Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back, Out of the Country

On a Thursday in October last year I left school at 2:15 for a long weekend and drove directly to Bahia de Kino, about 9 hours from the school parking lot to the cliff overlooking Playa del Burro Muerto. Not the beach's real name. The Poetess and I had been there the previous Christmas and had camped at the base of a steep cliff only to discover the corpse of a burro on the sand, a long plastic yellow rope around its neck, about 50 yards from the tent. The wind, thankfully, was blowing away from where we were.

The drive down was strange. A voice entered my mind somewhere between Phoenix and Tucson, "You know, she's not going to be there." It was startling. I hadn't imagined I was going to visit her, really, but actually had told the story in my head that I was going down to Mexico to get myself back, to recover something of myself that felt like it had been lost. "No matter where you go, she won't be there," the voice said again. It was speaking to several of my younger selves, all of whom had naively figured that she would indeed be there, the magical thinking mind that imagines, "This is the way this place was at some time in the past, so it has to be that way again if I go back. Of course it will be. She's just been waiting down there all this time, and so have you, your younger self has been down there too, just waiting for you to come back and visit." Anyway, it was a moment of plummeting. I almost turned the car around. Pressed on to Nogales, AZ, got car insurance just before the place closed, and on across the border, into Nogales, SON, and instantly overwhelmed by the essential Mexican immediacy. The smell of burning wood, burning oil, roasting meat and roasted chiles. The noise, the lights. It was after dark and rain was falling. Panhandlers lined the street leading directly from the border crossing. Suddenly, all the colors, all the signs in Spanish.

It is instant, across this border. The American side presents some clues. But as soon as you cross over, you are back, finally, out of the country. It doesn't matter if you are heartbroken or elated. It's all worth it.

The Santa Ritas from the car window, along 19 toward Nogales:

Sunset and a carnival in Nogales AZ, just before the border, starting to feel like the end of the world:

No more photos until morning. But the drive down through Caborca and Hermosillo and over to Bahia de Kino in the dark was surreal, as everything always is, even in the daytime, in Mexico. In particular, huge, wind-lashing thunderstorms, sheets of rain, and the highways covered with swarms of frogs.

Some pictures from Kino:

Snake Hot Dogs!

On street boat parking:

The view at sunrise from the cliff where I camped:

I was restless and sad. I decided not to stay another night, but to drive to Caborca and check it out. I had always been curious about it. I also wanted to visit the habitat around Kino as well as a special habitat around Tastiota, where the very rare Grusonia reflexispina grows. So I left Kino fairly early in the morning and headed out into the desert and then up toward Caborca.

These very nice Echinocereus (fasciculatus?) outside Kino, where I was hunting around (to no avail) for Grusonia marenae, an oddball little Opuntioid and a close relative of Grusonia reflexispina. There was also an impressive grove of Pachycereus pringlei, a.k.a. Cardon, and one of the great things about this area of Sonora is that Saguaro and Cardon grow together (as well as Organ Pipe and Senita).

Long winding root of a Cardon.

Very mysterious, this little grove and cluster.

Grusonia reflexispina, near Tastiota:


Soft and slow sunset on the road up to Caborca:

Caborca ended up being strange. I got lost, driving around the relatively small town. None of the hotels or motels looked good in the dark. Mexico really, in general, does not look very inviting in the dark, to American eyes. It is much darker, as there are fewer street lights. Buildings and streets all seem much more crowded and cramped. Everything can take on a vaguely ominous tone. I finally found my way back to the highway and decided to drive all the way up to Sonoyta, on the Arizona border.

Some Sonoyta images:

The gated wrought iron entrance to Motel Excelsior, typical grand Mexican style.

These musicians were fascinated by the karaoke machine on the boulevard.

The next morning, I was up early and decided to drive through El Pinacate Biosphere reserve, west of Sonoyta along Mexico 2, toward San Luis Rio Colorado, south of Yuma. I was in search of the somewhat anomalous Sonoran Desert population of Echinocactus polycephalus, much more widespread in the Mojave to the north. El Pinacate ended up being starkly beautiful and amazing. Mexico 2 was a little bit sketchy, as it is all border road, for miles and miles. Sometimes lined with the hideous border wall we have built. But the volcanic desert and the cactus sights were incredible.

Echinocactus polycephalus not too far west of Sonoyta, probably due south of Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge:

Wildly spiny form of Echinocereus engelmannii:

Descanso en paz:

The Echinocactus polycephalus farther east, near Los Vidrios, form large clumps of very small individual stems. These have been given the name "minimus," apparently:

Scorpion Peak. Probably very aptly named.

Enormous sand dunes. The only active erg in North America.

Dessicated Opuntia basilaris:

Another Grusonia, this one kunzei, big fierce stems:

Farther west, nearer to San Luis Rio Colorado, Echinocactus polycephalus looks more like its Mojave counterparts.

I drove on, south of San Luis Colorado on the new toll road along the Sonoran coast of the Sea of Cortez. I was considering stopping overnight in El Golfo de Santa Clara, but kept driving. Between there and a tiny fishing village named El Desemboque, incredible dune systems along the sea.

The beach at El Desemboque, like a tiny replica of the huge dunes I had just driven through:

I arrived just in time for a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset. El Desemboque a very impoverished little fishing village, specializing in oysters and abalone. The dump just outside of town piled high with shells and smelling intensely of death and rot. The beach here was swarmed with ATV's, as some sort of club from somewhere else in Mexico had paid a visit. But the sunset and the peace of the Sea of Cortez provided the usual astonishing contrast.

In a tiny restaurant that was really just someone's kitchen. The next photo of the counter, where a small mouse peeked out from time to time from behind the figurines as I ate my shrimp dinner.

"Hotel" and Restaurant Playa Dorado, the only lodging in town. $650 pesos, probably because all the ATV yahoos were staying there.

Rebar. Everywhere in Mexico, always exposed rebar.

The next day I drove back inland through Caborca again, looking for Grusonia marenae. Finally found small stands of it quite near Caborca itself, in great, flat lowland desert featuring all four of the most northerly columnar cacti.

Very similar to Grusonia reflexispina and obviously closely related. Dave Ferguson speculates they may actually be forms of the same species.

Finally on the way back toward Sonoyta again, Sunday morning, having only been in Mexico for about 60 hours. The car turned over 222222 along the way. Now, it is above 250,000. Just over a year later. 28,000 miles of blog posts coming up.

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