pure stand of P. maximinoi (which I thought was probably planted) to mostly being a pine-oak woodland with varying amounts of P. maximinoi. From there back up to 2000 m, where the descent starts in earnest, the only conifer is P. maximinoi. From that point back to the Devils Backbone, I was in a forest dominated by P. maximinoi, P. montezumae, and P. herrerae, with P. lumholtzii fairly frequent but never forming pure stands. There may have been a little P. leiophylla as well, but it was much more prominent east of the Devils Backbone, along with the suite of species that I cataloged yesterday. At this point, I think I've seen the last of the pines until I'm past Puerto Vallarta somewhere. I'm still definitely in the twisties, though.
The twisties start to fade out at about km 155, but turn into high-speed sweepers, 4th and 5th gear, that'll take you down to Concordia at which point you're pretty much in the flats and the curves disappear. I go past Concordia to the junction with Mex-15 Cuota and Mex-15 Libre and I take Mex-15 Libre S toward San Blas. [Update: ran down to past the San Blas turnoff because it was unsigned, and part way down Mex-15 Libre toward Tepic, then part way down Mex-15 Cuota toward Tepic; did about 30 km extra because of no sign and also an error in the road atlas; went into Hotel Hacienda Flamingos in San Blas for the night.]
I'm out in the fields between Villa Hidalgo and Guadalupe Victoria. I was thinking about Mexican things and local things. One thing I was thinking about was motorcycles. I see a lot of small-displacement motorcycles kept on the road by imaginative means. I haven't seen many touring bikes or sport bikes, though. I've seen 2 or 3 Harleys, of which at least one was ridden by a norteamericano, and the only time I've seen sport bikers, loosely defined as people riding motorcycles for fun, was when I was coming down the Durango-Mazatlan highway on Sunday morning. At one point I passed a group of 10 or 12 small Mexican street bikes (meaning the largest were probably 250cc), and then a bit later I passed a comparable group on big bikes that included new-looking large-displacement Japanese bikes, an R1200RT, and a couple of cruisers. I think they were Mexicans as well, a group of upper middle class Mazatlan guys out for a Sunday morning ride.
Another thing I've been thinking about is birds. I haven't seen a huge diversity of birds, probably more this morning than at any other time. This morning I've seen cattle, lesser and greater white egrets, roseate spoonbills, American avocet, some kind of ibis on the wing that was mostly white, a buteo about the size of a redtail that was a pearl grey color all over, and an interesting falcon on a wire about the size of a merlin [now I think it was an Aplomado falcon]. I've also seen kestrels. Lots of doves, I know there are a variety of species down here but these all look like mourning doves. I have also seen a fair variety of pajaritos, many of them unfamiliar but on the whole hard to describe in sufficient detail to later identify them. Lots of harriers, and also I think some Harris hawks but all on the wing seen from the motorcycle and not confirmed. I'm going out to Mexcaltitan today and will probably see some more birds there.
I'm on this road from Guadalupe Victoria to Villa Hidalgo, which is I think about 12 km, and I think it was also 12 km from San Blas to Guadalupe Victoria. Both towns have Pemex stations. Everybody's going to work right now, it's Monday morning. Oh, and the other thing I was thinking about is that in Mexico, nearly everything is named after the Revolution, or one of the Revolutions. Names like Hidalgo, Juarez, Villa, Insurgentes – there's a list of a dozen or a score that just crop up over and over again wherever you go in Mexico. It gives the country a kind of anonymity, especially since everything not named after a revolutionary is named after a saint (well, frankly there are a lot of Indian names too, and they are pretty distinctive). It's as if every town in America were named Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln or Lee.
Riding a motorcycle, I also have time to ponder the sometimes entertaining road signs. One says “this is not a fast road” (este camino no es de alta velocidad), but that has no effect on how fast people drive, which is usually as fast as possible. And then “zona de derrumbes” actually sounds like rolling rocks. My favorite so far, though, is “incipia zona sinuosa” which means “here come the twisties.”
I'm on the road to Mexcaltitan and have a few more birds to add to the list. Stork. Turkey vulture. Boat-tailed grackles, coots, ruddy ducks, ravens (some were probably Chihuahuan), and common kingfisher.
I'm back from Mexcaltitan at 10:30, and I have a few observations to make. First of all, a long time ago in the Whole Earth Catalog I saw an aerial photo of this place taken by Georg Gerster. That was in about 1980, and at that time I thought it was the most amazing, exotic-looking place I'd ever seen, and I would dearly love to come here. I put it on my list of things to do later on. Now its 27 years later on and I did it today. I was thinking as I rode to town today that it didn't carry nearly the significance that it would have once. Sort of a reflection of how my priorities have changed over time. I was thinking that I'd rather be doing something with Bonnie, for instance, rather than being in this exotic place and going alone to see a town that once looked really nice in a picture.
To get there cost 60 pesos. That gets a personal ride in a high-speed launch (lancha). It's a 10 or 15 minute ride. Once again I'm the only gringo. In fact, I have only spoken English with one other gringo since I entered Mexico. That was a guy who stopped to chat while I was on the road west of El Salto, taking pictures of possible J. durangensis. Moreover, I've only seen a handful of gringos. Well, maybe eight of them now, because last night I saw about five at the hotel I'm staying in. Oh, and there were also a few at the entry point where I got my turista card and vehicle entry permit. I did have one interesting insight while walking around Mexcaltitan, though. I saw a planter, a fern growing in a 5-gallon plastic water jug that had been broken and sawed off. Jugs like that were only beginning to be used when I came down here in 1994. I realized that most of the people on that island are younger than that water jug. Being uneducated as well, the poor of the third world largely lack a history. They do have traditions that go back endlessly, but for the most part their sense of history goes back only through their memories, the memories of their parents, and maybe the memories of their grandparents. Anything else is lore and legend. We who have literacy and education have the ability to reach back into our history because we have archived it, and the archiving has given us the desire to know our history, and to know it ever better. I wonder if, lacking the knowledge, we would desire it? This is a subject Boorstin covers well in “The Discoverers,” where he discusses the discovery of time, and so of history. I wonder if the desire is awakened by the knowledge that it is possible to know our history.
In Mexcaltitan, I wandered around town. It's easy to wander around the whole town, its not very big and the island sets pretty clear limits. They appeared to be getting ready for a fiesta. I'm wondering if tomorrow is Mardi Gras. I suppose the internet might tell me. I certainly don't know how to ask anybody. That's one thing that's been bugging me. I sort of feel alienated from everyone, and distant, even a little paranoid sometimes, because of the language barrier. Unlike my past trips to Mexico, none of the people I have met seems to be particularly interested in bridging the language barrier. I am in one of those areas where tourists are a commodity, to be harvested of their money and otherwise disregarded. I probably notice that more because of the language barrier; I'd be able to converse with a lot more people if I were fluent in Spanish. But still, unlike my past trips to Mexico, or to China or Tibet, people here don't seem to be interested in me as a person; they are not willing to invest effort in trying to communicate in broken Spanish, in pantomime, or in any of the other ways that one uses when a common language is lacking.
Now it's 10:30 and I've booked another night at the Hotel Hacienda Flamingos. It's a nice hotel and I can go back and do paperwork, write, call Bonnie, plan the rest of the trip and the like. Maybe have a good dinner and hit the road bright and early tomorrow.
To catch up, the trip back from Mexcaltitan was uneventful. I was irresponsible and rode without a jacket. It's pretty warm down here. I left the bike at the hotel and went to a place called McDonald's (no golden arches) where I had lunch and chatted up another gringo, a guy about my age, who was nearly at the end of his tour. He'd mostly done Barranca del Cobre and San Blas. He recommended the freshwater boat tour and the whale watching tour as good things to do around San Blas. I had a good meal with two beers for 120 pesos and now I'm at the local beach, Playa Borrego. This is what most gringos come to Mexico for. There seem to be a fair number of them here, though it is clearly the off season; it could easily hold a hundred times as many people. There are mountains and palm trees and a vast expanse of beach backed by cabanas that serve mariscos and cervesa, with a few mostly elderly gringos sitting around absorbing photons. Anyway, no paucity of gringos in San Blas. I just don't get it. It's kind of nice, I'll take a picture or two, but there's not really anything to do here except drink and eat, sit in the sand, talk. A few people swimming, but the water is a bit chilly. I think I'll go back to the hotel and plan the next part of the trip.
Las Squinas, WP106, about km 185. Very small place, just a tavern. Less than a km after I get back into the pines, there it is, bang, P. jaliscana. There's a wonderful one, about 90 cm dbh and 30 m tall, which is dang big for this species based on what else I've seen, growing right by the tavern. Initially the forest is just P. maximinoi, but pretty soon it's just P. jaliscana, and now I'm a bit farther down the road and it's still just P. jaliscana in the pine-oak forest. The stature of the trees varies widely but canopy closure is mostly pretty high. I'm looking for a logging road where I can pull off, wander around in the forest, maybe find a seedling or other interesting biology. I did get some good cone shots, and collected a cone.
To catch up: I hit the road at 06:30 or 07:00 this morning, got some gas and headed out of town. About 35 km or so down the road I got a nice glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, my first since getting into Mexico. Prices have gone up since 2005; it was 10 pesos for a 12-oz glass. From there I followed the highway down through Puerto Vallarta, which was an exercise in the surreal, kind of like driving back into San Diego for 10 miles and then out again. Almost everyone I saw was a gringo, giant cruise ships filled the harbor, American chain stores (Wendys, Burger King, Office Depot) dominated the storefronts, traffic was deadly thick and consisted mostly of expensive vehicles. It was bizarre. But, I got out of Puerto Vallarta, and about 20 km south is the PV Botanical Garden. It appears to be nearly new (all their plants are still pretty small) but it has some nice walks into the existing forest. It cost 95 pesos to go into the garden and have lunch there. The forest is filled with epiphytic bromeliads and epiphytic orchids, there are walks by streams, and the buildings are open and attractive. In 10 or 20 years it should be an extraordinary place. Anyway, after I headed out, I hit the pines in just a couple of kilometers and now I'm in a fine P. jaliscana forest, which I found by a tavern, so I celebrated with a beer and listened to the four patrons cuss in Spanish for about an hour. I think I'd have to spend quite a long time down here before I really made any progress with my Spanish.
Hi again. I'm out on a logging road at WP110, where I've taken pictures of P. jaliscana seedling, trees, stands, fascicles, etc. Unfortunately all the seed cones are a couple of years old, so I'm not going to find any seeds. I'm a km or two up off the highway.
It really is a very distinctive species. It keys out right next to P. hartwegii but it has very droopy foliage, comparable to P. montezumae. Its cones are fairly distinctive but somewhat similar to P. hartwegii, but the fascicles of 5 needles, the cones that don't open their scales all the way to the proximal end, and the long droopy needles add up to a pretty distinctive suite of characters. It seems to predominantly occur in pure stands.
Where I've seen shade-grown saplings, they seem to continue to occasionally produce juvenile foliage, especially early in the year, even on saplings up to 3 m tall. The mature trees do support epiphytes, mostly bromeliads, though not in such profusion as those hosted by neighboring Quercus spp. The trees tend to grow to a fairly uniform height – no real emergents. However, that may be biased because I'm in an area that was logged, and I suspect that the trees left by the loggers were left either because they were young or because they had poor form – snaky trunks instead of long straight ones. On the other hand, it was selective logging. Stumps are 40-60 cm diameter.
The sun is going to set in about 10 minutes. I am on the beach by the reef at Tenacatita. In other words, I have finally crossed paths with our 2005 trip. There's a stiff breeze blowing from the west.
The P. jaliscana dried up soon after I passed El Tuito, and it went back to a seasonal tropical forest. It was still pretty lush country. Puerto Vallarta is jungle, and for a ways south of there most of the bridges crossed babbling brooks that looked like good drinking water sources, and the surrounding vegetation was green and lush. Moving 40-50 km south of El Tuito, though, the vegetation changes to a tropical thorn scrub with large cacti, a community that has persisted to here at Tenacatita. Most of it hasn't been too interesting a ride, either, with a lot of long straight stretches, but it gets a few good sweepers. Basically it was a fast ride; I really hadn't expected to get this far south in my first day out from San Blas.
There are a bunch of gringos here. I might go chat some of them up before dark, find out what's going on in the neighborhood. This is a very nice place, about as nice as where Steve and Marie live, except 2000 miles farther south, and bloody warm.
Hello again. Here I am at Tenacatita. Just spent 110 pesos on a nice dinner of a margarita and a seafood cocktail, and now I'm out looking at the stars. Very good stars. We got a strong zodiacal light going up to about 60-70 degrees above the horizon, a pretty good milky way, a lot of dim objects like the beehive cluster, the double cluster and the Andromeda galaxy. I wish I had a pair of 7x50's tonight because I could find a lot of dim objects that can't ever be seen from the latitude of Seattle. I wandered around looking for some gringos that I could bum them off of, but mostly they all seem to cocoon in their RV's as soon as the sun goes down. I'm camping on the west side of the tombolo, while most people camp on the east side which fronts the reef and is less exposed to the wind. Anyway this is the best stars I have seen in a loooong time.
I'm at WP121, which is a little joint at km 173, west of Lazaro Cardenas on Mex-200 in Michoacán. It has an Indian name, in the Lonely Planet book, which I forget. It has a nice beach. A steep beach with no one swimming, probably has a serious riptide. Coarse granitic sand. Big rocky headlands on both sides, the eastern one with a lighthouse. Vegetation is thorn scrub and cacti. There are a few cabanas, low budget, the sort where they let you camp under the cabana. I came in for camp at about 15:30, it seemed like the right time (we're on Central time now, by the way).
It was kind of an uneventful day. Although Mex-200 roughly follows the coast down here, it actually consists mostly of straight roads a few miles inland. It does have an occasional set of nice twisties, where it crosses a big headland or a canyon. The vegetation is mostly thorn forest, the same stuff I started out in this morning. In Tomatlan, I think, the last good-sized town in Colima, I ran into a Czech from Vancouver (BC) on a KLR-650 loaded down like a camel on caravan. We stood there on the roadside and talked about motorcycles and Mexico for about 20 minutes. We got separated in traffic. As usual, no signs showed the road out of town. I was thinking I might see him again, but he won't know I turned off here. This place is about 3 km off the highway.
This morning in Melaque I had breakfast (huevos rancheros) with two guys who had ridden down from Vancouver last month, one of them on a 1975 R90/6 and the other on a Yamaha 250 of 1970s vintage. He said he had 90 pounds on that bike besides himself and he could still do 65 on the freeway. [That seemed like a lot, but when I got to Palm Springs I weighed all of my stuff and it came to 105 pounds. The clothes I wear alone weigh 15 and the empty panniers weigh 20, tools weigh another 15, but it still seemed like a lot.]
The coast is pretty empty from here down to Lazaro Cardenas. I'm going to sit down with the maps and reflect on places been and places to go. Have a seafood dinner and hit the road early tomorrow. Too bad I can't call Bonnie, it being Valentine's Day.
The tide is coming in.
Now I'm at WP124. Frigatebirds are soaring in front of me while a gorgeous endless Michoacán beach stretches away into the east under a blazing tropical sun. At WP123 I ran into the Czech again. I was stopped there trying to figure out how to take a photo of me and my motorbike with the beach behind, and he popped up out of the bushes and took the picture. He'd spent the night there, found it a pleasant spot and was planning to stay a couple of days. I suspect that point was pretty close to the southernmost spot I'll reach on this trip.
I enjoyed that beach last night. Stars were good. I saw the Southern Cross and Centaurus, but there was a lighthouse there and it was working all night long, which made it a little awkward to do stargazing. Fortunately part of its cycle was to go out for five minutes every hour.
Last night I was going over maps and schedules and realized that I can still do Nuevo León, if I start crossing over now. I can miss Mexico City and it doesn't require much travel on cuotas, so I think I'll do that.
There's another thing. This is the first day on which I really feel that I'm just traveling by motorcycle through Mexico. All of the separation anxiety, acclimation to the new experience, worries about the language and the equipment, how to pack, how to spend the day, what pace to travel, and all the other niggling details, have all dropped away. This morning, riding a very twisty and totally deserted Mex-200 on the coast of Michoacán, I'm just riding Mexico. I feel as if I could go on this way for months. It's taken almost two weeks, but I'm finally shuck of Seattle and work, and I'm back in the bush, all of me.
The next week will take me east to pretty much the edge of the Gulf of Mexico area, though I'll stay in the mountains. I'll miss Oaxaca, but otherwise I'll hit most of my original planned itinerary. And I won't even mind going back to the wide open spaces of Coahuila, Chihuahua and Sonora. I kind of like those big empty spaces where you just cruise down the lonely bumpy blacktop for hours; it reminds me of Nevada or Queensland. Anyway, it's about 90 km to Lazaro Cardenas, and this is my last taste of riding the Mexican seacoast. Some of it is pretty rough road, but most is good, smooth and clean. Today it has almost all been pretty twisty, generally third gear.
By the way this place is on Central time but it shouldn't be; at 06:00 this morning you could see the Milky Way, it wasn't even first light. At 07:30 when I hit the road, the sun still had not risen.
I’m having lunch here at a beautiful little beach at WP126. Took a couple of pictures into the sun. There are cabanas here. I had a lunch of shrimp ceviche. Cost 100 pesos but it was very good, and big. I think this is my southernmost point on this trip. I’ll go down the coast another 40 km or so and then turn north on Mex-37 and head towards Uruapan, and head off into the northeast. Not without a sense of regret. This a beautiful area, the most inviting part of Mexico I’ve seen. But, I came on this trip with a purpose, and lately I haven’t been spending too much time pursuing it, so I guess it’s time to head out, find some trees, and then make my way back to California.
At WP140 south of Uruapan I pick up the pines again. It includes P. maximinoi and at least one other species, and I think Cupressus as well, but the road is busy and there are few opportunities to stop and check out the details. Also they are tall trees so I can’t get a foliage sample. That makes identification a bit tricky. In 2005, not far from here, we found lots of P. maximinoi and P. oocarpa. I’ll stop again a little farther up the line.
At WP141 I get a chance to stop, pull off the road a bit, and thrash up a baking hot hillside to check out some pines. Again I can’t actually get my hands on cones or foliage but I get pretty good views of them, and the whole stand looks like classic P. oocarpa. Classic to me, that is, because I first saw the species near Uruapan. It is hot, standing here in the midafternoon sunshine. These pines don’t cast much shade. It’s not as hot as it was an hour and a half ago, though, down there near the coast. I think the hottest areas are 20 km or so in from the coast, away from the sea breezes but still at very low elevation. Now I’ve climbed to over 1400 m, most of which was gained in the last 20 or 30 km. I’m climbing up onto the Central Volcanic Plateau. So, besides having reached the southernmost point of the trip today, I probably also reached the hottest point of the trip today.
At the end of the day, WP146 is the Hotel San Gabriel in Patzcuaro, where for the princely sum of 200 pesos I get a quiet, roomy, clean but well-worn room, and the bike gets a nice secure courtyard outside my window. Now I sally forth to admire this very picturesque town and find some dinner.
Right now I’m by a busy highway about 30 miles east of Morelia. I left Patzcuaro at about 07:30 this morning, plunging promptly into rush hour traffic. Evidently a lot of people commute from Patzcuaro into Morelia. They were all getting on the cuota. I got on the libre which is a great road, you could do 80 mph on it, except for two things. One was that it was very cold. There was frost on the ground and I had all my warm stuff on, heated vest, heated grips, but I was still a bit chilly. Second is that for much of the ride I was headed straight into the rising sun, which is not good on a motorcycle. Then I got into Morelia and of course it was the height of rush hour, and I took the Periferico around the south and east sides of town to pick up Mex-126, the libre to Mexico City. Right now I’m standing by Mex-126. Stopped off in a little town about 20 miles east of Morelia and had a nice glass of orange juice for breakfast, and now I’ll noodle off into the northeast.
At WP156, just north of the cuota, I find something rather odd. There’s a stand of pines out here – I’ve seen no pines since Patzcuaro – and it’s a plantation, all the same species. They have needles about 30 cm long in fascicles of 5, so I think they’re P. devoniana, but there are no cones at all. There are no cones on the trees, which is not uncommon with P. devoniana, but there are also none on the ground, which must mean that someone has come through and picked them all up. Very odd.
There is a river of some kind that runs east from Jerecuaro to Coroneo, with a reservoir along the way. I saw a good bit of it coming in to Jerecuaro and coming out of it, and then again coming in to Coroneo, and from what I could see, it’s all lined with a gallery forest of Taxodium. I took a couple pictures of them in Jerecuaro. There were a fair number of trees up to about 2 m diameter, and all the dominant ones were about the same height and crown diameter. There weren’t any really big ones, and there didn’t seem to be any growing around the reservoir. Otherwise it was a fine gallery forest, and the first I’ve seen since Rodeo. Otherwise, they seem to be fond of Australia around here – the place is thick with Casuarina and Eucalyptus.
WP168, Asadero or whatever it’s called, and I believe I have finally found P. teocote. Also, Cupressus grows really well here, but still I’m pretty sure it’s all planted. These P. teocote are all planted too. It’s a line of about 10 of them along the highway. They have a distinctive form; I’ve seen them before and wondered what they were. Short needles and kind of branchy. The foliage forms tufts. Once again there are no cones and I can’t find any cones under them. The needles are only 10-12 cm long and are consistently in threes, and that coupled with foliage-bearing-twig characters and other things – the short fascicle sheath – seem to distinguish it from other closely-related species like P. lawsonii and P. pringlei. So, I’ll take some pictures.
WP180, 2057 m on the road to San Joaquin, which is a side road from Mex-120. A good and surprisingly busy side road, I might add. Here I’m in a P-J woodland. The juniper is a drooping juniper, so it’s almost certainly J. flaccida, and the piñon is our old pal P. cembroides. It’s growing on limestone here; the whole countryside is limestone. Here it seems mostly confined to northern exposures, but as I gain elevation it is becoming more widespread, starting to just cover the landscape.
Still at WP180. The piñon is somewhat unusual in having lots of bromeliads growing on it. See photos.
At WP182, just past the turnoff to El Doctor, we abruptly pick up P. montezumae, again initially on a N-facing slope. Cupressus is here as well.
I go another hundred meters and stop again because I see that we have acquired two pines. There’s a pine here that I initially think is P. greggii australis, but it isn’t.
The new pine doesn’t key to anything in the Farjon et al. key. It looks like a small form of P. montezumae. The cones are up to 8 cm long. The needles are up to 12-15 cm long. The needles are in fascicles of 5 and the cones have raised apophyses, just like in P. montezumae. There are quite a few of these trees, bearing rich cone crops – apparently last year was a mast year. [P. oocarpa?]
Perseverance furthers. At WP183 I find unmistakable P. greggii var. australis. To get here, I continued on to the village of San Joaquin, 32 km from the highway. It’s a fine little town, clean and picturesque, bustling – I can see that this would be a popular place to come to escape the summer heat. A surprisingly big town to be clinging to a mountainside near a mountaintop – I’d guess several thousand people. Has a Pemex, hotel, and more of that civilization stuff. There are signs to a ruin and a cave up here, and following the signs to the ruins takes you another 3 km to the trees; the ruins are a little ways farther on. The location is right at the edge of the cloud forest. I’m practically standing on the divide, and less than a mile from me is a bank of impenetrable clouds on the other side of the divide, visible in several directions. Right here, though, the sky is absolutely blue, without a cloud. By the way, I saw P. patula on the ride up here, first time this trip. I suspect there were several other species of pine along that road as well, but I didn’t stop to investigate because the day is wearing on and I wanted to be sure of finding the P. greggii. Anyway these trees are growing with Cupressus. Cupressus is so widespread here that although it is a very popular ornamental, I’m pretty sure we’re in its native range as well. There’s a white pine up here too, but I didn’t see cones. Probably P. ayacahuite.
Transcription of a sign at the ruin, Ranas: The city of Ranas was planned and built over the course of 600 years (600-1200 AD). What we see today is the result of the effort of many generations of a people whose name for themselves is not known, but research indicates that the builders were not Otomes, Pomes nor Chichimeca, since these groups were reported by the conquerors in the 16th and 17th century more than 400 years later. For want of a better name, the ancient inhabitants have been called Serranos. As in all organized groups, they did not remain isolated but maintained trade connections with the Rio Verde area, Teotihuacan, Tula, and even more so with the Huastecos and groups from the Gulf coast. This is evidenced by many objects found from their daily life, construction designs, choice of sites for their villages, and certain religious practices all of which have their roots in those of the regions of the coastal plain. The Serranos occupied a large part of what today is known as the Sierra Gorda, especially the portion south of this mountain range.
Evening. It was a long day. Along the way, San Jose del Rio was a good town to miss. It’s big, crowded, and industrial. I’d like to think it’s the last such town I’ll see in Mexico, but I think I’ll see it again in Torreon at least. From there I cruised north on Mex-120 through Vizarron, which is where I am now. Seven or eight kilometers north of Vizarron, there’s a road that takes off east into the Sierra Gorda, climbing 32 km to San Joaquin. Quite a nice little town. I didn’t check the elevation but its right up there, likely close to 3000 m. Saw lots of interesting conifers en route, including one species new to me, P. greggii var. australis. I also tried to find a campsite up there, which may not have been a real bright move since its probably very cold up there right now. Regardless, I was unsuccessful. The area looks like a wilderness, but when you get out and start exploring, you find that it is laced with many little dirt roads, most of them very steep, many of them obviously requiring a lot of labor to maintain, and everywhere there are villages and isolated farms. I went out there probably 10 km past the P. greggii site, following little roads like this, and out there stuck on high on a ridgetop was a tiny little town, half a dozen houses and a church and a town square about the size of my hotel room, and very steep dirt roads in every direction to get there. But no campsites. About 18:00 I blundered back onto the paved road and blasted down the twisty mountainside to this town. This town is small and seems like a friendly, decent little place. It exists primarily because of a limestone quarry located a few km north of town. For 200 pesos I got a room in the only hotel in town, there are only 6 rooms, and I believe I’m the only guest. The last person to sign the register was on the 14th. I think it caters mainly to truckers. For dinner I had a beer and 6 tacos from a taco stand, total cost 42 pesos. Had a nice hot shower. Tomorrow I get a nice ride over the mountain through Pinal del Amoles, and then I blast on into the north, bound for Nuevo León. It’s pretty chilly here. I’ve come a little ways north but mostly it’s the elevation, about 2000 m at this point. Anyway it was a long day, dawn to dusk, and I’m tired. Over and out.
WP194. At WP193 we passed through the village or Coramoche or something like that, and started seeing J. flaccida. P. cembroides joined the party soon after, and now I’m in an area of nearly continuous forest that has madroño – in fact I just passed a hamlet called Madroño – J. flaccida, and P. teocote. P. patula should be near here, there’s a CAMCORE seed collection site within a mile of me. OK, there’s a patula. Supposedly P. pinceana is here too, but I haven’t seen it yet. Need to find a place where I can walk around in the woods a little.
WP195 is at a saddle where a road takes off to go up to a microwave tower. I’m going to explore it a ways because it gets into the woods. At this point we have Cupressus, J. flaccida, P. greggii var. australis, and P. patula. I took some pictures of a P. patula with a bizarre cone condition, I don’t know if its caused by insects or what, but the cones are greatly swollen. There’s also a big tree in the distance that looks like P. pseudostrobus or P. montezumae. I’m going up into the woods here.
I’m at WP199 in the little village of La Cañada. I take a bunch of P. patula pictures. That condition with the swollen cones predominates here, affecting the majority of cones. WP197 was where I turned around on the microwave road. I wasn’t seeing anything new and the road was getting worse. I suspect, though, that I was getting close to P. hartwegii. Haven’t confirmed it anyplace yet, though. Still haven’t found P. pinceana, either. It’s a lovely area, though, the road is extremely twisty, and it goes through a fine, diverse conifer forest and a culturally interesting area as well. I’ve realized that around here the desert is a desert; people don’t live there. But when you get up into the mountains, there is available water and there are little villages everywhere. As long as there are pines, the area is thickly settled.
WP200. This area seems to be the sweet spot for P. patula. There’s a lot of Cupressus too, though I think I’ve left the Juniperus behind. I believe I’ve also seen both P. pseudostrobus and P. montezumae, judging from the cones as seen from the ground.
WP201 is in Pinal del Amoles. They have a Pemex at the south end of town. At this point the road seems to be clearly descending from the high point I passed at WP200. Currently, a couple hundred meters below Pinal del Amoles, I’m still in a P. patula – Quercus spp. forest; no sign of P. cembroides.
I finally make it down the very twisty road to Jalpan, where I find a cash machine. Coming down the mountain from Pinal I left the pine forests fairly quickly, but the road does descend the side of the mountains where cloud forest occurs. The road was wet from fog drip in many areas, and crossed springs and rivulets. The forest was mostly oaks, but there were some substantial areas of J. flaccida – the first time I’ve ever seen it form pure, continuous stands. The riparian areas have sycamores, and one spring on the mountainside supported a lone Taxodium about 3 m dbh. All in all, the ride this morning from Vizarron to Jalpan counts as one of the best rides I’ve had in Mexico.
The stream from Jalpan to Rio Verde is for the most part lined with Taxodium. Again they tend to be large mature trees, and at WP210? I stopped and took a bunch of pictures of them. The roots completely make up the banks of the stream and form a well-defined steep bank that drops off into relatively deep water. They also hold the rocks and soil together to prevent erosion of the floodplain during peak flows, and thereby help to stabilize the thalweg. The trees bear a pretty heavy epiphyte load, virtually all bromeliads, some of them pretty big – I’d guess 3 or 4 kg plus the accumulated litter. Not a real heavy loading, but a good sized tree might have a couple tonnes dry weight of epiphytes. Seedlings are not common but I did find several that still bore their cotyledons. Haven’t seen any root sprouts, I don’t know if they do that. The larger and older trees bear fire scars. I assume, given the fabulous water supply, that none of these trees are very old and they’re all growing like topsy. I wish I could see this stand early or late in the day, when the light is better for photography. As it is, my photos can’t do it justice.
It was a pretty good day until I hit Rio Verde, and then things got pretty fucked up. I tried to go north through Rio Verde to pick up the road to Cerritos. I finally found a big road, and had to stop and get gas, so I asked the Pemex guy if it was the road to Cerritos and he said, yes, this is the free road to Cerritos. So I headed off and it eventually turns out that I’m on Mex-70, which goes to San Luis Potosi. I didn’t want to backtrack then because my map showed a paved road going north through a little town called Sencillo and on to Cerritos. Anyway I shot right past that intersection because it had no sign whatsoever, and moreover as it later turned out, it was a dirt road. 15 km farther on at San Miguel is another Pemex station where I pull in and ask the guy what the story is and he says oh no you want the Green Valley road, it’s about 10 km back. So I go back and after 18 km, the road to Sencillo does have a sign. However because it’s a dirt road, and the straight line distance to Cerritos is 50 km, it’s probably quicker just to backtrack to Rio Verde, enjoy the Saturday afternoon traffic there, and find the cuota out of town. From there I will blast northwest and north on cuotas the rest of the day to try to get close to Doctor Arroyo, where I disappear into the mountains again.
Evening finds me in beautiful Matehuala, San Luis Potosi. I ended up here mostly because its at the end of a fast road. I don’t know how far I went today, but it felt like a long ways. I got here about 17:00 and I’m in the shady Plaza de las Armas, which has all the usual Plaza stuff except not very many people, and rather more grass than is the norm. Nice place. There’s a church, I’ll probably take a picture. There’s the municipal palace, the library, one good restaurant. It’s Saturday night, it should be more popular than this.
I’m staying at the Hotel Alamo, which is half a block off the plaza. 180 pesos, clean, presentable. They would have let me park my motorcycle in the courtyard, but there’s a set of steps that must be gotten over and the geometry is such that I couldn’t use the engine to do it, so I guess the bike will park on the street tonight. I’ll just take all the attractive bits off of it.
The surrounding countryside, here and for the past 200 miles, is Chihuahuan desert. I rode past a lot of big columnar cacti and a lot of thorn scrub. Here their iconic plant is like a Joshua tree, a big leggy yucca that grows up to 40 or 50 feet tall. There’s also a pine here in the Plaza, I’m not certain but it looks a lot like P. teocote, and there are also a couple of anemic Cupressus and some leafless hardwoods. Spring is not too well advanced yet in this country, compared to Jalpan. It’s a warm evening, but I suspect it will be pretty chilly in the morning.
That’s all the news from Matehuala.
What a place. At WP250 on the western flanks of Cerro Peña Nevada I suddenly hit the piñon-juniper. Now I think this whole mountain is limestone, but certainly this area is all limestone, and it has got an amazing array of plants growing together. There are two kinds of ferns, at least four yuccas (two tall, two like shin-dagger), a lot of different cacti (including a barrel cactus almost 3 m tall, a cylindropuntia, another very wide barrel cactus, several small spreading ground cacti of the Echinocactus type), a flaccid-leaved juniper which is probably J. flaccida, and a bunch of twiggy shrubs and small trees like elephant-tree, and of course P. cembroides, which I took several photos of. It’s also just gorgeous. It’s colorful and aesthetically pleasing in that desert-garden way. None of the cacti are blooming yet, though the buds are swelling. Anyway, supposedly I’m within 3 km of where Michael Frankis found P. nelsonii out here, so I’m off to find it.
At WP251 I add an extremely glaucous Cupressaceae to the mix. Unfortunately it has neither cones nor berries, nor any remnant of them lying around, so I can’t be sure but I think its Cupressus, perhaps so glaucous as a defense against this lower-forest-border climate.
At WP254 I find P. nelsonii, one of the most unusual pines in the world. Unlike all the other piñon pines, it retains its fascicle sheaths. Unlike any other pine, its needles (3 per fascicle) do not separate, but throughout life remain fused, appearing and functioning as a single needle. The needles can be easily separated, though, by rolling a fascicle between your fingers a few times. The cones look quite unlike any other pine; see the photos. It’s growing here at this waypoint – I have to check the elevation – with P. cembroides, J. flaccida, another juniper that has very small single-seeded cones and a generally rigid branch appearance, some manzanitas, and a few other desert shrubs that I don’t identify. Mostly, though, the woodland consists of the two pines and J. flaccida, and there is a fair bit of regeneration of the two pines.
Based on this site, P. nelsonii appears to bear cones seldom, but to retain them. The cone-bearing trees here for the most part bear immature cones from last year, ripe-looking but seedless cones from the previous mast year, and grey battered-looking cones retained from previous mast years. I don’t know how often they mast. This stand occurs a couple hundred meters higher than the lowest of the piñons. Nearby is a long-needled pine, P. arizonica (see below). There are also evergreen oaks nearby, though not in this stand. These trees are growing on limestone, or more precisely, a recemented colluvial deposit comprised of limestone clasts cemented by caliche. The trees are growing on the banks of an arroyo, but far enough above the bed, about 20 m vertical, that they couldn’t be called riparian. The big, mature P. nelsonii are of about the same stature as their P. cembroides counterparts, which is about 8 m tall. The norm is about 4 m tall and there’s a good bit of regeneration as well, and a variety of stumps. There’s a very small village – a few houses, no stores – not more than 200 m from here, and I expect they come here for firewood, and maybe an occasional fencepost.
By the way, this rigid juniper is not the very glaucous thing I saw below. I’m pretty much persuaded now, that was a Cupressus. It had a classic pyramidal form and its foliage was not far off, more Cupressus than Juniperus.
There are some yuccas and aloes that grow here as well, and an occasional cactus.
When you’re trying to pick a tree like this out in the field, two characters really set it apart from the P. cembroides that grow with it. One is the foliage, which is a yellow-green that is highly distinct from the deep, rich green of the P. cembroides. Also the needles are slightly more congruent, and tend to foxtail a little bit, but that’s a lesser difference. The other prominent difference, which is visible on branches and stems up to at least 15 cm diameter, is that the stems of P. nelsonii are quite smooth, comparable to P. albicaulis of similar diameter; whereas P. cembroides has rough stems from the start, due to the decurrent pulvini, and become rougher over time. On stems larger than 15 cm diameter, the P. nelsonii starts to develop a fairly rough bark, and by the time the stems are 25 cm diameter, they are hard to distinguish.
Now I’m at WP255, about 2250 m. Something interesting has happened. Up until about 100 m ago, we were in the same forest – P. nelsonii, P. cembroides, etc. – and then we suddenly entered a big edaphic patch which I took a photo of, covering maybe 20-30 ha, that is a very white rock that I think is mostly gypsum or maybe some less common evaporite. It’s mostly barren, and what vegetation exists here consists of some yuccas, some manzanita, and a few trees of P. arizonica var. stormiae. Down below me, down in the arroyo, the stormiae blends in to the piñon forest, but in most of this patch the two are quite distinct. I take a bunch of pictures. It’s quite a distinctive tree. It has very stiff needles, up to about 20 cm long, usually slightly twisted. The bark is dark grey and rough but on trees bigger than about 30 cm diameter, the bark starts to look more ponderosa-like, flaky orange-yellow. The cones are very like normal ponderosa cones, at least superficially. It seems to have opened last year’s cones, that is, there is a crop of uncommonly small cones that look like they didn’t get to mature fully, and yet they’re opening. I wonder if that relates to the stresses it receives on this site.
After the edaphic interlude, the road winds back into a cembroides-flaccida forest with occasional evergreen oak, and the P. nelsonii is gone. As I continue to climb, occasional P. arizonica var. stormiae start to appear in the forest, and at WP256 or WP257 – the one before this one – I pass a couple of trees of P. montezumae. They’re right by the roadside though, and they’re the only ones I see, so it is possible that humans mediated their introduction. I’ve also seen a few trees off in the bush that look like P. teocote, but I haven’t seen any cones. This WP which is, what did I say, 258? I’ll make another one, what the hell, 259 now, is located at a major crossroads. The road to the right looks pretty marginal and I’ll let it pass because the road I’m already on is enough trouble on this big bike. First gear starts to lug at about 10 mph, 1500 rpm, and its tough to go as fast as 10 mph on a lot of this road. Anyway that spur seems to go towards the peak of Cerro Peña Nevada, which is well named because there appears to be a lot of snow up there. There also appear to be some larger trees, dark pointy trees that might be spruces or firs. As for the other forks, the best road goes left and the middle road goes straight into the north. I have a hunch the road to the left goes back toward the paved road that runs north from El Doctor, so I’ll explore the middle fork. Oh, and by the way this crossroads is in an area of farmers’ fields, so it has no forest, but it appears that I’m crossing into an area dominated by evergreen oak forest. Also the middle fork takes me toward the spot where Michael Frankis found Taxus, and I really want to see it. We looked for it in 2005 without luck, and I haven’t seen it this trip, and now I’m pretty close to its northern range limit so its probably now or never.
WP259. Since my last note I’ve been in oak forest almost continuously. There’s an occasional madrone, an occasional understory J. flaccida, and along the road, a few suspected P. teocote, a few P. cembroides, and maybe a P. arizonica. At this point, though, I have Abies. I’m pretty much at the lower limit of their distribution, and they are just young trees – the tallest is about 10 m, and it looks as if they never have borne cones, but I’ll get some pictures and maybe we can figure out the species sometime later.
Just 50 m up the road, too close to take another WP, I find a Pseudotsuga. Its about 12-13 m tall and 25 cm dbh. Doesn’t have any limbs that are near the ground, but it does have some fallen branches. The foliage, bark, and overall aspect of the tree is indistinguishable from Ps. menziesii var. glauca. The cones seem to be a bit on the small side, maybe 5-6 cm long, and they don’t have recurved bracts. It has been described as a different species, but based on what I see here, that does not seem to be well supported.
At WP261 I’m toodlin’ along on a real bumpy road and I look up and damned if I don’t see a piñon that I’ve never seen before. It doesn’t have any abaxial stomata, so this must be the elusive P. johannis. It’s growing with a darker green piñon – that’s the first thing I noticed, is that it’s a lighter green – that must be P. cembroides, and with quite a bit of J. flaccida, and with a manzanita and some really big aloes. All on limestone. Take some pictures.
I just came through an interesting village. No store, almost all buildings built of native adobe, one communal radiotelephone supplied by the government. Probably several hundred people, about a half mile across.
Next comes a very dodgy bit of road, including WP263 where I heard something go “ding!”. Walked back to see if anything had fallen off, but no evidence. I hope it wasn’t an important part. Now I’m at WP264, the road is starting to get slightly more civilized, but here I’m entering a Quercus forest with some sizable – well, 30 cm dbh, 13 m tall, emergent – P. teocote. Also a few P. cembroides. Hopefully we’re entering a more mesic realm, because I’m only a few km from where the Taxus is reported.
At WP265 I finally hit P. hartwegii. About time, I’m at 2865 m. It is growing with the giant aloes and an understory that includes madrone and evergreen oak. No other pines, but there was some P. teocote just a little ways back. There’s a fine little P. hartwegii grove at this WP, where a farmer has a field and the rocks are covered by an alluvial valley fill. Hopefully this bodes at least a temporary improvement in the road. It’s been very rough the last kilometer or so, the worst yet. I’m really hoping that this thing takes me out to a better road on the other side, although if it comes to it I can just spend the night up here, eat what little food I still have, find some water – I’ve crossed water half a dozen times today – and then there’s enough gas to make it back to Doctor Arroyo, if it comes to that. I’m getting the feeling, though, that this road is going to cross the range crest soon and descend the other side. It should be a bit more mesic on the other side, too.
WP269 is at the lower entrance to a little village called Ejido La Encantada, which is probably the biggest town since Doctor Arroyo. WP268 or 269J came before that, at an abandoned forest experiment station where I saw white pines, and also there’s a big P. ayacahuite cone in the streambed here beside me, so they must not be very far upstream. Also, the summit massif of Cerro Peña Blanca rises just a couple km to the south of me. The north face of it is steep and thickly forested with what from this distance looks like a large closed stand of fir. The road has improved since I hit the Ejido – really since the forest station – and is descending, so I have hope that it will lead back to pavement, which I wouldn’t mind at all. Anyway, it’s a warm, sunny afternoon and really this is a beautiful ride, you just have to watch out for the bumpy bits. Having a great time.
WP271 is a microwave station, and also a junction with a spur road that takes off to the right. I stay on what is developing into a fairly major dirt road. The forest just past the microwave station is closed canopy, consisting of a lot of P. teocote, P. ayacahuite, and a fair bit of scattered Abies. Most trees are 15-18 m tall. Madrone in the understory.
The loggers have been pretty busy up here. All of it is selective cutting, it appears to be good management, but there are little skidder roads everywhere. Hmm, here’s what looks like a Goodyera. I think I’m seeing a bimodal distribution in the white pine cones, P. strobiformis and P. ayacahuite, but I need to review the differences between their cones.
WP272, just beyond, marks Taxus globosa. It’s growing in a little dry gulch, very small drainage. Northern exposure. Neighboring trees include two species of Abies, Pseudotsuga, evergreen Quercus, Arbutus, P. ayacahuite, and P. teocote, all growing within 20 m of each other. The two Abies are quite distinct, one has typical blunt needles, the other has needles so sharp that at first I was sure it was a Picea. The Taxus is growing in full shade, so I probably won’t be able to get a decent photo of the tree but I have a nice shot of a seedling. There’s at least one fern, and quite a bit of LWD on the ground. Fairly thick duff layer, maybe 10 cm.
I am currently stopped at WP279, elevation 2173 m. The Taxus continued intermittently in the forest for a couple hundred meters down from where I camped, but I haven’t seen any for awhile. The forest is getting more xeric, so I expect we’re out of it, and out of the Abies as well. Now I’m in a forest that is predominantly evergreen oaks, 10-12 m tall, mixed with P. teocote. There’s also some madrone. The understory is very open, almost barren, but appears to include a small Berberis. There’s some J. deppeana [I think this was an error, meant to say flaccida] here and there. I’ve been seeing Cupressus sporadically, but I haven’t seen any lately, may be below it now. I also think I saw a few P. montezumae here and there. I haven’t seen any unfamiliar conifers.
The road is continuing to improve. I haven’t been out of first gear for more than a kilometer total since about 9:00 yesterday morning, when I turned off the paved road north of Doctor Arroyo. I think I’ll hit a major road in 10 km or so and head on towards Galena.
Still here. I forgot to add that I didn’t sleep too well last night, maybe I’ve just had too much sleep lately, but I woke up about 02:30 and slept pretty fitfully after that. Anyway about 04:30 the first logging truck went by and I’ve met five of them on the road so far. They’re the small logging truck, about a 4-ton flatbed with 8 foot long logs laid crosswise. It’s Monday morning. I haven’t seen any more of them for about a half hour, so maybe they’re all on the mountain now.
WP280, 1967 m. Here we’ve picked up P. oocarpa, which looks a lot the P. oocarpa I saw on Mex-16, and P. arizonica var. stormiae, which looks a lot like the stuff I saw yesterday growing on evaporites. Also P. teocote and lots of J. flaccida in the understory of an evergreen oak forest with most trees 6-7 m tall.
WP284, 1625 m. At WP283 I got back into P. cembroides. By the way the forest has mostly been trees about 10 m tall, the last place I talked was just a bit shorter, WP283 was 12-13 m. I’ve been seeing a juniper that I think is a bit different, it’s still droopy but it holds its branches in planar sprays. I didn’t stop, been paying attention to the road. At this WP, I just took a picture, the habitat has changed a bit. Includes P. ariz. stormiae, P. teocote and P. cembroides with and understory of palms, prickly pear and agave. Looks a bit exotic. All on limestone, of course.
I finally get back to the pavement at WP El Salto J in the little village of El Salto, about 22 km SE of Escondida. There’s a lively brook here, filled with calcium carbonate deposits – probably spring-fed. It’s pretty chilly here, colder than it was on the mountain. Must be cold air drainage. Riparian forest is oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
WP293, taking pictures. At WP292, about 7 km N of La Escondida, we entered a P. cembroides forest. It’s a fine forest for P. cembroides, nearly closed canopy, composed of trees about 10 m tall. At this point P. ariz. stormiae and P. montezumae are added to the forest, but they are no taller than the P. cembroides; there’s also a small amount of evergreen oak. Junipers are conspicuously absent.
Between WP296 and WP297, just S of the town of Ascención, the highway passes through a P-J woodland. Throughout this area the nearby mountainsides are covered in continuous P. cembroides forest; this area seems to be the sweet spot for P. cembroides. These mountains also have some other conifers at higher elevations; by color, I would guess P. montezumae. The juniper is a shrubby juniper; it never achieves tree stature. It grows both in the open, where I have pictures of it invading pasturelands, and as a short understory shrub in the closed-canopy P. cembroides forest. It’s the one I mentioned before, a single-seeded species with stiff foliage and cones only 3-5 mm diameter, a bit pulpy, sour to the taste, never more than 3 m tall. Maybe I can figure it out someday. Still limestone bedrock.
At WP299 I enter the P. cembroides forest again, at WP300 I leave it again. As before it’s a nearly pure stand, about 10 m tall, near canopy closure. At higher elevations within the stand I see a few P. montezumae and P. ariz. stormiae, along with two junipers, one stiff-leaved, the other flaccid. I didn’t stop to look for details. Did not see any oaks at all, but there were a few desert shrubs.
At WP302 we enter the P. cembroides forest again. As before, it’s a nearly pure stand, but this time it includes some oaks (both deciduous and evergreen). Initially there were very rare P. montezumae and P. ariz. stormiae, but around WP305 and for a km or so S from there, was an abundance of P. ariz. stormiae. As before, it shows a clear competitive dominance on the evaporite-derived soils but occasionally forms large trees within the P. cembroides stand. The latter half of the route since WP302, I’ve also been seeing a lot of the shrubby juniper.
At WP307 we finally exit the P. cembroides forest and enter an area of Joshua trees, or something very like. At WP308 is a photo of the Beemer next to a really big J-tree, about 2.5 or 3 m diameter.
WP312, the P. ariz. stormiae parkland, which was discontinuous for quite a ways, finally fades out near the town of Galeana. It may have actually been logged out. Just beyond, at WP313, there’s a row of planted pines along the road. They key out as P. leiophylla but are somewhat odd because they all have fascicles of 2 needles, and the unopened cones are 5-6 cm long, blunt. Open cones look like P. leiophylla and has no fascicle sheaths, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
WP321, 2065 m, on Cerro Potosí, is where I get back into the piñons. Here there is P. cembroides, and a bit of the rigid-leaf juniper, along with yuccas and desert shrubs. Generally speaking Cerro Potosí seems to be more xeric than Cerro Peña Nevada. WP320 was the junction in Dieciocho del Marzo where the road takes off; there’s also a sign there that says this way to the top of Cerro Potosí. There’s a communications station on the summit so I expect the road is maintained for access by 2WD pickups.
There’s P. ariz. stormiae here too, here at the lower forest limit. It’s already 13:45, so there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be camping out somewhere on this mountain.
Now I’m at WP322. It’s mostly a forest of P. ariz. stormiae, but right here there is P. nelsonii. Young trees, I don’t see any over 2 m tall. A couple of them are already bearing cones. Still a few P. cembroides, some big aloes, mostly desert shrubs.
It’s tough to look at the scenery along this road. It’s made of what I assume is the predecessor of Mexican corduroy, which is a pavement of placed rocks, sort of like what they use to pave village streets but instead of rounded cobbles in neat rows, here there is a mostly random jumble of sharp angular cobbles. In places, fines have filled the interstices to provide a reasonably level driving surface, but elsewhere water has eroded away all the fines and it’s just a road of highly angular big rocks. I hope my tires survive it.
WP324, 2344 m, gets me into the edge of the burned area shown in the last photo. There are some residuals here. The larger trees that were affected are Pseudotsuga. This has been called Ps. flauhaultii (sp?). Some photos here. Road continues much as before. Tires holding up heroically. Very warm day, bloody warm day. Of course I’ve got two undershirts on, but I took off my suit and my helmet and I’m just bouncing up the road. I figure things can’t go too far wrong at 10 kph, absolutely at the lower limit of first gear, 1200 rpm. Onward we go.
The next WP is in a peaceful little gulch. WP325. In this peaceful little gulch we have madrone, some broadleaf deciduous shrubs that still have their leaves, Pseudotsuga and the first appearance of Abies. Also a debris flow deposit that roughed up the road some when it came down. The Abies was judged by Mr. Frankis to be A. vejarii. It looks like the Abies I saw yesterday. The Abies is about 10 m tall and has no axils; the Pseudotsuga is similar size. The Abies is a good Abies, with two-ranked foliage and clearly marked annual growth increments. That’s all the news. Riding up the road is still a struggle and I stop now and then to rest.
WP328, just under 2600 m. The forest in the lower couple hundred meters, as I noted, had P. arizonica stormiae and P. cembroides right from the start, a little bit of the shrubby juniper, and then the P. cembroides dropped out after a couple hundred meters of elevation gain, and up around 2300 m we added Abies and Pseudotsuga. Above that point it changed to a Pseudotsuga woodland with intervening evergreen oaks. The Pseudotsuga are very emergent trees, with heights up to about 30 m. P. arizonica remains in the forest – I’m under one right now – but it gets scrawnier and stubbier and I think it will be gone soon. The Pseudotsuga woodland is very open, maybe 5-10% canopy closure. The evergreen oaks are pretty short – maybe 5-6 m canopy height, and there are various other shrubs or small trees mixed in as well, such as this madrone, which is of comparable stature. I have not seen any madrones this trip larger than 30 cm dbh, 10-20 cm is the norm, though in 2005 we saw one on Nevada de Colima that was about 130 cm dbh. Might have been a different species, though.
By the way, this is a park. It’s gated, and there’s a gatekeeper who charges the 10 peso fee and makes visitors sign the register. There seem to be few if any rules. A mile or two in is a little cabaña by the road, at a stream, that looks like a nice spot to camp. Otherwise there are plenty of campsites scattered here and there along the road.
There is the remains of a fairly extensive forest fire toward the northern part of the mountain. It was long enough ago that the snags are white, but fairly numerous. The biggest Pseudotsuga I’ve seen are about 80 cm dbh, growing in riparian areas where they are likely not old but fast growing, and I suspect the reason I don’t see larger ones is fire.
Slight correction: I am not sitting under a P. arizonica, but a P. teocote. I’m not sure when they came into the mix, but just down the road 20 m is a P. arizonica, so they’re still here as well. In the shady spots of the understory, and where the roadcut has made it shady, there are occasional Abies vejarii seedlings, but I haven’t seen Abies in the canopy for a while.
Addendum: This Abies seedling here has stiff, sharp needles, so that identifies what I saw the other day. But which species has blunt needles?
Just a bit farther, WP330, 2800 m, we are into the lower limits of P. hartwegii. P. ariz. stormiae is the dominant tree here, though. Actually I might have seen a little P. hartwegii lower down, too, but now it’s for sure.
WP332, 2935 m. We still have a little P. arizonica but it’s almost entirely a P. hartwegii stand. It looks a lot like the stands on Nevado de Toluca, Popocatepetl, etc., i.e., an open parklike stand of trees with live crown depths of 20-50%, all about the same size although there is P. hartwegii regen in the understory. The understory is depauperate, dominated by a sparse cover of low-growing evergreen shrubs. Cattle might play a role in that. Oaks are gone; I see one shrubby madrone about 5 m tall. There’s also an agave of diminutive stature.
WP333, 2966m. Now here is something that you will not see every day. P. culminicola growing right next to P. hartwegii, and A. vejarii less than 3 m away. They’re all saplings. I have to admit that since this P. culminicola seedling is right at the edge of the road and growing under a P. hartwegii overstory, it is possible that it grew from a seed carried down here by a vehicle. Still, it’s a strong contender for the lowest P. culminicola on the mountain, and it has a height of, well, lower than my knee. Call it 40 cm. I’m going to take a picture. There’s also a white pine growing 4-5 m away, another sapling, P. strobiformis.
A bit further, WP334 now, and I should mention that it’s not a monotonous P. hartwegii stand. It’s highly variable, mostly because it’s patchy. We have Pseudotsuga, Abies, and P. strobiformis. There’s quite a bit of open space too, legacy of past fires.
At a little before 17:00, I reach the summit of Cerro Potosí. I’m afraid I had to leave my trusty motorcycle 13 m below the summit; there was a sheet of ice across the road, and motorcycle tires don’t do well on snow, let alone ice. The summit has a microwave station and a giant golf ball. Don’t know who owns the golf ball but it looks sort of military. There are some other strange-looking antennas up here as well. P. culminicola and P. hartwegii grow on the absolute summit. The P. hartwegii is definitely krummholzy. I didn’t think it ever did that, but it does it here. The P. culminicola is thriving. There are mats 2 m tall and 10 m across, and it grows all over the place.
Wouldn’t you know it? Two weeks in Mexico and my first cloudy day is here. There are a few sunbreaks so I’ll get some decent evening photos, but overall, it’s a bit gloomy up here. It looks particularly grim off to the west, where the wind is coming from. Looks like a cold front coming in. I hope it isn’t going to snow on me tonight; it could be like Picacho del Diablo all over again, except that packing up in a hurry and heading down this road in the middle of the night would not be a simple affair.
Perry talks about Pinus flexilis itself – not var. reflexa – occurring right here on the summit. I’ve been looking for it intensively, and see no sign of it. There is some sort of flexilis – I’ve been seeing it for several hundred meters – but it is not plain vanilla flexilis. And right here in the summit region its just P. hartwegii and P. culminicola.
I can tell that at the right time of the year, there’s quite a remarkable alpine tundra community, full of amazing plants and lovely wildflowers. This isn’t that time though; everything but the conifers is brown or grey-green, and dried up.
On the descent, from at old burn at WP344 I snag a P. culminicola cookie. Not very big. I should have brought the razor saw; this little wooden saw is shot. Memo to self: throw it away. Anyway it’s a long way down this hill and it’s pretty tiring trying to muscle this bike around while wearing the Aerostich. It was a lot easier when I didn’t have the suit on; it really is kind of like wearing a suit of armor.
The sun is getting low. Except for this mountaintop, not much of the countryside still has sun on it. I took a waypoint 1.24 km from here and about 500 m down, and that’s where I aim to camp. That’ll be far enough for this day. Tomorrow, well, tomorrow is another day.
WP346 is taken at my arrival in camp, which is also WP339. I am bushed. I have never ridden such strenuous roads in my life. Wrestling this thing up and down this mountain is just an epic – it’s an epic motorcycling adventure. I think the sun is going down. There’s no light left on the landscape, but there’s still some on the clouds. I’m totally in the shade, of course. My camp faces east, so I’ll catch the rising sun if these clouds clear away. It’s currently about 50% cloudy. Hope we don’t get a blizzard. There’s white pine here, looks like P. flexilis var reflexa; there’s also P. hartwegii and P. culminicola, and A. vejarii. I’m at 3400 m, so this will be by far the highest campsite of the trip. I’d better start getting my camp ready.
I’m enjoying my dinner as I watch the lights twinkle on in the valley. I’ve been eating really badly out here. Last night in the mountains I didn’t have enough water. Then I found some water spraying out of a line running down the mountain – probably from a spring or diversion dam to somebody’s ranch – so that worked out, but for dinner I had a cup of hot chocolate, some nuts and some candied ginger. Tonight I have a cup of lemon tea and some crackers I bought in a grocery store today. For breakfast and lunch both days I had nothing. At least I might be losing some weight [but no, I didn’t].
There are big clouds massing overhead. I hope it doesn’t rain tonight. I haven’t set up the tent – in fact I haven’t set it up all trip – and it would be awkward to try to do it on this site. I’ll just put away things like delicate electronic devices before I go to sleep, and if it does rain, I’ll jump up and run around in my underwear and get everything organized.
It’s funny, all the things you think about lying here at night. Last night I was thinking about Taoism. It started with “when work is done and no one takes credit, the people say ‘we did it’.” That’s a philosophy for doing work. That got me thinking about how I got on to Taoism. It happened when I was a sophomore in high school. I went to a country day school, actually, which is a ritzy kind of high school for smart kids, and I was taking pretty much college-level courses at that point. That sophomore year I took a course in the history of China, Japan and Russia. For the China section our texts were Fairbank’s “The United States and China” for post-1949 history, and Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig’s “East Asian History” for the earlier stuff. For Japan we read Edwin Reischauer’s “Japan.” For Russia it was Grey’s “The First Fifty Years,” meaning 1917 to 1967. I was reading all this in 1972-3. Anyway our first trimester was on China, and we reviewed the major philosophies, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. That introduced me to the Tao Te Ching, and in fact I think my brother had a copy of it, the Gia Fu-Feng and Jane English translation, which I read and was very impressed with, declaring myself a Taoist.
Although Taoism was a theme in my college freshman philosophy class, I didn’t actually make a lot more headway on the subject until after graduating from college. Then in 1980-81 I spent a year at Western Washington University. There I took a course from Sandra Howlett on Taoism. To digress a moment, the big problem with Taoism in America is that it is beloved by the woo-woo crowd – California brown rice religious nutzos who adore philosophies that justify hedonism, self-interest, and sloppy thinking. Consequently Taoism was not, and still is not, dealt with seriously in any of the popular literature available in this country. However, Sandra was a scholar, and she had delved deep into the literature. The academic literature, although a bit stuffy, is an anodyne to the woo-woo attitude because you can’t betray anything like a woo-woo attitude and still get published in the academic literature. Sandra was getting this stuff from white-cover ivy league journals written by people with Ph.D.’s in Oriental languages and philosophies. Somewhere I have the bibliography from that course. One of the things I learned then, that has really endured in my philosophy, is the idea that Taoism is not originally a Chinese philosophy. The evidence for this appears mainly in Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching, which is the most revealing of all 81 chapters because it describes the attributes of a sheng-ren, a term that literally means “newborn person” in the “born again” sense, but is often translated as “sage.” Elsewhere, the Tao Te Ching describes how the sage is like a newborn child. Chapter 16 has an almost autobiographical flavor to it, but at the very least, it is a description of what the author aspired to, and believed a Taoist sage should be. The chapter uses words that are almost never used in Chinese. It does this because it describes images totally alien to the China of 2600 years ago, when the book was first written down. For instance, there is the description of a man walking on ice, and his sense of when the ice is about to break. Now, anyone who’s spent a winter in the bush in the far north knows that is a very important sense to have. In the northern forest, frozen lakes and streams are natural highways in the winter, but they have open leads and thin ice that may be hidden beneath snow. The sheng-ren has the ability to know when he is near such areas. However, nobody in China walked on frozen ice 2600 years ago. At that time China was a much smaller place than it is now; it was ruled by the Han dynasty, which controlled the area that we now call south China, its capital near modern Shanghai. Snow was almost unknown in the China of 2600 years ago; frozen rivers were an alien concept. Modern China is a much larger place, of course; places like Heilongjiang have very large rivers that freeze solid for months. But Heilongjiang has only been Chinese for about a hundred years. Before that it was part of Siberia. Now, the oldest known copy of the Tao Te Ching is from the Dunhuang manuscripts, 2200 years old, recovered from some Buddhist caves along the Silk Road in what is now Xinjiang. That area, though, has long been extreme desert; although it gets very cold, snow is almost unknown and a frozen river is again an alien concept. There are also various other cues, both in Chapter 16 and elsewhere, that Sandra assembled in her argument that the Tao Te Ching was originally a shamanic text, the origins of which lay far to the north of China, in the area now known as southeast Siberia – probably the Amur River basin. I wonder sometimes if Akira Kurosawa knew something of this, because his brilliant film “Dersu Uzala” is the best exploration of primal Siberian culture that has ever appeared in a feature film, and it beautifully demonstrates the Taoist virtues – in fact, Dersu himself is an embodiment of the sheng ren as characterized in Chapter 16.
Another attribute of Taoism that is very Chinese, but is also found in many primitive cultures, is the pu bu, generally translated as “uncarved block.” Now, most of the philosophical Taoists – the western scholars writing in Sandra’s journals – seem to think that “uncarved block” means a two-by-four. Clueless. 2600 years ago, two-by-fours were as common as televisions. They’re an artifact of western civilization. The philosophical Taoists also compare it to a block of marble, with a statue inside waiting to be revealed. Attractive notion, but nonsense. 2600 years ago an uncarved block was simply a piece of wood – and pieces of wood show their own nature. A weathered piece of wood is a particularly good example, because it shows the work of its past – storms, cold, and so on. It shows its own relationship to the world around it, and so is a fine example of the Tao. Trees unify climate and life in the structure of their wood.
I saw a lot of good uncarved blocks today. This mountaintop is a singularly beautiful place. It reminds me of Cave Peak in Nevada, where Bob and I spent a night amongst the bristlecones, warming ourselves by a campfire of bristlecone wood. The story written in the uncarved block has long been appreciated by primitive cultures all over the world, and modern people continue to appreciate that story, that needs no sculptor’s hand to reveal.
The truly Chinese analogue to the uncarved block is what they call “dragon bones.” If you’ve ever seen Chinese landscape painting, you know that it portrays fabulous (literally), fantastic (literally) landscapes with an extreme spareness of line – a minimal amount of ink. One thing that I learned by traveling through China is that those mountains are not that fantastic – in fact, they actually do look like that. Also, those mountains are almost completely cloaked in vegetation. The paintings, though, show relatively little vegetation apart from a few token pines, which are symbolic of longevity. Instead, the painters show the structure of the bedrock. The Chinese call that structure “dragon bones,” because in the yin-yang duality of Chinese myth, mountains are yang which is male, symbolized by the dragon. The dragon bones, which show the forces that have acted upon mountains across geologic history, are the geologic equivalent of the uncarved block.
I’ve been talking about this trip mostly from the point of view of a conifer biologist, but it’s also a motorcycle trip so I should give an update on the motorcycling. From Matehuala it was a straight run out to Doctor Arroyo on a pretty fast, good road although again right into the rising sun. Out of Doctor Arroyo I went 10 or 12 km north on the road to Galeana and then headed northeast toward Cerro Peña Nevada. That road was paved for 4 or 5 km and then I hit an area where they were doing chip seal and was detoured onto a dirt road. Then the chip seal ran out and I was just on the original dirt road, which will likely be paved in a couple of years. I took the turnoff northeast toward San Miguel Peña Nevada and then, for about the next 24 hours, I pretty much didn’t get out of first gear, but I had a hell of an adventure. The road climbed, endlessly twisting and turning, mostly rocky, sometimes a bit of gravel or sand, into the mountains. It started off at about 1400 m in San Miguel Peña Nevada and finally topped out, many many bumpy kilometers later, at over 3000 m on a road that four-wheelers couldn’t have traversed without a high-clearance vehicle. Most puffter gringos would want a 4WD but the average Mexican would use an old full-size pickup. I was really out there. I rarely saw another vehicle and when I did it was a local who looked at me as if I’d just gotten out of a flying saucer. Once I crossed the crest and started down toward Ejido Encantada, the road progressively improved and the traffic increased to maybe a vehicle per hour. On that high divide, though, I really felt as if I’d ridden to the end of the earth. To do a road like that on a heavily loaded R1100RS is a bit of an adventure in its own right. I rather doubt anybody else has ever taken an RS over that road.
Anyway, once I finally popped out on pavement this morning, it was a pleasant and fairly fast ride to Galeana. There were a lot of straight stretches but also some good sweepers, mostly 4th and 5th gear stuff, through scenery of mountains clad in piñon forests and valleys filled with pastures, with an occasional village. One thing I should mention, though – I was again reminded of this in Galeana – is that the most challenging part of motorcycling in Mexico has been simply to get out of town. The Mexicans, by and large, do not believe in road signs. For instance, there is one major road going east out of Matehuala. It goes to Doctor Arroyo and points beyond. It’s an important road, gets quite a bit of traffic. There is no sign marking this road. Where it leaves the highway in Matehuala it looks like an ordinary residential street, no different from twenty or thirty other such streets on the east side of the highway through Matehuala. Today, when I popped out onto pavement in El Salto, there was no sign anywhere. None saying this way east, this way west, whatever. There was one sign that pointed to Monterey; it led me to a dirt road and a dead end. So, I just rode systematically up and down streets through El Salto for a few minutes – it didn’t take long, El Salto is pretty small – until I found a street that was going more or less the right direction and didn’t end or turn to dirt at the edge of town, and that led me out. Then in Galeana I followed the sign to Cerro Potosí, and that led me about three miles out of town to a dead end. I rode back into town and Galeana is a much bigger town, but about 20 minutes of riding around (during which I discovered that they also don’t mark the one-way streets in Galeana) I finally lucked onto a road out of town toward the mountain (hint: it goes west from south of downtown). Again, no signs anywhere. Finally, a GPS is helpful in such a quest, but only slightly so, because there are no good GPS maps available for rural Mexico, except for certain very limited areas [note, a good GPS coverage for Baja was finally released while I was in Mexico].
Anyway, I have spent so many hours this trip just trying to get out of the fuckin’ town. Once out of town, sometimes there are good road signs, and sometimes there aren’t. San Blas was a good example. Major intersection on a major four-lane highway. No signs whatsoever, so I overshot it by 20 km, waiting for a sign or something pointing the way to this very significant town, San Blas. Eventually decided the maps couldn’t be that far off, so turned around and backtracked. Coming from the south, there was a prominent sign for San Blas. However, once you are out on the road, a GPS is pretty handy. You key in a town that’s in the right general direction, and although the road isn’t in the GPS (unless it’s a BIG highway, and even then it’s usually mislocated by at least a few kilometers), the GPS coupled with a sense of how the landscape is put together will generally keep you on the right road.
Once you’re on the road, the main things to watch out for are bad pavement and crazy drivers. The crazy drivers are not really more common than in the States, but sometimes crazy behavior appears in normal drivers because they are trying to evade the bad pavement. For instance, nobody likes to drive over a tope, so it’s not uncommon to see someone suddenly swerve off the road, through a driveway or parking lot usually, in order to evade a tope. Turn signals don’t mean anything – mean even less than they do here. It’s not unusual for someone to signal one direction and turn another, or to signal and not turn. The best you can say is that when someone turns on a signal, it’s a sign that something unpredictable may happen soon.
Pavement is the biggie. One common problem is to be flying along on great pavement and suddenly it turns into the road from hell – cracks, holes, gravel, edge traps due to wheel ruts. Often this happens in a sharp curve; they seem to be much better at maintaining straight stretches than curvy ones. Consequently you must at all times be ready to cut your speed in half or more, on one to three seconds’ notice. Other things that commonly crop up in the middle of a sharp curve include mud, sand and gravel – especially on inside curves where a stream may flow across the road due to a plugged culvert or the like – and stopped or very slow vehicles, or my personal favorite, a semi truck or bus driving down the middle of the road, leaving the motorcycle half a lane filled with potholes. The upshot is that you can’t really boogie in the twisties except on that rare curve where you can see all the way around the curve and can see the pavement surface all the way through. The exception is on cuotas. A late model cuota will have great pavement, really good engineering, and very little traffic.
However, the cuotas are expensive – about 1.5 to 2 pesos per kilometer, which works out to 25-30 cents a mile. If your budget can handle two hundred dollars a day in tolls, you can cross Mexico at a very rapid clip – 125-140 kph as opposed to 85-95 kph on typical free-road pavement with few curves, and no stops except at toll plazas. Personally I usually avoid the cuotas except where there’s no reasonable alternative; the entire trip so far I’ve spent under a hundred dollars in tolls.
Finally, a note on gas. Mexican gas, which is sold by the government monopoly Pemex, is very good. In the States I usually run “plus” but here the bike has been performing beautifully on regular. That’s partly because the nature of the riding is such that I don’t often call on the bike to provide rapid acceleration; when I do, I get a little detonation. Gas has been very easy to find; in fact in really empty country, there are more gas stations in Mexico than in the States. Good road maps (Guia Roja makes the best; buy them online or at major truck stops) show which towns have stations, and on those rare occasions where it is a very long way between stations, there are local entrepreneurs in the villages who will sell you Pemex gas for only 10-20% above the official rate. That official rate is another interesting thing – every Pemex station charges exactly the same amount for gas, whether you’re in a big city or in the middle of nowhere. When I was there it worked out to about $2.40/gallon, so it was actually cheaper than in the States. The only thing to watch out for, really (aside from the rare dishonest attendant – count your change), is that in remote areas the stations are sometimes out of gas. So, as in any remote area, it’s a good idea to fill up anytime you’re at a half tank or less, and to know where your next stop will be.
I just took a picture of stratified shale bits behind my camp. It looks as if the strata separate paleosols. The strata are unsorted or very weakly sorted, so probably colluvial. They are cemented by calcium carbonate, and pretty well indurated, enough that it’s hard to smash a rock made of the stuff unless you use another rock. The material is shale, fractured into pieces 1-2 cm across. Yet there is no shale on this mountain. These may represent frost shattering of a shale stratum that used to be on the mountaintop, 300 m above me. Such frost shattering would have been an active process in a substantially colder climate, so the different strata likely represent climate episodes – possibly glacial/interglacial cycles, or perhaps some other periodicity.
I also have some things to say about a Pseudotsuga tree growing above camp, that I just photographed. It looks to me like a typical Ps. menziesii var. glauca. The needles are about 1 cm long, which is definitely on the short side, but stomata are normally distributed, in two well-defined bands on the underside of the needle. It has a full crown, but one of the supposed characteristics of the southern species or variety is a more open crown. I think that’s interesting because this individual is growing near the upper range limit of this population. It is therefore growing in a rather cold climate comparable to what Ps. menziesii var. glauca experiences farther north.
As for the question of whether P. hartwegii and P. rudis are distinct taxa, I still agree with Farjon. P hartwegii is said by Perry to have reddish-brown bark with large scaly plates formed by narrow horizontal and vertical fissures. P. rudis is supposed to have grayish-brown bark with small thick geometrically shaped plates. Well, here I have two trees next to each other and one fits the description for P. hartwegii and the other for P. rudis. The one that keys as P. rudis is younger than the one that keys as P. hartwegii. I rather doubt that they differ in any respect other than age. What about foliage? Perry says that one has needles that are thick, stiff, 1.5 mm diameter; the other has needles that are thick, erect, 1-1.5 mm wide. I don’t see that those words don’t describe the same thing. One has needles 10-15 cm long; the other, 10-16 cm. I call those the same. One has foliage curved inward in small groups at the ends of the branches; for the other, he doesn’t describe the foliar units. I look around and these trees, like all P. hartwegii/rudis I have seen, mostly have foliar units in tufts at branch ends, but have foliage extending back along the branch on younger or more vigorous trees. As a matter of fact the same can be said of many species of Mexican pines. Perry says P. hartwegii needles are in fascicles of 3, often 4 and 5. P. rudis, in fascicles of 4 and 5. Almost all these trees are in fascicles of 5, which would tend to make it P. rudis, except for the reddish-brown bark in large scaly plates. Cones? They are supposed to be purple to almost black in one species, or dark purple in the other. Not much of a distinction there. In one species they are 10 cm long, in the other 10-15 cm. Never seen a pine with less than a centimeter of variance in cone length, so I presume the “10 cm” statement is vague, and thus there is again no difference in the descriptions. These cones seem to average about 12 cm. In one species, the apophyses are flat, in the other they are flat to slightly raised. Not much of a distinction there. In one the umbo is flat to depressed, in the other, flat to slightly raised. All of these cones, it’s as close to flat as makes no difference. Basically Perry is trying to distinguish species on the basis of minute differences that can distinguish one tree from another in this stand – can even sometimes distinguish different branches or cones on the same tree. If the differences he names are the only observable ones, then he has effectively shown that there is only a single species. I conclude that P. rudis does not exist; priority assigns the name P. hartwegii.
I’ve been looking at P. flexilis and P. strobiformis here. One of my first pictures early this morning was of a big tree right by camp here. I called it P. flexilis var. reflexa at the time, but now I think it’s P. strobiformis. The cone that I called P. flexilis in the photos has some P. strobiformis characters. Perry states his belief that there are backcrosses and hybrids between the white pines here (he sees three species, not knowing that P. ayacahuite var. brachyptera is the same species – based on the same herbarium specimen – as P. strobiformis). I haven’t seen any good P. flexilis cones anywhere on this mountain. Perry says he collected one on the summit, but I was on the summit yesterday and now there are no white pines up there at all. The cone I collected yesterday is a bit rumpled around the edges of the scales, and fits Farjon et al.’s description of P. flexilis var. reflexa. Now I find myself wondering about the distribution of reflexa, because it looks to me as if the trees here may actually have a hybrid origin between P. flexilis and P. strobiformis. Frankly this is not a question I am going to be able to answer in the field. It will require comparison of herbarium specimens, DNA studies, stuff like that. Still it’s an interesting problem.
At WP354, after much unsuccessful casting around in a hunt for the CAMCORE site, I finally locate P. greggii var. greggii. It’s growing above a stream, well above a stream, on a very dry south-facing canyon wall. About 30% mineral substrate exposure, the rest, mainly grasses. It’s the dominant tree on the hillside, with a total cover of maybe 15-20%. There are also a few trees of P. cembroides, at least one P. teocote, and a flaccid Juniperus, probably J. flaccida. There are also some yuccas and some unknown angiosperm trees growing in arroyos that run down the hillside. There are also cacti and desert shrubs. On the opposite, north-facing slope there’s a lot of Pseudotsuga, possibly with admixture of A. vejarii. Elevation about 2300 m.
P. greggii differs noticeably from var. australis in that it opens its cones. Only the cones that matured most recently are fully closed and apparently serotinous. Cones that are a year or more older, though, have fully opened and shed their seed. That could at least partly be a function of the site; this is a much more hot, dry, exposed site than where I encountered var. australis. On the other hand, it could be a real taxonomic distinction.
I checked that hillside and it is mostly Pseudotsuga. There are also a few P. greggii saplings and some more of the juniper.
That’s about it. It’s 12:30. I still haven’t seen P. pinceana; there’s a location between here and Saltillo where I could look for it. It’s quite a ways off the highway, and I don’t know how bad the road is. I’ll think about it when I get there, but it could be that this is the end of the pine explorations, and that now I start back to Seattle. Start to leave Mexico. Don’t know how I feel about that, but it don’t much matter. Here we are. Now its back to Galeana.
Here’s something interesting. In Dieciocho I pass a line of P. greggii, good sized trees. I stop to take a picture of them and this lady working in there comes over and asks me if I want to come in and look around. I don’t because of my language difficulties. Nonetheless, it’s a P. greggii nursery. They grow tubelings and use them for afforestation. Then, just down the road, I pass what appears to be a seed orchard. It has P. strobiformis, P. arizonica var. stormiae, and P. cembroides. Wish my Spanish was good enough to ask questions about it.
Between WP357 and WP358 I passed through a P. cembroides area with some P. arizonica var. stormiae and the shrubby juniper I talked about yesterday. Possibly also a new juniper with stiff foliage and subarboreal form, up to about 4 m tall. Otherwise it’s mostly been a desert landscape. That gave way to a plain of yuccas, and now I’m cruising across the valley floor towards Saltillo. Looks like it could be a long ride.
To round out the story, I hit the road in Galena, gassed up, and followed the road from Galena to the main highway headed north to Saltillo. I followed that for quite a ways, to a sign that said Saltillo cuota this way, Saltillo libre that way. I figured what he hell, it’s early, I’ll just take the libre. Well, there turned out to a problem with the Saltillo libre – it doesn’t go to Saltillo, and it’s not the road shown in my road atlas. Instead it’s a little yellow road that heads off into the west. When it finally connected with a recognizable highway, it was over 20 miles south of Saltillo, directly on the road to Torreon. So, at that point I decided to pass on Saltillo and head for Torreon. I headed out another yellow road that intersected the cuota for Torreon. When I got out there I discovered that it only intersected the cuota; it was not actually possible to get on the cuota. So, I then had to backtrack about 10 km for Saltillo and finally pick up the libre from Saltillo to Torreon, and follow that.
During that time the sun set, so when I hit Torreon it was dark. Torreon is a big city. In fact it’s a big ugly city. It reminds me of Modesto or Fresno. Heavy traffic, smelly air, bright lights, confusing interchanges (lots more confusing than in California, due to the signage problem). The only recognizable lodging I saw was a Holiday Inn at the airport that would have been a hundred dollars a night. Also my auxiliary lights aren’t working for some reason – I don’t know why, I haven’t used them in two weeks because this is my first day in Mexico that I’ve ridden after dark. The main headlight doesn’t seem as bright as usual, either. Stuff to fix. Anyway from Torreon I managed to find some signs pointing towards Chihuahua, that led me into Torreon’s sister city Gomez Palacio. There I finally found a motel.
It’s one of the sex motels. You’re supposed to drive into a little garage by the room and wait while an attendant scurries down from the front office, closes a curtain over the garage entrance, and lets you and your mistress into your room. No windows. There’s a big bed, a couch, a big TV with the Playboy channel on, and the room service menu consists mostly of hard drinks. You can also order a Domino’s pizza, which I did. It cost a lot and tasted like a bad grade of frozen pizza, but I was hungry. The room cost 320 pesos, which is a bit steep for Mexico, but I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper than the Holiday Inn. Anyway there’s a comfy bed, and I’ll get out of here at the crack of dawn and hopefully say goodbye to Torreon and Gomez Palacio forever. At this point the tree explorations are about done. There’s a big flat bit between here and Palm Springs that mostly consists of barren desert, and my next goal is to cover that ground as quickly as possible. Haven’t figured out how long that will take.
I just had an interesting dream. I was out in some kind of a wildlife preserve, a green spot in the middle of a vast desert, and there were some interesting birds out there. The authorities issued all sorts of precautions, oh be careful, do not disturb the birds, but we were out there doing some sort of ecological study. I was out there with Steve and Marie and Bonnie and I think some other people. We were going around placing data transponders that were little white things about the size of dimes that were going to give us all sorts of environmental information on the site. Then we had a bunch of grad students there that had metal detectors and we were going around sweeping the area and finding all these wires running in the ground through conduit, old wires put together with electrical tape. They were apparently some sort of instrumentation from past studies that had been done there.
Then the scene sort of magically shifted to some new house, a house I hadn’t been to before. It was Steve and Marie’s house. It was sort of unfinished in the sense of having large spaces that were just open to the outdoors, as if someone had taken a normal house and sliced off random bits of it with a razor blade. They didn’t have any furniture. It was not finished yet, and they were talking about getting some new furniture for it. I was thinking, “well gee, I have all this old furniture that’s in storage that I’ve never even used.” Talking about for instance a dining room set, and I was thinking about that stuff I had. There was a time there when I was making little models of the stuff I had, counting up the number of chairs and tables, things like that. Bookcases. And then there were these contractors that just sort of walked in and they were saying things like “Yes we could make you a dining room set like this, and it would be very expensive, labor rates today you know, and good wood costs a fortune, but it would be a beautiful set.” And I was thinking “well yes, for that matter I have the woodworking skills to make this sort of thing myself, but it would take forever. It would take years, because it’s a spare time project.” That was about where I woke up, but somewhere during the dream there was a sort of flash-over to my home in storage.
That home is in the basement of a house that is a lot like the house we lived in on Woodacres Drive in 1970-1978. That house had a rectangular basement divided lengthwise; one side was developed with a pool table and rec room – very Fifties – and the other side was undeveloped and had the shop. We never used the rec room much, so in the dreams its always sort of dusty and desolate, although it has a closet under the stairs that has yielded some good stuff on occasion. The undeveloped side, though, is where all the secrets are, and that’s where all the interesting things happen in my dreams. Many years ago that side used to hold my scary dreams. It was always dark on that side, and you had to walk quite a ways into the darkness to reach the light switch. Down at the end was an ell where the room bent, and that was the darkest place of all, and who knew what secrets it held. That was when I was young, anyway. Over the years, that side of the basement has gotten quite full. In fact it’s had to expand into hyperspace to hold all the stuff. One of the things that’s down there now is all this old furniture. It’s very nice old wooden furniture, and a lot of it is bookcases, dark and dusty and covered with rococo carvings that get more intricate the closer you look, as if they had a fractal dimension. Those cases are filled with extraordinary books. There are 17th century Latin tomes that contain all that was known about the world. There are big red leather folios from the 19th century that contain interesting engravings and chromolithographs and that cover knowledge in natural history, religion and philosophy. There are also great works of fiction and poetry, beautifully bound and illustrated. Some are familiar titles, but others are mysterious titles I’ve never heard of that sound incredibly interesting. I can’t give you examples because the titles aren’t words; they just sort of project that mysterious essence. They are the names that I do not know, the names of ignorance. There’s other stuff there too. Old ornate mirrors with tapestries hung over them; I don’t know what might happen if I looked into one.
The houses where these dreams happen have changed a lot over the years, and the landscapes have changed too. This house is like the Woodacres house, but there’s another house that generations of my family have lived in. In reality there is no such house; our real family has been on this island since before the Mayflower, but they’ve always been wanderers. That other house is sort of four-dimensional – it’s very loooong. One end is like the house where my mother lives today, a white American colonial but in the middle of a green lawn, and it feels very empty when you go inside it. It’s very tastefully decorated. But then as you go back to the other end of the house it becomes plainer. Farther back it has stone walls and an old-fashioned kitchen with a pump over the sink. Farther back it looks like a barn and has piles of straw with boxes piled here and there, and is dilapidated. At the very end – you can’t really see the end – it just sort of disappears into darkness. But before that house entered my dreams there was still another house, rather like our house on Briar Patch, and various interesting things happened in that house too. Maybe my child-self lived there. There’s an old entry in my journal from the early 1980s that talks about an earthquake, in that house; another talks of a time when all the paint was peeling. Strange transformations.
This is an interesting thing to reflect upon because Carl Jung says that dreams about a house are dreams about your psyche, about your metaphorical home. I think maybe this latest dream means that Steve and Marie are part of my metaphorical family. Not an unreasonable thing to think, but its interesting to see how they’ve been incorporated because I think that the stuff in the basement – the old furniture and books – symbolizes the knowledge that has come to me over the course of my life. It’s accumulated over time and is all stowed away down there on the dark side of the basement, which is my subconscious side. The stuff that I really know, as opposed to the stuff I superficially know. The furniture corresponds to the ways of thinking, and the books correspond to the things that are known. By ‘ways of thinking’ I mean the furniture of thought, the tools used to get the thinking done. Aristotelian deduction is a desk. Jung is a big comfortable chair, and Freud a narrow uncomfortable one. Mathematics is a workbench. Taxonomy is a file cabinet. Thoreau-Muir-Leopold style natural philosophy is the dining table; that is the source of sustenance. The other old house, the one that mom lives alone in, I think that’s the family house. It represents the knowledge and traditions that go back to my ancestors. Most of them haven’t played a major role in my life, which is why that house is mostly empty and muchly dilapidated. Also a lot of the strange dreams I’ve had take place in that house – dreams that are hard to understand and that lead to unsatisfactory endings. A lot of dreams also involve travel to or from that house, travels that may take a long time and go through some very strange places, because that house is not my house, it’s not even in the same city or state. It’s a long ways to travel, but its always very peaceful there, a preternatural English landscape of lawns and shade trees. Maybe I’ll go there to die.
I’ve had other interesting dreams this trip, and I was going to try to talk about them a little, but I’ve spaced them out for now.
It now appears almost inevitable that I will survive Mexico and return to the land of the Big Mac unscathed. The journey from Hidalgo del Parral (my last missive) took me south across a very open landscape to Durango, a city where many famous westerns have been filmed. I was soon to find that much of the state of Durango has dramatic, if austere, landscapes—mountains rising skyward in huge broken planes of yellow and red volcanic rock, only a few cacti and scraggly bushes clinging to the precipices, and atop—sometimes—extensive forests of towering pines. Leaving the old city at dawn the next morning I rode upward to El Salto, a classic logging town of sawmills and bars. The highway was cluttered with log trucks hauling pretty big timber, comparable to the usual Northwest second growth, and a rusty Heisler locomotive welcomes visitors at the town's entrance. The forests are managed well here—selective cutting, carefully done—though a total fire exclusion policy will lead to troubles if it works for more than a few decades, as it has in our country.
Late in the day I crossed the ridge crest and began what I think is probably the finest motorcycle road I have ever ridden. The road winds along the summit ridges of spectacular mountains, sheer cliffs to both sides, and as one crosses the range toward the Pacific the vegetation changes from dry pine forest to fir forest, pines and oaks cloaked in epiphytes, then weird tropical pines like P. lumholtzii whose long needles all hang lax and limp. The most spectacular section crosses the "Devil's Backbone" where the mountain drops away sheer to both sides of roadway for a thousand meters. The governments of Sinaloa and Durango are very proud even to have built this road—it would be seen as an engineering feat by anyone—and the fact that it so twisty (50 kph is a blistering speed) only makes it more fun. I spent the night on an abandoned logging road near the Devil's Backbone and the next dawn it took 3 hours to ride the 2000 m descent to the coastal plain near Mazatlan.
From there I went on south to San Blas, where I finally found a population of gringos. San Blas used to be known as a good place to get malaria, which means today that it's a good place for ecotourism—the coastal swamps there are home to an incredible diversity of birds, plants and fishes, along with certain exotica such as the crocodilas (which I think are actually caimans, not to be picky). I spent two days there, taking a little time to visit nearby Mexcaltitan, the legendary origin-place of the Aztecs. (You might take a moment to type Mexcaltitan into Google Images—worth a thousand words, you know). And, to be frank, it was also a good place to sip margaritas, eat ceviche, and savor the English language with a few gringos—all of whom were Canadian, by the way.
The day after San Blas I rode thru Puerto Vallarta, which frankly was my least favorite place in the entire country. It reminds me of Las Vegas, with tour ships instead of casinos. Dozens of American chain stores are there (and nowhere else), the streets are thronged with Americans (usually old ones with incipient skin cancers), the prices are in dollars. It took two hours to get through. About 20 km south, though, I had a wonderful few hours at the PV Jardin Botanical, a new institution but set in a wonderful dry tropical forest, the trees hung with lianas and filled with bromeliads, exotic colorful birds flitting through the forest, and a clear cool stream babbling through a rocky canyon. The garden itself is particularly strong on orchids and bromeliads. South of there I saw Pinus jaliscana, a discovery that likely will excite no one on this list but me, and celebrated with a cold cervesa in the cantina at the foot of the largest pine I found. Noodling on down the line, night finally caught me at the little seaside village of Tenacatita.
Now at Tenacatita I was on known ground. When I came here with Bob and Bonnie in 2005, we visited Tenacatita and snorkeled the reef there. So, I knew about a perfect little out-of-the-way camping area full of gringos on a little tombolo where you can see the sun set into the Pacific Ocean—and then see it rise out of the Pacific Ocean the next morning. After a dinner of ceviche and cervesa I did just that, and under the warm tropical sky, sleeping out on the beach, I also got to see the Southern Cross rise, a couple of hours before sunrise.
The next day was, in a word, halcyon. I took breakfast just down the line in Barra Navidad, where I shared huevos rancheros with a couple of Canadian bikers—from Vancouver—the first gringos on bikes that I met all trip. Later in the day, winding through a small city farther south, I met another Canadian—this one on a Kawasaki, bound for Chiapas—and he was the last gringo biker I met, though in fact I also saw him one more time, farther down the coast. Otherwise, the days was spent riding the winding, nearly empty coast highway, eventually spending the night at a tiny village in Michoacán, where I had another dinner of cervesa and ceviche, watched the sun set and the Souithern Cross rise, and slept on the empty beach with the sound of crashing surf.
The next day I bade farewell to the slothful coast and turned inland, riding fast toll roads and twisty mountain highways to the old mountain town of Patzcuaro. In the process I gained 2000 m elevation and made a shocking discovery—it was February! My ride from Mazatlan down the coast had been warm, even hot, the nights balmy—but the morning after, in Patzcuaro, I awoke to frost, and put on every stitch I had for what proved to be a very long day´s ride across central Mexico. At the end of it, though, I made it to the mountains of Guanajuato. Following another incredibly twisty montain road high into the mountains, I made it to the little village of San Joaquin, and here encountered the rare Pinus greggii var. australis. For those who care, this tree is first cousin to a group of pines that otherwise live only in California—the knobcone, Bishop and Monterrey pines. How and when P. greggii got to Guanajuato is a mystery of biogeography. Here I also saw the only ruin of the trip—a mountaintop city inhabited from A.D. 600 to 1200. The mountaintop in question straddles the Divide, and warm moist ar from the Gulf of Mexico rises on the east side to shroud the peaks in fog much of the time, while cold dry air from the central plateau keeps the western side of the mountains in desert. The ancient city sits on the borderline, and as I sat there, the cold mists swirled around me while the sun shown bight in a cloudless sky. The sun was lowering in that sky, though, so I beat a retreat down the long twisty road to spend the night as the only guest in a tiny trucker´s hotel, in a little village at the foot of the winding road.
The next day started with what might be the second best motorcycle road I've ever ridden. The first fifty kilometers was a winding decent into and climb out of a desert canyon. Weird columnar cacti and giant agaves cloaked the mountain slopes, and at long intervals the road passed through a tiny village where goat herders and irrigation farmers eked out a living. Then the road started to climb, first into the piñon-juniper woodlands and then into a full continuous pine forest. Here again I noticed something that also stuck me the day before, which is that while the desert valleys are almost empty, the forests are filled with people. The increased rainfall at higher elevations, coupled with the sustenance opportunities of timber and piñon nut harvest, make the high mountains a relatively benign and desirable environment, and so not only the ancients but also the poor people of today site their villages on the bounteous summits. At 3000 m elevation this road crossed to the east side, and though the day was clear and bright, the roads were wet from the night fog, and water still dripped from the trees. On this side the mountains were thickly forested, streams cascaded down the mountainsides, and springs burst forth here and there. At one spring, on a steep mountainside, I found an ancient gnarled baldcypress close to 10 feet in diameter. In the valley bottom, a clear river ran through prosperous villages, its banks lined also with baldcypress.
Climbing out of that valley, the road again turned inland, and within a span of 50 km I was in a desert again, surrounded by dry shrubs and tall cacti. The rest of the day I simply rode fast and hard into the north, bound for the tall mountains of Nuevo León. I made it as far as Matehuala, a nice enough town but I was dead beat, and only had a dinner (where 75 pesos got me a steak a foot across) and a shower before going to sleep in a hotel room.
The next day I rode fast, east into the rising sun, to the town of Doctor Arroyo near the southern tip of Nuevo León. A little ways out of town I found the turnoff for San Miguel de Peña Nevada, and shortly afterward left the pavement behind and began the long climb onto the Cerro Peña Nevada. This time, both the mountains and the desert were nearly empty of people. I started seeing the trees, though, as soon as I left the bajada and started onto the mountain proper. There was a remarkable array of conifers, including a number of rare and remarkable species I had never seen before, but I will save the details on that for another time. The road was not bad, at first. Then it was bad. It was a track blasted out of the limestone bedrock, with a few blasted chunks thrown back on to sort of level it out. The bike chuffed and backfired and now and then a smell of burning clutch scented the piney woods, but we still climbed upwards (I never got out of first gear for nearly two days) to finally crest the Sierra at nearly 3000 m.
I should emphasize that throughout this adventure I knew exactly where I was. After all, I had a GPS. However, I had nothng even vaguely resembling a map. The whole of the Sierra Peña Nevada is a blank space on the best map I have. So I noted the locations of any road junctions I passed (there weren't many), and I watched my back trail, and I watched the gas gauge slowly sink. It all worked out. After I passed the crest, the road improved a little (a very little) and I encountered some tire tracks. Then a tiny village. Then a microwave tower. By this time the sun was setting, so I headed down something that had once maybe been a road, found a spot with a wonderful view over the valley to the east, and made camp.
I woke up at 04:30. Its not that I wasn´t sleepy. It was a truck grumbling up the road. If there is one sound that will always remind me of Mexico, it is that of an unmuffled diesel. They are ubiquitous. In this case, it was in a logging truck, going to work at the same time logging truck drivers everywhere go to work, on a Monday morning. The next logging truck came by—moving about 5 kph on this very steep road, so it takes 10 minutes for one to pass—15 minutes later. And the next, in another 15 minutes. I put in my earplugs and listened to Beethoven until first light, and then I packed camp and hit the road.
It only took 3 hours to get back to a paved road. It was a very small one, but it led to a larger one, and pretty soon I was rolling down the highway again. In this case the highway led to a town called Galeana, in the shadow of Nuevo León's greatest peak, the Cerro Potosí. Potosí is a mammoth hulk of a mountain, rising from Galeana at 1500 m to a summit a over 3700 m, and standing alone and apart from every other mountain range. It is solid limestone, and it has a hell of an interesting flora, and on top grows one pine that grows nowhere else, and another that only grows in the far-off Rocky Mountains. So at 12:30 I started up Potosí, in first gear again, but this time on a paved road. Paved yes, and no doubt much labor went into it—for some very important antennas are on top of Potosí—but nonetheless paved with volleyball-sized blocks of roughly broken limestone. It was a hell of a bumpy ride, but it was gorgeous, with vast views reaching out at least 100 km, and lovely pine forests all the way. At 17:00 I finally bumped to a stop 13 m below the top, where a drift of snow blocked the road, and I walked on to the summit. Gnarled and stunted pines grew up there, and jays flitted about scavenging nuts from them. After awhile I started down again, but not too far, making camp at a fine spot at 3400 m, by far the highest campsite of the trip. I snuggled down ino my sleeping bag, started brewing cups of hot tea, and watched the sunset steal over the land until the ridge crest of Potosí was the only thing illuminated for as far as the eye could see. Then I slept.
It was, of course, a cold night and a frosty dawn. Fortunately the campsite was situated to catch the morning light. I spent a couple of hours up there, doing botany-ecology stuff, and then came the long bumpy ride down the hill. From Galeana I rode into the hills again, just for a couple of hours, until I found one last species on my list—the northern variety of Pinus greggii—and then it was done.
No more trees to see. No more mountains to cross. No more surf to lull me to sleep. Only a thousand miles of craggy Mexican blacktop between me and Douglas, Arizona—time to ride.
So I rode. I rode 400 km in what remained on the day, blasting across the vast empty plain between Saltillo and Torreon into the setting sun, reaching Torreon just as full dark fell. Damned Torreon. Torreon of the stinking chemical fctories, freeways, chain stores. Riding through nighttime rush hour frenzy on highways under construction, maps uselss, GPS useless, I finally spotted a MOTEL sign. It turnd out to be a sex motel, where each room has its own garage so people won't spot your car and know that you're in a sex motel with your mistress. Where TV carries the Playboy channel and room service carries nothing but hard drinks. I don´t care, it gets me off the dark crazy highway. Tomorrow I'll figure out where I am. I check in and sleep.
At 6:00 I'm awake and bored so I leave. It is still totally dark but there's no traffic so I wander around for half an hour and finally find the highway to Chihuahua. I ride and ride and ride, vast empty desert spaces on high speed highways. 800 km later I reach Nuevo Cascas Grandes, 200 km from the border, and I stop. Here I am. Time to go find dinner.
It’s about 06:00 local time. I don’t think I made an entry yesterday, so I’ll have to catch up. Yesterday was a very long day. I rode 800 km, from Gomez Palacio to Nuevo Casas Grandes. A lot of it was cuota, and the part that wasn’t cuota was still fast. On good Mexican blacktop I cruise at about 100-110 kph, and on good cuota I can cruise at 140 but 125 is more realistic for long spans of time. Either way I make a lot of stops, so on cuotas I probably average 80 and on normal highways 65. So, it took about 10 hours.
I can tell I’m getting close to America. Walk into a convenience store in Chihuahua and it’ll be full of American brand fast foods. Prices are pretty much American, too. This hotel, the Hotel California, is 325 pesos and though it’s hard to find a hotel this cheap in America, it’s also hard to find a hotel this beat-up in America. It’s comparable to places that cost 200 pesos farther south. This town also looks like a western town in the States. The architecture is Mexican cement, but streets are wide, and the town is centered on its central business district rather than a town square with a church. It’s a Mormon town too, and the streets have white men wearing starched overalls, something you don’t see every day.
I had a delicious dinner, a classic Mexican dinner with a chile relleno, a burrito and an enchilada, plus rice and beans, done proper North Chihuahua style. Cost 100 pesos including a beer.
This seedy hotel was noisy all night long but in the first part I slept like a log anyway. It was weird to wake up at 03:00 and hear clashing and banging, people running up and down outside. Not a peaceful place.
The scenery yesterday was very wide open. I took a couple pictures showing that. Basically from Saltillo to here it’s the Great Plains with a few mountain ranges thrown in. Very few curves. Now I’ve got a 230 km run to the border at Agua Prieta/Douglas. The last 100 km of that is just winding along Mex-2 practically within sight of the border. In Tucson I’ll get a speedometer cable at the BMW dealer and then I’ll run for Palm Springs. I think it’s another day of making a lot of miles, although I could take an extra day if something comes up.
Anyway, it’s 06:00 mountain time so it should start getting light soon. Yesterday the sun rose at 07:25, so I think the Mexicans should consider readjusting their time zone boundaries to the east. Anyway now I’m going to pack up and hit the road.
From WP461 to 463 I pass through a P-J and evergreen oak woodland while crossing the pass between Chihuahua and Sonora on Mex-2. The pass had a summit elevation of 1920 m. It’s also the first fully overcast day I’ve had in Mexico, and it’s pretty chilly, although it is starting to warm up. The mountains hereabouts have a fair bit of snow on their north slopes, and I think those north slopes also have some trees of greater stature than piñon.
That’s it. The sun just disappeared behind the mountain ridge.
I just took a bunch of cool pictures. I am out here 10 miles or so north of Gila Bend. I was scanning the roadside industriously for the last 30 miles or so because we’re in saguaro country still, and I haven’t camped out among the saguaros for many years. I thought it would be nice to find a totally isolated place out there with the saguaros and the desert stars for what might be my last night in the bush this trip. I’m a pretty good distance from Tucson and Phoenix, with a mountain range or two between me and them, so I should see some decent stars. By some old abandoned houses on the east side of the road, I spotted a dirt road winding off toward the Maricopa Mountains, and I followed it. That led me to another dirt road, which led me to a powerline corridor, and finally a turnoff led me here to near the base of the mountains, a place where spent cartridges litter the desert floor. I don’t reckon anyone’s been here since last weekend at least, and probably won’t be until next, so I’ve got the place to myself.
This campsite is backed up about a half mile from the foot of a couple of little mountains, comparable in stature to the Tucson Mountains, so while the sun was setting I hiked out nearly to the base of one of them, photographing saguaros and scenery along the way. Now the sun is behind the rock and I’m going to go set up camp before full darkness falls. I expect it’ll be another long night, hopefully not too chilly, though there is not a vestige of a cloud anywhere in the sky, nor has there been since around Benson.
It was a pretty good ride today. Immediately after I signed off my last entry, I walked out, loaded the bike, got all suited up, tried to back out of the parking spot and the bike wouldn’t move. Applying my keen mechanical skills to the problem, I soon discovered that the rear tire was flat, thanks to an embedded screw. So, I returned my riding suit and all the luggage to the hotel room, got out the tools, removed the rear wheel, and got a taxi to take me to a tire repair place. It took a little looking to find one open at such an early hour. The llanterador wanted to plug the hole but I forbade him – I could have done that myself, and it would have lasted about 50 miles. Of course, he spoke no English and I damned little Spanish, but through gesture, grimaces and such, I managed to persuade him to actually remove and patch the tire. Some more animated gesticulation was needed on that point in order to ensure that he did not damage the soft aluminum alloy of the rim in the course of doing so. He had an interesting bead breaker, which is a steel spoon on one end and has a long steel handle covered by a heavy steel pipe, which makes a sliding hammer. It worked really well. Then we used my tire irons, wrapped generously with duct tape, to lever the tire off the rim. He put on a proper patch, using a grinding tool and generous amount of cement, which I would have had a hard time doing on my own, which I why I had to find this guy in the first place. Anyway I’ve covered about 300 miles since then and the patch seems to be a good one. [however we forgot to balance it] Maybe I’ll make it home on this tire, which would be nice. It would be nice to actually wear out a rear tire for a change, instead of replacing it due to punctures.
After that it was time to leave town, and true to form, the Mexicans have put many signs leading in to Nuevo Casas Grandes, but none leading out. It’s a big place, and it took me about an hour to find the completely unmarked road leading north and west out of town that eventually they admit, on a sign about 5 km out of town, leads to the town of Janos. At Janos I got gassed and intercepted Mex-2, which took me west 150 km or so—ooh, blacktail jackrabbit—to Agua Prieta. There was not a curve in the road between Nuevo Casas Grandes and Janos, but the road from Janos to Agua Prieta is actually a pretty fun ride once you get to the hills. There are some fine twisty bits in there, both tight lines of linked curves and long bits with big sweepers. The ride up the pass was particularly fine, although cold, and the adjacent mountains had snow on their north sides, as did the Santa Rosas after I crossed the border. That means it’s been a pretty chilly winter, by Arizona standards. I saw some P-J forest on the way over, more juniper than piñon, but being in a hurry, and times being what they were, I didn’t stop to do a positive ID but I think it was P. cembroides and J. deppeana. There was a bit more P-J in the cañon on the other side, and then that was it for conifers.
In Agua Prieta, of course, there is no sign to the US border or to the highway leading north. At least, there’s no sign until you are north of downtown Agua Prieta, close enough to actually see the border crossing itself. So, that gave me an opportunity to wander around in Agua Prieta a bit. Nothing memorable. The border crossing was uneventful. A cheerful lady customs official asked a few perfunctory questions, said “welcome home” and waved me in. You know, it didn’t look like a different country, but right away I noticed that the roads were a lot smoother. I rode out through Bisbee to Benson. Bisbee has changed quite a bit in the twenty-odd years since I last saw it. It’s been yuppified, and mostly that seems to be a good thing. Gone is the dilapidated decaying decadent ex-mining town of broken windows and broken homes; now the hillsides are covered with art galleries, coffee houses and restored Victorian houses painted in pastel hues.
At Benson I picked up the 75 mph Arizona interstate with everybody driving 80-85. I don’t like riding that fast; I sort of get blown away. I can handle 75 for a sustained period, but at 85 the wind buffeting causes fatigue; I can ride farther between breaks at 75 than I can at 85, and end up maintaining a higher average speed. The Interstate led me to Tucson, which I hadn’t really seen since 1994. I was surprised at how little Tucson had grown in the past 13 years. I guess the Depression.com was not kind to Tucson. When I lived there in the mid-80s Tucson was growing like topsy – 10% to 15% annual growth, just like it had been ever since air conditioning was invented. It was growing, as Abbey said, like a cancer. But it seems now to not even be twice as big as it was 20 years ago. The downtown has hardly grown at all, but there are noticeably more cars on the road. Anyway I rode east through town 5 or 6 miles to get a new speedo cable at the BMW dealer, and picked up a new face shield while I was at it. Then I rode on up the interstate to Eloy, where I had an early dinner at a truck stop, where the food was forgettable but the maitre’d and I talked motorcycles for awhile. His dad used to have an R50 with a Steib sidecar, and he had a Harley and a Suzuki. Then west on I-8 to Gila Bend, and then up to here. Could have kept going, but I wanted to be with the saguaros and enjoy an Arizona sunset. Here I am.
I just talked to Mom on the phone and learned that my cousin Dave, who I met last summer for the first time and has been such a good friend to Mom the last few years because he lives in South Carolina, was killed Thursday in a car crash in Asheville, North Carolina. Mom’s pretty shaken up. It’s a shock to me as well. He’s being buried today.
[Filling in the gaps: After my night in the saguaros, I hit the road at about sunrise and rode north the rest of the way to I-10, which I then followed west to Palm Springs, getting to Bonnie’s parents’ house there a bit before noon. I spent the rest of the day washing me, my stuff and the bike, and began the bike tune-up. One thing I promptly discovered was that not only the speedo cable, but also the speedo drive unit in the front hub was wasted, and there’s no BMW dealer in Palm Springs so the speedo continued broken. That evening, about 22:00, Bonnie flew in to Palm Springs and I picked her up. The next day we drove around town getting stuff to fix the bike—oil for an oil change, and wire and connectors to fix a broken taillight wire—and I finished the tune-up. We also spent a lot of time just socializing with her folks. The next day we went for a ride, out of town to Banning and then up Mt. San Jacinto to Idyllwild. The ride to Banning was the windiest I have ever been on; I rode through some bits that I think sandblasted the bike a bit, as if it needed any more insults piled on the remains of its sleek new BMW glossiness. The ride up the hill from Banning was delightful, a long sequence of fast curves, but as we rode it got colder and colder and by the time we reached Idyllwild we were borderline hypothermic. We found a coffee shop with a wood stove and drank a lot of hot chocolate. Then we rode down through Palm Desert, and that was another magnificent road with great curves—tight, clean, beautifully engineered curves. Nice ride. The following day we left Palm Springs and rode back up the mountain from Palm Desert, but this time turned south and wound our way through the mountains to El Cajon, where we found old pal Mollie, and then spent two nights with her. The bike stayed parked during that time, but we went to museums in Balboa Park, went out and had a couple of really good dinners, made some great margaritas, lounged in Mollie’s hot tub, and generally had a very good time. Also visited the BMW dealer and finally restored the speedometer to life. The last day we spent some time with Bonnie’s brother Bob and his family, and spent the last night in town with them.]
Camp for tonight is going to be WP561, which is on the crest of the Santa Lucia mountains five or six miles south of Cone Peak. There’s a fair bit of snow up here, across the road in places, and the road is wet and muddy with big puddles, so I don’t think I’ll be riding in to Cone Peak and I’ll have to forego bristlecone firs this trip. Also it’s getting dark.
Right where I stopped here, on this little saddle, is a sign that says Redwood Springs. It turns out to be a trailhead for a trail that doesn’t appear to have been maintained for a long time. I thrashed down it for a few hundred meters, and lo and behold, there are springs that come out of the mountainside here. The understory is mostly tanoak and other ericaceous and oaky shrubs, and above rises a small grove of Sequoia. This is just about the southernmost range limit for the species, and they’re growing at about 800 m elevation. They’re pretty nice trees. Every tree over about a meter in diameter has char from past fires—they’re down in the bottom of a ravine, in soils kept saturated by springs, and obviously this is a relatively fireproof site in a landscape that otherwise has burned often. Some of the past fires must have destroyed the grove, because the biggest tree here is about 2.5 m dbh, small for a Sequoia. It’s a little grove, between an acre and a hectare, and has some good-looking trees up to maybe 200 feet tall. It’s also got that big bipinnate fern, Woodwardia, that’s relatively rare in Washington. Fronds up to almost 2 m long. Pretty cool. I haven’t seen this fern before, only pictures of it.
There are standing oak snags on the hillsides. I’d guess the most recent burn was within 25 years or so. Also there’s a nice little campsite down here by the spring.
We got up at about 06:00 this morning. Bonnie and I spent the night at her brother Bob’s house. He made us some breakfast and I borrowed their car and drove her to the airport. Then I came back, packed up, said goodbye to Bob and Anne, and hit the road. Came through LA at about 09:30 to 10:30. Did some lanesplitting in the thick bits, but mostly it wasn’t that harrowing an experience. Not as bad as I’d anticipated, anyway. Then, just before I-5 starts up the Grapevine I turned west on CA-126 past lunch at a good fruit stand, to the little town of Ojai. Nice place, attractive and unhurried. Through Ojai to another small town called I think Santa Isabella that had a train museum and a bronze statue of motorcycles; I would have stopped to poke around but I’m running against the clock now. From there I headed up CA-33, a splendid empty twisty mountain road. That road crosses the transverse range. On the southern flank, above 1000 m, there’s quite a lot of Pseudotsuga macrocarpa right along the road. Past the summit, on the northern flank, there are extensive woodlands of P. monophylla, some of the best I’ve seen although there were no extraordinarily large trees. To some degree the Pseudotsuga grows with the P. monophylla and vice-versa, but both also form nearly pure stands. I also saw a few P. coulteri, here and there.
Up here, Sequoia is the primary conifer so far. There’s also some P. ponderosa and P. coulteri and maybe one or two other pines.
Anyway, from CA-33 I swooped back down to meet US-101 about 20 miles south of San Luis Obispo, and followed that north to where County Road G18 takes off about 20 miles north of Paso Robles. That takes me into Fort Hunter Liggett. I came here once with Carla, so I knew it was a beautiful road, and somewhere along there I discovered what was at the time the largest known P. sabiniana. I couldn’t relocate it this trip, but frankly, the day was getting short and I was in a bit of a hurry. [Note, I did mark it on the Delorme atlas when I discovered the tree. Checking that against Google Earth now tells me the tree is located at 35.984104° N, 121.240747° W, just a couple hundred yards from where I took WP554. There’s a big tree there, clearly visible on Google Earth.] There are also a lot of really well developed oak woodlands on Hunter-Liggett, with extensive areas of trees over a meter dbh. Then the road pops out into Los Padres National Forest. It becomes a really remote, twisty road through here as it starts to climb and cross the coast range. It passes a couple of campgrounds and a few other nice camping spots. As I climbed I started getting snow on both sides of the road and even snow out on the road, which was a bit of a surprise because the elevation is only 700 m and the Pacific only a few miles away. Anyway, at the crest I turned north on the Cone Peak dirt road, hoping to get to the peak, but since in under a mile I was stopped by snow, I decided to make this tonight’s camp. I hope the road down the other side isn’t icy, and I can get down in one piece early tomorrow morning.
[To catch up again: The next morning it was not icy on the way down the mountain, even though I was off to a predawn start. It was a fabulous road and it was completely empty. There were great views of redwood groves along the way, and of the Pacific Ocean. The road finally dumped me out on CA-1 on a deserted stretch of coast and I headed north, enjoying one of the best motorcycle roads anywhere, still without having seen a single other vehicle. After an hour and a half of traveling, near Esalen I finally saw a car on the road, and by the time I rolled into Carmel I had seen a dozen. In Carmel I found the most expensive gas on the trip, $4 a gallon. I continued from there to Santa Cruz and over the hill to San Jose, where I had an 11:00 meeting at the local Jones & Stokes office. I got out of there about 13:00 and rode like blazes the rest of the day up I-580 and US-101 to reach Trinidad in a cold steady rain, the first and last rain of my entire journey, about an hour after dark.]
[Climbed the Bull Creek Giant with Steve, Marie, Richard and his daughter Laura, and we talked about its age. See below.]
BCG age inference as function of data. Datum: grows on an extremely well watered floodplain. No major topographic disturbance since before the tree initiated, except for sediment deposition by floods, and the appearance of root throw mounds. The tree grows on a site which has experienced a dynamic disturbance history. Evidence for this includes sediment strata from past floods, and burned-out snags and other evidence of past fire on the site. The tree grows in an all-sized and presumably all-aged stand that includes regen, understory trees, codominant and dominant trees. The tree itself has a conspicuous absence of reiterations, suggesting a genetic limit on its ability to generate reiterations, in view of the fact that it has lived in a changing light environment and has lost its top on occasion. However, it has many major branches that show evidence of repeated episodes of epicormic regeneration. Most (all?) of the major epicormic branches are associated with trunk swellings that include the stubs from at least four prior episodes of epicormic regeneration; five episodes low on the trunk. The tree has lost its top repeatedly, as is typical of old redwoods, and in places within the lower canopy you can see the remains of straight, perpendicular branches, up to several decimeters in diameter, without associated epicormics. These I suspect were primary branches.
The main points of inference necessary in determining tree age from this evidence include how long it took the tree to grow to status as a canopy dominant, how long it held its primary branches before changing over to an epicormic architecture, and the time constant for epicormic branch regeneration. Based on data that Steve and Bob have assembled in other studies, it is my sense—but I should check this with Steve—that a tree will rarely be reliant on epicormics in less than 500 years, but that by the time it gets to 1000 years, primary branches are a minor canopy structural element. This suggests that it will take the tree 500-1000 years to achieve a dominantly epicormic crown. Subsequent generations—the time to go from one set of epicormics to their replacements—is to my knowledge not yet known. I can think of a way to determine that, a number which would be of interest. That would be by getting C14 dates on pith samples from primary branch stubs and from the stubs of prior epicormic generations. That would give us information about the pace at which crown evolution proceeded in this tree, which would be ecologically revealing information. Note that 500 years for the first epicormic generation to appear, and 300 years for each of 4 subsequent generations, gives us a minimum age of 1700 years for the tree.
In other news, the day before yesterday I got to Steve and Marie’s house in the evening. I had an epic ride from San Jose to get here. It was cold and wet the last bit of the ride, and I arrived to find Cameron and his sweetie, who had come over for dinner, along with Richard Preston and his 16-year-old daughter Laura, who are here visiting Steve and Marie. Richard has recently finished a book about Steve and Marie, “The Wild Trees,” due for release in April. He’s climbed with them for several years in the course of working on this book. He’s a very interesting fellow, and we stayed up until near midnight last night, well after everyone else went to bed, talking about a huge array of miscellaneous topics—scientific analysis, his work with supercomputer geeks analyzing the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters in New York City, a lot of stuff about tree biology, paleoclimatology, global climatology, and also he’s a font of interesting stories. So I had a great day yesterday—talked about interesting things all day long, and we climbed the Bull Creek Giant. And it was a gorgeous day. Steve said it had been raining here for the last 2.5 weeks, every day, and yesterday it was virtually cloudless all day long. Warm, sunny, no wind—perfect day to climb a tree. Now it's Sunday and Steve and Marie are going to go out and do a little more tree climbing today, but I think that after breakfast I will hit the road and head towards Seattle. I’ll probably go in this evening to Joel and Terry’s place in Eugene, and finish up Monday morning.
[And that's what happened. Rolled in to the office noon Monday and back to business.]
Last Modified 2017-11-08