#103 - November

I didn’t think I’d be blogging from Cave Creek Canyon in November. When I signed on to be a host at the Visitor Information Center my end date wasn’t clear, but I hoped they’d let me stay through August. Here I am; until November 30.

New hosts have come and gone and there are two ‘host units’ here now besides me. They will be staffing the VIC six days a week. After training one of them this past weekend, I now only am scheduled for Saturdays in November. Three more shifts. The last on November 24.

Yesterday I spent some time ‘weed whacking’ around the other host RV sites. It was clear and sunny. The temperature reached 77ºF. Sunset is around 5:20 pm right now and the temperature starts to drop quickly around 4 pm, but we are treated to warm days. Mornings are crisp, even close to freezing, but this past week has been absolutely lovely. Bluebird skies, wonderful afternoons.

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Last night I did my laundry at Cave Creek Ranch. It’s been so nice having big commercial machines at my disposal, and at no charge too. CCR is owned by the president of Friends of Cave Creek Canyon and he graciously gives VIC hosts a place for mail, package delivery and laundry. They ask that we wait until 4 pm when their housekeeping staff has gone for the day to launder our clothes. That is also the time that Laura (who also volunteers at the VIC) or one of the other ladies that runs their office feeds alfalfa pellets to the resident Coue’s White-tailed Deer. Last night I counted 21 in the pen where they pour the pellets onto the ground. I got there just before feeding time and a few of the incredibly tame deer tried to follow me into the laundry room as it is next door to the room where they know their food is stored. Almost always at the same time there is a coati and a skunk or two milling around the feeders. As my clothes soak and spin I sit and watch all the amazing wildlife that has become accustomed to life at the Ranch. The laundry room is also where my mail and packages are placed after arriving at the Ranch and I sort through it with camera in hand. The silly White-nosed Coati seen here put on quite the show for the two couples sitting on the porch watching the critters with me. Laura was working in the office and she came out just as a flock of White-winged Doves fled the scene. It got quiet and no birds were around. That means predator and she had noticed a hawk fly into the large trees that shade the primary feeding area where this coati was. It flew off to a tree beyond the pen where the deer were feeding and I trained my long lens on it. To be honest, I am not certain whether it is a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk, although Cooper’s are more common in Cave Creek Canyon. Both are smallish with long tails that allow them to soar and maneuver through the trees in pursuit of their (primarily) bird prey. They are very similar in appearance and this one appears to be a juvenile male. The Cooper’s Hawk is larger, but that is subjective and there is size overlap, but it also has a more ‘blockish’ head and longer, somewhat rounded tail. In flight, this raptor’s tail looked squared off, but very long so I have posted these images to iNaturalist hoping someone will have a strong opinion. I’ll update this section if there is a consensus on iNat one way or the other. I called it a Cooper’s to Laura and the guests, but I am actually leaning more toward Sharp-shinned.

[EDIT: The consensus among the ‘experts’ on iNat was Cooper’s]

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I have a room booked in Phoenix for November 30 so I have three weeks left of this year’s Chiricahua Mountain odyssey. After picking up Brent Hendrixson at the airport the first day of December, he and I will search for a few tarantulas between Phoenix and Tucson, returning to Phoenix the night before he departs on December 8. Then I will take a scenic route back to Chicago, hoping to find fall color, waterfalls or other landscape subjects. By mid-December I will be watching Chicago Blackhawks games with Joel and seeing how the new head coach they announced yesterday fares with the roster and the past few year’s disappointment after winning three Stanley Cups in the previous handful of seasons.

My Days Until app tells me that there are now 63 days until I depart for Malaysia via Hong Kong. I FaceTimed with Mark a couple days ago and both of us will be counting down the winter days until we share a cold Tiger lager at Hotel Equatorial in Penang. But first I must brave the Chicago chill for what will be about three weeks. I’ll keep busy with doctor, new eyeglasses, and the sorts of things you can’t do when you spend seven months in the wilderness. I am also busy writing. I have been typing my experiences from a life of snakes and spiders and considering releasing a memoir. I think I may even have a novel in me. At the very least, I can come up with another article for the British Tarantula Society. Aphonopelma chiricahua revisited?

On the subject of writing, during my overseas travels in January I intend to blog at least once a day. I will do my trip journal here for any interested readers to follow.

Until next time, MJ

#101 - Winter? Photography and More.

 This image taken in the 1930s in Portal shows the banner I wish still was here. “Welcome to Cave Creek, the Yosemite of Arizona”.

This image taken in the 1930s in Portal shows the banner I wish still was here. “Welcome to Cave Creek, the Yosemite of Arizona”.

This past week the weather was odd.. Less than three weeks ago summery 90 degree days followed crisp mornings, but then summer gave way to … winter? Very warm days and cool nights ushered in autumn, but then a cold front due to tropical storms enveloped the Chiricahuas. The spectacular rhyolite rock faces that have given Cave Creek Canyon the nickname “Yosemite of Arizona” disappeared into the clouds. In fact, I had driven northeast into the Peloncillo Mountains and the clouds were lying on the road.

 Wintery precipitation on my truck the morning of October 16.

Wintery precipitation on my truck the morning of October 16.

I chase snakes and, thereby, chase warmth. But the truth is that my half dozen years living in Seattle were perfect for me: rarely hot, rarely cold, almost always hoodie and shorts weather. I enjoy cooler, more temperate, weather. Here, however, I never quite expected to be lamenting the fact that I left the jeans I had bought for my Chicagoland winter job at Cabela’s back at Joel’s house.

In my two years living in my Wheelhouse I had never encountered freezing temperatures. As November approaches I had wondered how well my RV, which is technically not a four-season camper, would fare. The greatest concern I experienced was my propane supply. My parrot Jesse requires that I keep the Wheelhouse warm even during the day when I am out exploring or hosting the VIC. Even with the thermostat set to maintain 67F I was burning through propane at an alarming rate. I have three tanks and two are online at a time. Refilling or exchanging them necessitates a one-hour drive each way. I have a friend who is going to give me a fourth tank, but a two-hour-plus trip may still become a weekly routine when the cold weather stays. I’d really like to stay here until perhaps mid-December, so I think I’ll have to get a little electrical space heater to supplement my RV’s propane-fueled furnace.

 iPhone image of the entrance to Cave Creek Canyon in the cloudy gloom

iPhone image of the entrance to Cave Creek Canyon in the cloudy gloom

Thankfully, autumn has returned and after a week where the mercury barely rose above 45F and it often was quite chillier, yesterday when I closed the visitor center my truck thermometer read 68F. The previous day when I left the VIC and returned to camp I found a tiny yellow spider on my truck’s tailgate. I was so happy that my favored fauna was still active.

 Misumenoides formosipes, White-banded Crab or Flower Spider

Misumenoides formosipes, White-banded Crab or Flower Spider

 Misumenoides formosipes, White-banded Crab or Flower Spider

Misumenoides formosipes, White-banded Crab or Flower Spider

This little spider had a body length of perhaps one-quarter inch. When I post macrophotography images to social media (and this is technically, supermacrophotography) I often am asked how large the subject was. Close-up images of spiders are novel to many people and now that I have reluctantly returned to Facebook I have an increasing number of Portal and Cave Creek Canyon locals seeing my photos. Macro images make tiny subjects seem huge, especially since in post-processing they are typically cropped to frame the subject even further.

The above spider was photographed using a life-size macro lens (Tokina 100mm). That means it at its full extension it is at a 1:1 ratio; the subject is viewed and captured at its actual size. For subjects that are very small I attach a 2.5x magnifier lens (Raynox DCR250). This set-up takes some getting used to. The working distance is very small. The front of the lens is within two inches of the subject and manual focus is required. However, I do not focus the lens and keep it at full extension (1:1). I move the subject or the lens to focus, increasing or decreasing the distance.. This can be quite a trick, especially if the subject is moving! However, this little Crab Spider was fairly cooperative and the cool autumn air worked in my favor. The spider was content to rest in place for some time so I captured these images using a tripod and moving the subject to focus. That allowed me to use Live View (camera LCD display rather than viewfinder) to zoom way in and digitally magnify my subject. I then moved the rock or leaf the spider was perched on until the focus was perfect, turned off Live View and then released the shutter.

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As the season advances I will have fewer and fewer opportunities to photograph spiders and snakes. One question I have been fielding at the VIC is whether snakes are still active, usually asked by someone who is hoping NOT to see one rather than someone who pursues them like me. I was pleased that yesterday when temperatures finally returned to the 60s that one couple who stopped by informed me they had encountered a diamondback rattlesnake sunning itself on Portal-Paradise road. In my last blog entry I shared an image of a young-of-the-year Sonoran Gopher Snake that I discovered on October 7 while walking my 100-yard path between my camp at the corral and the VIC. A more recent snake was also a “young-of-the year”. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake seen here I found on Portal Rd. on October 13 when the cold front first began. It had been raining for a day and a half and was drizzling at the time. My truck’s thermometer read only 52F as it sluggishly slithered on the slick, wet pavement. I escorted it to safety in the roadside grass and the image is a screenshot from an iPhone video as it slowly moved on.

I hope these aren’t the last two snakes I see in 2018. I now have four days free and will be hiking and am hopeful to find more and perhaps some other arachnid macrophotography subjects. But with fall colors coming I am excited to start doing some landscape photography. It is time I shared more of the grandeur of this area, and not just the majestic animals that inhabit it. I’ve spent a great deal of down time at the VIC viewing YouTube landscape photography and long exposure photography tutorials and even want to try my hand at some “fine art” landscape photography. Whereas pure landscape images are descriptive, revealing only what the eyes can see, “fine art” landscape photography is an artistic interpretation of the scene and finished images are more surreal, with long exposure techniques giving photos a very serene quality by smoothing out light and sky and water. I also want to try some long exposure astrophotography at night to capture the Milky Way above the Chiricahuas. As snakes and spiders enter their winter slumber, this is how I will be spending my days and nights in Cave Creek Canyon before I plan a scenic route back to Chicago that will include some other landscape photography locations.

As for the other wildlife of Cave Creek Canyon, there are still plenty of my favorite birds, the hummingbirds or colibris, to enjoy. America’s two largest species, the Blue-throated and Rivolis, are massive enough to overwinter. Many of the others have left, but yesterday I still marveled at Broad-tails and Anna’s coming to the VIC feeders. I still will have a chance to photograph them. Woodpeckers are prominent in fall and they and raptors make up my other two favorite birds and I will pursue them with camera in hand. Mammals like bobcats and bears may appear before my lens.

***

My mate Mark has just made yet another trip to Borneo and I am now counting down the days until I travel to that part of the world again. I was so disappointed when I woke this morning and realized that I keep thinking and saying that I fly out of Chicago on January 7 when in fact it isn’t until January 9. Two more days, o m g. But I have much to look forward to here yet, and I am also looking forward to spending some down time in Chicago and seeing family and finally meeting the newest member, Joel’s little dachshund puppy Buddy.

MJ

#98 - Another Visit

I hadn't seen Chad Campbell in far too long. I tend to lose touch with people even in the best of times, and heading out to live on the road at the beginning of 2017 didn't lessen that propensity. Still, more sociable people can always reach out to solitary me, so I am never willing to take all the blame. And Chad did just that with an unexpected text asking whether I'd pick him up in Phoenix if he landed there. I have no clue how long it had been since we'd had any contact other than liking each other's Instagram posts, but it didn't affect my reply. I told him Tucson or El Paso were cool as they are 2.5 and 3 hours away, respectively, but Phoenix (5 hours) was a no.

 Chad and a Green Chile Cheeseburger at the Portal Cafe

Chad and a Green Chile Cheeseburger at the Portal Cafe

There is a very, very short list of people that have an open invitation to visit me and Chad certainly was on it, but after a few casual mentions last year to a few of the honorees of that mental list, I really didn't talk to anyone at all this year. As you read in the previous blog entry, my bonus dad Joel just visited and we had arranged that trip even before I left his house the day after his birthday in mid-April. He was set to spend my birthday here with me the first week of August and, other than visits by my arachnologist friend Brent Hendrixson, I didn't anticipate any other visitors. But Chad was itching to return to Arizona after his previous visits to Tucson for American Tarantula Society conferences that have since fizzled out, and without much hesitation he bought his plane tickets and I scrambled to switch with other volunteers to free up my schedule not one week after I had taken an entire week off from the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Center in the northeastern Chiricahua Mountains to spend all my time with Joel.

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Jump ahead to another trip to Tucson the night before picking up a guest. Again I wanted to road cruise for sidewinder rattlesnakes, and this time a guy I met through Instagram had recommended a road west of the one I had cruised the night before I picked up Joel. Heading out past the Old Sasco Ruins through rugged Sonoran Desert into a stormy dusk, I truly felt in the middle of nowhere. Just off the interstate the town of Red Rock, Arizona is new modern suburbia, but quickly the cookie cutter adobe family homes give way to sandy desert grassland scrub. Then, out of nowhere, I came upon a massive feed lot and sights and smells that will turn you off of beef for life. Thousands upon thousands of cattle stood shoulder to shoulder and I looked away and picked up the pace before the strong odor became too much. The pavement then ended and the dirt road soon disappeared into saguaros reaching toward the purplish gloomy sky and I was swallowed by the desert. I was glad there was still light so I could read the warning signs about road closures, flash flooding, federal agents and more, and I drove deep into the desert between the mountains and back out to learn the area before darkness. The road had many steep dips that recent rains had filled with water and rocks and several crossings were of great concern. One held as much water as I'd ever want to drive my truck through (and I did it four times) and another was very wet but also very rough with big rocks that had washed into the crossing. There were many "stream crossings" and quite a bit of rough road. That night I tested my truck more than any other.

  Portrait of that night's Sonoran Desert Sidewinder ( Crotalus cerastes cercobombus )

Portrait of that night's Sonoran Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cercobombus)

  Sonoran Desert Toad ( Incilius alvarius ), one of several from my Old Sasco Road adventure.

Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius), one of several from my Old Sasco Road adventure.

Flashing forward once more, the next morning I was back at Tucson International Airport early enough for a local beer. As I finished up and started towards Chad's arrival, he texted me that he was already outside having a cigarette, his very short flight from Phoenix arrived early. His first request, even before he had left Minneapolis, was that we head from the airport directly to In 'N Out Burger, the legendary West Coast fast food icon. Then it was off to a giant liquor store I had scouted the day before for a connoisseur's collection of West Coast India Pale Ales for Chad, plus a small selection of lagers for me including not only Grand Canyon pilsner but my beloved Imperial from Costa Rica. Then we headed east to Willcox for groceries and on to an area known to contain two tarantula species, which Chad had explored a couple years prior during one of his Tucson visits. Rain shortened our time - and unsuccessful search - at the tarantula site, and we pushed on back here to Cave Creek Canyon. Chad would be the first visitor to actually bunk in my Wheelhouse and we had groceries and beer to stow and food to grill. But first Chad unpacked some very generous birthday gifts he had hauled all the way from Minneapolis, incurring overweight bag charges in the process in order to bring me some special beverages and a coffee cup. There were two imperial stouts and a giant Ziploc bag containing eight pint cans of one of my personal favorites brewed in Minneapolis - Indeed Brewing Company's Mexican Honey Imperial Lager.

Chad's visit was only from midday Friday to midday Tuesday so we were working with limited time. Chad wanted to see tarantulas and rattlesnakes most and that he did. Saturday we made a trip into New Mexico and down into the Peloncillo Mountains to search for the tarantula I had pursued with Brent and his students only a couple weeks earlier. Successful in finding that special American spider again, I then took him to the scorpion site where I had taken four of Brent's students. 

   Aphonopelma peloncillo , a Peloncillo Mountains endemic

Aphonopelma peloncillo, a Peloncillo Mountains endemic

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Chad had only seen Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes before, and he added quite a few more of those to his life list, plus many more first-time ('lifer') Mohave Rattlesnakes and one special encounter with the third species of our trip, my favorite, the Black-tailed Rattlesnake. And he found it himself! I had taken up South Fork Road and South Fork Trail in search of the Elegant Trogon, the rare bird people come from around the world to see here, and - though we didn't find the trogon - during a search of a cabin for jumping spiders Chad found a young blacktail a few feet off the ground, nestled in the rock exterior rock wall. The snake didn't move as we took in situ photos of how we found it, including the smartphone image to the left, and then Chad returned to my truck which was parked nearby to get the rest of our needed camera gear and one of my snake hooks. Black-tails are usually placid rattlesnakes and this yearling snake certainly was very cooperative as I then moved it onto a nearby group of flat rocks so that we could photograph it further. 

  Chad's "lifer" Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake ( Crotalus molossus )

Chad's "lifer" Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

Another snake that Chad had repeatedly mentioned that he was hoping to see was a kingsnake. We have two here, the tri-colored Mountain King here in the mountains, and the Desert Kingsnake in the foothills and surrounding desert. Both can be very elusive so it was quite a thrill when one night's road cruising, the night we went down to the Peloncillos, included this beautiful black-hooded king.

  Desert Kingsnake  (Lampropeltis splendida ), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis splendida), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Chad and I share a love of jumping spiders and he has become quite accomplished at doing true single-exposure macrophotography of jumpers using the same 1:1 100mm Tokina macro lens I use plus a 2.5X magnifier and a special light set-up. We were fortunate to find quite a few special jumping spiders during his visit. One was at almost 8400 ft elevation at Barfoot Park, and we also found cool jumpers right at my camp at the corral and a number of photo sessions took place on my picnic table.

  Chad photographing a jumping spider in the high elevation mixed conifer forest of Barfoot Park

Chad photographing a jumping spider in the high elevation mixed conifer forest of Barfoot Park

  One of Chad's images from the above photo shoot ( Phidippus toro , female) © Chad Campbell

One of Chad's images from the above photo shoot (Phidippus toro, female) © Chad Campbell

On Chad's last night here, we went for another dinner at Portal Cafe and then Chad chose to return to the corral to enjoy some beer, conversation and image processing over another night of road cruising for snakes. But on the way back into the canyon we were destined for one more snake during his visit, which he called his "snake-cap", and it was a special one at that.

  Our "snake-cap", adult Sonoran Lyre Snake ( Trimorphodon lambda )

Our "snake-cap", adult Sonoran Lyre Snake (Trimorphodon lambda)

I don't know where I'll be next year, but if I am in the Chiricahuas I am hoping Chad will return and bring his girlfriend April with. We even talked about getting a small gathering of mutual friends together for more herping and spidering fun and more connoisseur brews and good food. 

  This "spirited" Mohave Rattlesnake ( Crotalus scutulatus ) put on quite the show for Chad as it tried to "kiss" me

This "spirited" Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) put on quite the show for Chad as it tried to "kiss" me

#97 - 54 - Adventures with Yet Another

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2300 miles, 25 or so live rattlesnakes, 54 years. One amazing visit.

Three French hens, two turtle doves. And a trogon in a sycamore tree.

Those are just few of the numbers from my birthday week, which began two days before the 5th when I drove to Tucson to look for sidewinder rattlesnakes that Friday night before picking up my stepdad Joel from the airport midday Saturday.

2.5 hours to Tucson, an oil change, Wing Stop lunch and an afternoon escape-the-heat matinee of Mission Impossible - Fallout later, I was at the Motel 6 North Tucson.

That night I found my lifer Sonoran Desert Sidewinder. The next morning another lifer - this time a Sonoran Desert Tortoise.

  Sonoran Desert Sidewinder ( Crotalus cerastes cercobombus ), Pinal County, Arizona

Sonoran Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cercobombus), Pinal County, Arizona

  Morafka's or Sonoran Desert Tortoise ( Gopherus morafkai ), Pima County, Arizona

Morafka's or Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai), Pima County, Arizona

Then it was the airport and a scenic drive up the Catalina Mountains, followed by some Tucson shopping, groceries in Willcox and a dusk check-in for Joel at Rusty's RV Ranch. A short time later it was Joel's lifer rattlesnake as I spotted a Western Diamondback on the roadside only five minutes after leaving Rusty's to take him into the Chiricahuas for the first time. In the excitement I shooed it off the highway without capturing an image, but Joel got the thrill of seeing me move it from the road and see it slither into the desertscrub. As we entered Cave Creek Canyon it was rattlesnake number 2, a Western Black-tailed that a couple of guys had discovered. We asked if we could join them so Joel could see my favorite rattlesnake. It wasn't necessary as he'd see a few more during the adventures to come.

My diary will get fuzzy here as we did so much it would be impossible for me to recount it all chronologically without overlooking something. The snakes are a blur. So I'll forge ahead to the next day - Sunday the 5th, my 54th birthday. I had something different planned and our final destination was the wild west town of Tombstone, Arizona. First there was a stop in Douglas to see the wall between that city in extreme southeastern Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico on the other side. Then we headed west along the wall, on to Bisbee for coffee and, finally, were walking the dusty cowboy streets of Tombstone. A beer at Doc Holliday's Saloon, some shopping and then lunch at Big Nose Kate's Saloon and before long we were back in Bisbee to have a beer at Old Bisbee Brewing Company. Back in the Chiricahuas for dinner time we grilled up steaks at my corral.

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Road cruising followed, as it did every night, and Joel saw Diamondbacks and the deadly Mohave Rattlesnake, which would be the most frequently encountered snake over the week and two dozen rattlesnake engagements. In fact, we saw the largest Mohave I've seen one night in a very unexpected location. But of all the snakes the one we both will remember most is a big beauty of a Western Black-tailed that was crossing the primitive mountain road at 7500 feet elevation in the early afternoon. My goal for the week was always to get a photo of Joel with a rattlesnake. I didn't want him to get too close, but I think this image speaks a thousand words.

This beast was a spectacular example of the species that is my favorite rattlesnake both for its beauty, habitat and fairly gentle disposition. When a carload of birders descended the mountain road I had already moved it off the road, but I asked them if they wanted to stop for photos. It was a rare moment of wanting to share the joy of the experience and the majesty of the snake.

  Portrait of a Beauty    Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake ( Crotalus molossus ), Chiricahua Mountains

Portrait of a Beauty

Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), Chiricahua Mountains

  Beast Mohave    Mohave Rattlesnake ( Crotalus scutulatus) , San Simon, Arizona

Beast Mohave

Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus), San Simon, Arizona

Other adventures included a trip up the mountain road over the top of the mountain to descend through Pinery Canyon to the northwestern side of the range for a visit to the Chiricahua National Monument. This special place has incredible rock formations - pinnacles, hoodoos, balancing rocks. We took in views like the one below at Massai Point, but then would take perhaps our most arduous hike of the week when we summited Sugarloaf Mountain.

  Joel at Massai Point in the Wonderland of Rocks - Chiricahua National Monument

Joel at Massai Point in the Wonderland of Rocks - Chiricahua National Monument

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While we were at Massai Joel had asked what the structure atop a distant peak was. I had to look at it through binoculars and then I looked at the map and figured it out. He had no idea what was in store for him when I drove to the parking lot trailhead.

The trail was only one mile or so each way, but it climbed about 500 feet to an elevation of 7400 ft and was often steep and slippery.

Another adventure was our first birding trip. I wanted Joel to see the Elegant Trogon, the bird people come here from around the world to see, the Mexican bird that perhaps numbers only 60 in the United States. We parked in a prime area and I got out and only moments later was pointing out the dazzling male above us. I hadn't walked six steps. Good fortune smiled on us.

Each day we hiked, dined, road cruised. We were constantly on the move except one afternoon in Rusty's swim spa relaxing with a cold cerveza.

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Snakes, birds, snakes, snakes. Tarantulas, vinegaroons, scorpions. More hikes. Each day was filled with activity and as the week began to wind down I asked Joel if he was interested in a road trip. I thought perhaps he'd want to see somewhere else in the southwest and we decided to limit it to a three hour drive. I mentioned a few options, but the one that immediately was of interest was Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument north of Silver City, New Mexico. I had visited the Gila National Forest in the region a few times last year, but had never gone to the Cliff Dwellings. It was pretty spectacular. I admittedly am not one for history and historical sites, but at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument you can actually enter the cliff dwellings unguided and see where Mogollons lived for twenty years or so in the late 1200's. It was certainly worth the trip and the winding and climbing scenic mountain drive there and back added to the experience.

  Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

  Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

It was an action packed week that left me exhausted. Saturday morning I picked Joel up one last time at Rusty's and we made the 150 mile trip to Tucson Airport. Then I turned around and headed home with a brief stop in Willcox for a few groceries and some lunch. As I type this Monday afternoon I am preparing to head to Tucson again Thursday. I will once again spend an evening looking for sidewinder rattlesnakes and then Friday morning pick up my buddy Chad at the airport for his five day visit. I'll close now leaving y'all with a short video of me wrangling one of the beautiful black-tailed rattlesnakes Joel got to see during visit. I don't usually have a cameraman so it was nice to be on the other side of the lens and get some memories captured. Below the video I'll post a list of just some of the animals Joel got to see during his week.

MJ wrangling a Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) in the Chiricahua Mountains.

Snakes: Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Mohave Rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Sonoran Lyre Snake, Sonoran Whipsnake, Mexican Hog-nosed Snake

Lizards: Yarrow's Mountain Spiny Lizard, Striped Plateau Lizard, Sonoran Desert Whiptail, Clark's Spiny Lizard, Crevice Spiny Lizard

Amphibians: Mexican Spadefoot Toad

Invertebrates: Vorhies' Tarantula, Desert Blonde Tarantula, Devil Stripe-tail Scorpion, Vinegaroon, Dung Beetle

Mammals: Black Bear, Coue's Desert White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Coati, Rock Squirrel, Coyote, Mexican Long-tongued Bat

Birds: Elegant Trogon, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Rivoli's (Magnificent) Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay

AND SO MUCH MORE ...

 

#84 - Antelope Road

Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul, you’ve got to run like an antelope out of control!
— "Run Like an Antelope", Trey Anastasio, PHISH

27 driving hours, 1900 miles, three overnights. Tulsa, Lubbock, Deming. I arrived a day ahead of booking at Rusty's mid-morning Thursday. "Pretty Girls" by Karin Slaughter read through my truck's speakers kept me rolling, and when that audiobook ended I mixed southern rock with another chapter of Nick Offerman's "Paddle Your Own Canoe", a heaping helping of wisdom with the subtitle "One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living".

Chicagoland to Tulsa, Oklahoma was uneventful; my road miles stamina was fleeting at best. Day two's accomplishment halted in Lubbock, Texas, a South Plains town perhaps best known as the birthplace of Buddy Holly. It is the northwestern part of the state, south of the panhandle and I woke Wednesday morning within striking distance of Rusty's RV Ranch, but my reservation wasn't to begin until Friday. I decided to head towards Las Cruces, New Mexico and decide then whether I would continue west. The day would become hot, in the upper 80s, and under a mostly cloudless sky I drove on past arid grassland oil pump fields, which occasionally were interrupted by areas of cattle lands. Lubbock connects to Roswell, New Mexico by Highway 380 after passing last through Plains, Texas. I found this stretch to be "Antelope Road".

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Groups of Pronghorn were abundant. Technically not antelope at all, these beasts are a perfect example of parallel evolution. Americans named them that due their identical niche and resemblance to Old World antelope. Pronghorn are actually members of the giraffe family and are most closely related to that long-necked mammal and the Okapi of central Africa. They are more distantly related to deer and bovids including cattle, goats, sheep and true antelope.

I paused to photograph the unsurprisingly UFO-themed Roswell welcome sign, but passed quickly past its alien-centric gift shops, book stores, International UFO Museum and restaurants (including a flying saucer shaped McDonalds) and headed west toward the Sierra Blanca. I could have descended southwest on Highway 70 to have more of a crow's flight toward Las Cruces, but by chance decided to stay on 380 and pass through the mountains on what I would learn was called Billy the Kid Trail. I confess I was clueless that I would stumble upon the late 1800's frozen-in-time town of Lincoln, a town made famous by one of the most violent periods in New Mexico history. Here was the epicenter of the Lincoln County War and famous and infamous characters of the Wild West including Pat Garrett and a man born Henry McCarty but known as William H. Bonney or Billy the Kid. During a pee break at a roadside historical monument on the other side of town I also learned that this was an area where Japanese railroad workers were held in encampments after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The third day's shunpiking was beautiful and took in an area of New Mexico I had yet to travel. Highway 380 continued through Capitan and on to Carrizozo before joining 54 and returning me to familiar roads as I headed south through Alamogordo and on toward the Organ Mountains and Las Cruces. I passed by Holloman Air Force Base and heard overhead fighter jets on my way past White Sands National Monument. Last year I had stopped year and played in the gypsum dunes, but this time I cruised on past having decided to drive on to Deming, New Mexico before bringing the last full day of driving to a close. Deming isn't even two hours from Rusty's, so I was hoping that a phone call the next morning would get me onto the ranch one day early. When I got Rusty on the phone after a shopping trip at Deming's Wal-Mart, she said, "come home".

I had no idea what to expect when I returned to my Wheelhouse. All winter I worried that I should have set mouse traps. Scat proved that at least a few little rodents had sought refuge in my rolling home, but the RV was no worse for the wear. In fact, it smelled fresh and was remarkably clean. For two days now I have gone about the business of rigging and reorganizing, sorting and stowing. I best get back to work.

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