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Mex-16 gets seriously twisty east of Km 130.

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Hidalgo del Parral from the roof of the Hotel Acosta.

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Sharp-lookin' ride by the basilica in Durango.

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Cliffs near the Devil's Backbone on the Durango-Mazatlan highway.

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The highway at the Devil's Backbone.

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Mountains along the Durango-Mazatlan highway.

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Courtyard at the Hotel Hacienda Flamingos in San Blas.

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Cow on the road to Mexcaltitan. Pretty much the whole country is open range.

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Juice stand near San Blas.

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On the beach in Michoacán, pretty much at the southernmost point of the trip. This photo was taken by a Canadian on a KLR 650.

 

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Mexico Trip: Voice Memo Transcriptions

Part 2: Hermosillo to the Michoacán coast

2007.02.06 17:36

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.

2007.02.06 17:43

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.

2007.02.06 17:53

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.

2007.02.07 07:58

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.

2007.02.07 08:40

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.

2007.02.07 09:57

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.

2007.02.07 10:20

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.

2007.02.07 12:09

About km 241 I turn a corner, about 13 miles from Yecora, and suddenly I'm in a forest of pines.

2007.02.07 12:10

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.

2007.02.07 12:35

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.

2007.02.07 12:49

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.

2007.02.07 13:11

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.

2007.02.07 13:30

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.

2007.02.07 15:25

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.

2007.02.07 15:43

I'm going to take a picture of this Juniperus.

2007.02.07 18:00

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.

2007.02.07 18:52

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.

2007.02.08 05:57 (PST or MST unkn)

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.

2007.02.08 06:20

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.

2007.02.08 07:08

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.

2007.02.08 07:33

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.

2007.02.08 08:18

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.

2007.02.08 10:04

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.

2007.02.08 11:29

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.

2007.02.08, an email sent from Hidalgo del Parral:

Hi all.

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!

2007.02.09 12:54

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.

2007.02.09 19:40

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.

2007.02.10 08:04

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.

2007.02.10 08:36

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.

2007.02.10 08:56

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.

2007.02.10 09:10

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.

2007.02.10 09:28

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.

2007.02.10 09:50

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.

2007.02.10 12:57

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.)

2007.02.10 14:05

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.

2007.02.10 15:57

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.

2007.02.10 16:21

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.

2007.02.10 17:15

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.

2007.02.11 07:28

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.

2007.02.11 08:10

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.

2007.02.11 08:37

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.

2007.02.11 10:03

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.]

2007.02.12 07:40

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.”

2007.02.12 08:49

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.

2007.02.12 10:32

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.

2007.02.12 14:09

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.

2007.02.13 14:15

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.

2007.02.13 14:52

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.

2007.02.13 17:48

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.

2007.02.13 19:13

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.

2007.02.14 14:58

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.

2007.02.15 09:11

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.

Continue to Part 3