All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
4 of 6
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
4 of 6
Herping with Darin and Devin, I’m certainly impressed by their field skills and ethics, but what I equally appreciate is their generosity.  Not only do they share everything with me herping knowledge, camping equipment, abdominal sounds they’re more concerned about finding my targets, even ones that are boringly familiar to them, than finding their own.   Having helped vanquish my adversary on the first day, D & D are determined to take my Gopher Snake experience to the next level.  As nice as it was to find a Pacific Gopher, many people consider the subspecies found east of the Sierras, the Great Basin variety, to be the most handsome member of the family.   After two days in the desert, the guys had really expected to see one by now, but so far, no such luck (had my curse returned?).  So on our last morning together, they take me cruising around the side of a mountain, to a reliable stretch of road that usually produces.  And happily, there to accommodate us, is my first Great Basin Gopher.   It’s nice, and I’m pleased, but Darin and Devin are little disappointed.  To them, the snake is a bit dull for a deserticola.  They’re hoping to show me one of the high-contrast specimens that live up to the Great Basin reputation, and this snake isn’t quite it.                We decide to head back to the Sierras for another shot at Mountain Kings.  Along the way we rise in elevation, and a few green trees begin to appear, an intergrade zone between the mountains and desert.  Rounding a curve we come across another Gopher Snake, this time a cross between the Pacific and Great Basin subspecies.  I’m delighted we manage to rescue it, and to me, it’s the best looking Gopher we’ve found so far. Up in the Sierras we arrive at a boulder field and start searching the crevices.  Darin gets a glance at a Whipsnake but it disappears before he can catch it.  He does, however, find multiple Gartersnakes among the rocks not far from a nearby stream. Except for the stream, conditions are really dry, and no zonata are found hidden in the boulders.  We return to the desert for one last hike as the day, and our trip, is ending.   We’re walking a wash, scanning the sides.  I glance to my left, and for a moment, the scene simply does not register.  Gradually, I realize there’s a snake in my line of sight, but the image looks out of place and unfamiliar.   It’s a Gopher Snake, covered in dust and digging through the sand, its tail down a hole.  Can’t tell if the snake is excavating or emerging, but it is poking around a group of exposed rodent tunnels, perhaps foraging or burrowing. Fascinated, we watch for several minutes until the snake detects our presence and starts to crawl away.  We intercept and clean it off, bringing out the true colors of a beautiful Great Basin Gopher.  Now Darin and Devin are satisfied I’ve seen a true deserticola, and they’re especially glad I was the one to find it.   It’s a wonderful conclusion to a great weekend that started and ended with the same satisfying experience, conquering the curse of Gopher Snakes, in the company of two accomplished herpers and generous hosts.  My gratitude to you both.
Great Basin Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer deserticola
Wandering Gartersnake Thamnophis elegans vagrans
Devin, Eitan, Darin