In the far northeastern corner of Baja California lies the Sierra Cucapá, a northwest-southeast trending, granitic-core mountain range that is situated between the Laguna Salada to the west and the Cerro Prieto Volcano to the east. The Cerro Prieto geothermal field sits about 25 KM south of Mexicali. The Sierra Cucapá, along with the Sierra El Mayor is situated along the San Andreas fault zone, and was impacted most recently by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on April 4, 2010. The principal igneous rock is called Tonalite which is very white and has more than 20% quartz, making for very crumbly rock that washes down during the infrequent rains and creates a deep, sandy wash bottom.
The primary purpose of this brief foray to the Sierra Cucapá was to photograph Agave turneri in flower, and my latest victim, er traveling companion, was Peter Breslin (pictured below). Peter is a knowledgeable cactus expert, and one of the co-authors of the upcoming Field Guide to the Cactus and other Succulents of Arizona that several of us are currently putting together. We got along great, and he didn’t even get perturbed when I got the truck stuck in sand. Guess I better practice my deep sand driving without having a 4-wheel drive, or else get a 4-wheel drive truck.
Agave turneri was described by Robert Webb and and Mario Salazar-Ceseña in 2011, and is clearly distinct from any other species, although its affinities appear to lie with Agave moranii and Agave deserti. They found the plants while matching photographs taken by E. A. Goldman while he was traveling with E. W. Nelson. If you are an agavefarian, you may recognize those two names. Goldman was quite the botanist, finding and collecting several type specimens of agave species in Baja California, which leaves one pondering how he missed this medium to large sized agave growing on the canyon slopes and ridges of the Sierra El Mayor and Sierra Cucapá.
The agaves grow primarily on the east and north slopes on the eastern side of the Sierra, which is a great strategy to avoid the baking heat of the afternoon sun in this hyper-arid region. Our strategy was to probe these slopes in the afternoon shade the first day, and then capture them in the early morning light the second day.
Peter and I drove my Toyota truck as close to the mountains as we dared, given the deep sand, and set up camp in preparation for our assault on the mountains. Our stroll back to the front of the range brought us past some exquisite specimens of Ferocactus cylindraceus (or F. acanthodes if you prefer archaic taxonomy).
We walked up the wash, constantly tripping over watermelon sized rocks because we were entirely focused on looking up on the slopes. Our reward for much toe stubbing was to see several, incredible agaves and even some nice Echinocereus with flowers!
We spent the afternoon climbing around on the steep slopes finding one incredible plant after another!
So far, we have not seen any plants in flower, and that is still the big question remaining. Alack and alas, that will have to be answered in the next installment of “Agave turneri in the Sierra Cucapá, so stay tuned.