The Cactus Patch
Volume 3       February 2000      Number 2

Travels with Rob
by Rob Skillin

November is a great time to visit Mexico and catch the Ariocarpus in bloom. This last year I traveled there on a plant photography expedition with Mike Navolio and two other friends, Larry Nicholes and Jim Boehmke. We met in Laredo Texas, where we crossed into Mexico, and headed towards the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Chihuahua Desert. We traveled in two cars; always good insurance against possible breakdowns and flat tires. We brought along all our food, camping gear, and detailed maps marked with locations of cacti that had been gleaned from friends and back issues of the Cactus and Succulent Journal.

The most frustrating part of any trip to Mexico is getting through the confusion and lines of the Mexican customs bureaucracy, changing money, and taking care of last minute details like getting ice and car insurance. But by midmorning we were speeding south towards Monterey on one of the fast, new (and expensive!), toll roads that are making travel there so much easier than just a few years ago. In much less time than I could have believed, we were past Monterey, past Saltillo, and climbing the grade to the high plateau of central Mexico. It was there that we left the highways, and took small, often unpaved roads into the remotest parts of rural Mexico.

Wherever you look in Mexico there are interesting succulents and cacti. Every stop is different and exciting, but for me, the real thrill of the trip was finding both Ariocarpus bravoanus v. bravoanus, and v. hintoni. These two plants are so new that they are virtually unknown in the US. But just as good was Turbinicarpus alonsoi, which took us into entirely new terrain for me - misty pine mountains, and deep, deep gorges, where we also saw Mammillaria schiedeana and Bombax ellipticum. We found several other interesting Turbinicarpus sites, many Ariocarpus retusus locations, and an A. agavoides hill that was new to me (we were helped with that one by a shepherd - it helps to have a Spanish speaker along). The agavoides were flowering, as were the A. scapharostrus. And we scouted out an amazing location for A. trigonus containing hundreds of plants. We never did find the limits of that population. We also saw Obregonia, many different Mamms, Feros, Corys, Thelos, Gymnos, Astros, and a Neolloydia. Thinking back on it, its hard to believe that we could see all that in just over a week. Oops, forgot to mention Calabanus! Not to mention Aztekium ritteri, and various burseras, cycads, yuccas, and agaves. Mexico is just that way - incredible.

We saw some of the destruction caused by illegal collecting. (ALL cacti collecting in Mexico is illegal.) On an isolated hilltop, after a long climb, we were only able to find a few plants of Turbinicarpus panarotoi. But evidence of collecting abounded, and it was plain to see how the greed of commercial collectors had nearly stripped this hill of its recently discovered new species.

Populations of other plants seemed to be having better luck. I had been concerned especially about the Ariocarpus bravoanus v. bravoanus, which I had heard had come under heavy collecting pressure. But the colony we found seemed intact, as did that of v. hintonii. There also seemed to be a shift in the attitudes of some of the Mexicans we met. Whereas at times in the past I had been met by villagers attempting to sell me plants from gunny sacks they had filled, at several locations on this trip the locals were protective of the plants, and suspicious of our intentions. This is a good development.

The trip was wonderful. The weather was good, we had no hassles with the authorities, and we were so successful in finding the plants. It was a first for Mike, but I'm sure, not the last. And already, I'm starting to put together a mental list of plants and destinations for next time.

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