***Please allow ample time for this post to load, the photos are very large***
An early day made late by any number of excuses is normally how my trips start out, but this one was exceptionally late. We even stopped on the way there so I could try and capture some cool light rays, but they disappeared.
The smile on Jules’ face masks his disappointment and frustration. The window of time you have the greatest chance of encountering or flipping most herpetofauna is small, especially during the cold seasons. Even if I was cordial, I would have expected little no matter how the day played out.
Little is what we got. As Jules and I flipped the boards we set around the outer foothills of the Pajaritos, we turned up nothing but some random insects. This little guy was our first and only significant find of the day, a baby Ornate Tree Lizard, found by Jules as he flipped some hopeless rocks. On any other day, we wouldn’t be all that excited. However, seeing as it was our only find, we were happy that this dude decided to camp out under one of the rocks we flipped. Before this photo was taken, the lizard was actually very creamy looking- almost white. It quickly changed color as it warmed up and became more active, and in this photo it even appears to be mimicking the rock it is on, though I think that is coincidental. I thought that was pretty fascinating stuff for an often overlooked and common tree lizard.
To put into perspective how “boring” this little guy was compared to our other finds, I’ll share some of our previous ones:
Flipped by Jules in the summer of last year near where our boards are located, we were hoping to turn up a Yaqui Blackheaded Snake. Seeing as the Pajaritos are the lowest elevation area these snakes can be found, as well as a difficult range to find them in, I would say this is an excellent consolation prize.
Another great find from this area was this Mexican Black Kingsnake. We roadcruised this snake near our site at night, and I will never forget the moment I saw it in the headlights. Pushing the maximum length of this species at over five feet long, starting to see a black snake fully stretched on the road as the car sped closer was surreal. We immediately knew what it was, but seeing as these snakes are so rarely seen that we had not considered it a possibility, it took awhile for the idea to sink in that we found one. They are a special all-black morph of the Desert Kingsnake, possibly its own subspecies, whose range barely enters the states. Not to keep bashing on the tree lizard, but this is quite a bit cooler.
It is photos and snakes like these that I want to feature in my final project, and so part of coming out to this area again was to get more photos to pair with these ones. Despite being in the area during a rather bland and bright time period, the clouds were interesting enough for some decent shots.
This was one of the first decent photos I got, a panorama comprised of about eight or so images. I am a little dissatisfied with this photo, as the lighting changes through due to the approaching storm. I did my best to correct this, but it is still not perfect. However, I am still pleased with the result.
The mountains in the center are the Pajaritos, and the grass in the foreground represents the ridge we were walking to get to our boards. The last time we were in this area we found an AR-15 machine gun, but nothing this time. It was a crisp 55 and windy, and I got to use my new soft-shell. Using winter clothes is an achievement for me.
From the same location but facing a different direction with a different focal length, I captured this photo. This is a single image and not a panorama. A particularly hazy day, I had to do some careful and extensive editing on this photo to get it how I wanted it. In the back with Mt. Hopkins exposed are the Santa Ritas, and in front of them are the Cayetanos. My mom’s house is on the ridge below the small peak on the far right of the Cayetanos.
I thought this photo of Jules was pretty cool, looking out over the landscape with his snake stick, but he’s just waiting for me to stop taking pictures of Rainbow Cacti.
Despite all of these photos, this was actually the most boring part of the trip by a mile. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car during our second outing in a nearby wash. The weather wasn’t looking good, and the most exciting things we did weren’t planned. Unfortunately again, I left my phone in the car (which I never do) and couldn’t get any phone pictures either. You’ll just have to bear with me and use your imagination.
After failing to do much, we made a plan to tank up on gas at the nearby station and then drive back into the Pajaritos to walk a wash at the start of a dirt road. We didn’t have Jules’ GMC Suburban, so we couldn’t go on the dirt. Honda Civics do not cope well with muddy dirt roads. Just as the forecast predicted, it started the rain at the start of the afternoon. I was excited as I got to use my new rain jacket for the first time. Jules put on his and we left the car, leaving everything behind but a snake stick and our drive for adventure (stupidly).
As we walked the wash, we talked of how beautiful the wet lichen covered rock formations were, and how despite our lost efforts to find any snakes, how exciting it was to be searching in the rain. It was spectacular, and spectacularly uneventful. I just remember looking up to green cliffs, looking down to red stones, and looking forward to nothing much. But then we got the familiar cattle area.
Basically a corral and an old concrete watering trough, there’s also a pond nearby that reliably turns up Chiricahua Leopard Frogs and Great Plains Narrow-Mouthed Toads. It was too cold for them now, unfortunately.
We’ve never been past it though, so we decided to explore a little after seeing some good flat rocks to flip. We climbed the hillside just past the corral to its modest top, ogling at the moss covered walls of rock we passed on the way up. It smelled amazing. By now my gloves were soaked through, but my jacket and pants were still keeping me dry. When we got to the top, I thought it was going to be the best part of our little hike. (It wasn’t.)
To the east of us was a steep and immense collection of cliffs, with a relatively less steep sloping ridge behind it, all of which was ascending far above our modest hill. I jested with Jules, “It would be pretty cool to see what’s on top of that, it looks do-able.” He replied bluntly, “Dude let’s do it!” We had nothing better to do as ourselves and the environment around us were both soaked and quite cold. So we did it.
It wasn’t a long or arduous climb, but it was made difficult by there being no clear path to the top. The slipperiness caused by the rain and the steepness of the slope didn’t do much to help. We had a little time until we needed to head back, so we made the 20 minute hike over to the start of the ridge, and made our ascent. It was exhilarating and fun for me, I felt alive. We were exploring an awesome area in miserable conditions just for the fun of it, there were no goals this time. Just open ended exploration and the excitement of not knowing what to expect. Of course, we still checked all of the crevices on the way up for snakes, but secretly we didn’t want to find any. Right now wasn’t about that, and we weren’t prepared anyways.
After plowing through thick vegetation and climbing the rocky slope, I looked up to see Jules flat on his stomach over a protrusion of rock. I hadn’t yet seen the view. Making my final ascent, I carefully stepped on top of the cliff, and was swiftly met with a blast of cold wind and rain. Jules had laid on the rocks so he wouldn’t get knocked over by the wind. Carefully, we arranged ourselves on the rocks, and sat down. Jules’ hands were suffering badly from the old and my face was freezing, but we loved it.
For such a modest climb, that was one of my most favorite sights of all time. There is something unique about exploring an area you thought you already knew and finding more. To the west, a hill wrapped by a road gave way perfectly to a lake. Straight ahead to the north the grassy hills of the Pajaritos displayed a brilliant myriad of colors and textures that would have not been as stunning if it weren’t for the passing storm. To the east, foggy canyons we didn’t know existed revealed their lush vegetation and brimming potential. The rocks were flamboyant to the say the least, with orange, yellow, cyan, blue, green, and turquoise lichen coming together to create a living rainbow.
This photo I took the last time we climbed a cliff in this area tells at least some of the story. However, this one was a lot lower, it wasn’t raining, and this particular area is not as interesting in my opinion. There really isn’t much I can do to describe the moment, because so much of it was a combination of everything leading up to it, as it was everything I was experiencing in front of me. It was cold, it was wet, but it was far from miserable.
Despite not finding any of our targets, I think I know a good spot to pose them once we find one.
Take a look at next weeks post for an exciting trip to another southern Arizona mountain range! Will the curse of the cold finally be broken?
Next Blog Post:
Previous Blog Posts:
Project Question and Intent: