travelog 34

The little white box in the center of this picture is our PocoLoco!

Indian Coral Mesa

Slowly the sky turns light and a fantastic landscape arises out of the dark. Eastwards stretches a vast area of straw-colored grass interspersed with big gray-green, steel-grey, partly light blue agaves and dasylirions. Westwards is only coral-red rock (that's probably where the name came from) and a lot of air - here the rocks plunges about 1000 ft. over a cliff into the depths. The view westwards over countless mountain chains in different variations of blue is simply breathtaking.

It's now the third time that we visit this place and we enjoy it every time in full. It's the type locality (the place which was chosen for the scientific description of a plant) of a very attractive and rare plant: Agave toumeyana ssp. bella. Here, along the edge of the cliff, these plants grow in thousands. Sometimes it's really hard to walk through the area without touching one of the plants. It's a mystery to us why they grow right here in such large numbers. It's probably related to the specific condition of the soil and the position on the edge of the cliff which brings a lot of wind and frequent moisture. The plants survive the sometimes freezing temperatures pretty well because their exposure to the sun during the day supplies them with enough warmth even in winter time.

Before we attend breakfast we start our day with a little photographic tour. We want to make use of the time before sunrise since this is the best time to take pictures of the large agave plants without disturbing harsh shadows. We still have to use color correction filters to compensate the heavy blue cast right before dawn. However, this is much easier than to handle big diffusion screens. It's freezing outside and we practically lose our fingers by frostbite. That's why we like to retreat into our vehicle to enjoy a hot coffee/tea and homemade Austrian poppy seed strudel for breakfast.

Later we start for the second photographic session. The just risen sun brings warmth into a picture with its yellow cast. We don't want to miss this opportunity. The mountains are still clear without any haze and the cliffs glow in a warm red.

The only disadvantage for our photographic tours at this time of the year are the numerous hunters who are up to our mischief. The only exception are Sundays. This day even the poor rabbits have off, after all, as is well known, nobody should commit a sin on the day of the Lord. That's why we are very cautious because we don't want to accidentally become victims of a wildly shooting lunatic. Every year some innocent people fall victims to this so called "sport". The hunters try to protect themselves from each other with bright orange hats (which cannot be seen by the game). Especially during the grey morning hours we feel very uncomfortable. It may well be that behind the next shrub a hunter is lurking...

For the next hours we can take it easy. If the wind allows it, we sit outside in the sun, read a bit or work on our pictures on the computer. Sometimes I go and search for the right photo objects. Or I build our fire place with red rocks. Or Julia is gathering some fire wood. We prefer to bbq at noon here because it's easier to control the piece of meat at daylight. It already happened before that suddenly darkness fell over us and that our steak was not at all done a point. We really don't like the fiddling with the flash light. Besides, it's not so nice to be outside in winter time since it's quite simply too cold.

Today we bbq a typical American steak. Huge and thick, comme il faut. It's very easy to light a fire in the desert. All the dead plant material burns easily, long enough, and provides an extreme heat. Our steak turns brown and crisp very quickly. Sometimes we need the help of aluminum foil to prevent the meat from transforming into charcoal.

After lunch we set off for another photographic tour (this is synonymous with an after-lunch digestion walk). Now we specialize in smaller plants which are easy to shade with the diffusion screen (diffusion screen = round screens in different diameters which are covered with a milky-white fabric to break the harsh contrasts of the light when held between the sun and the object). It's easier to do this with two persons. Because to crouch down on the ground, to deal with the tripod and the camera, and to position the diffusion screen in the right angle (sometimes even fighting against the wind), everything at the same time, for all that one should be an octopus with seven arms and ten hands...

During our search for the right photo objects we discover many other plants which make the heart of a real friend of succulent plants beat faster. We find the rare Graptopetalum rusbyi (at this time of the year in a more tired out condition), the not so rare but sometimes hard to find Dudleya saxosa ssp. collomiae - both members of the family of the stonecrops (or Crassulaceae). Apart from them all the plants from the group of the century plants (or Agavacaeae). Besides Agave toumeyana ssp. bella also Agave chrysantha and Agave parryi ssp. parryi, Dasylirion wheeleri, Nolina microcarpa, Yucca baccata and Yucca elata. Then we stumble at every step over different members of the cacti (or Cactaceae): Echinocereus engelmannii aff., Echinocereus fasciculatus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. melanacanthus, Coryphantha vivipara var. arizonica, Mammillaria grahamii and the various members of the prickly pear plants (Cylindro- and Platyo-Opuntia). It's advisable to watch your step, otherwise one can experience painful surprises. Nevertheless: an eldorado for the admirer of plants! Our pictures can give you just a little impression of this beauty.

When the sun is inclined towards the horizon, the light turns again more yellow. This is one of the best times for us to take pictures. After another hour of photographing our day's work is done. Now we can enjoy the amazing play of colors of another beautiful sunset together with a nice glass of wine. Often, especially with little clouds on the sky, a beautiful firework in orange to dark red and dark blue to purple takes place. Then, suddenly, somebody switches off the light.

But also the dark night sky holds attraction, especially here, where no big cities are around. Admittedly, we can imagine the millions of lights of Phoenix behind the distant mountain ranges. But the sky is studded with thousands of stars and the moon bathes the surroundings into a milky-white light.

Now it's time for dinner. We often try to keep it simple and little so that we don't have to go to bed with a filled pot belly. Today it's only a little bit of cheese with pears together with crackers and a glass of red wine. Just enough so that we don't have to go to bed with our stomach rumbling.

December 2000

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen