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
6 of 6
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
6 of 6
The high desert is in bloom, flowers everywhere.  Way back in a canyon we meet a guy who insists he just saw a large Corn Snake farther up the road.  We figure it’s either an extraordinary range extension (not) or just an ordinary Gopher.  At least it’s evidence they still exist we haven’t seen a snake for two days so we’re hoping we’ll find at least one (preferably a Speckled Rattlesnake) on this last day of my trip.   Instead, it’s another day of lizards (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Kevin leads us to a spot that should be good for Specks.   The landscape is textbook for Rattlesnakes, and we’re hoping for an assist from some cloud cover, but all we find hiding in crevices are flowers. Back to the lizards.  At least we’re seeing lots of Chuckwallas, a favorite of mine.  Females are dull brown . . .     . . . while males are more colorful.  Guess it’s a guy thing. And maybe trying to catch lizards by hand is also a guy thing?  Well, at least it goes back to childhood, which so many of us herpers have not outgrown.  I confess to that boyish impulse, though I’m not very good at it.  So I was quite impressed, and a bit envious, watching a couple of masters at work; first Devin, and now Kevin.   We’re hoping to get close-ups of this exceptionally good-looking Chuckwalla.  First, we photograph from a distance, zooming in as much as possible.  Gradually we get closer, expecting the lizard to run away, but instead, the stubborn male stands his ground to defend his boulder.  In fact, when Kevin gets within just a few feet, the Chuck actually advances, apparently thinking Kevin is a rival Chuckwalla (an honest mistake).   Kevin decides to go for it.  In very slow motion he lowers himself beneath the lizard’s sightline, then with tiny incremental movements, he patiently curls around the back of the rock to sneak up from behind. He waits . . . waits . . . then pounces!!  For a perfect . . . miss.         The Chuck smugly moves but a few feet, confident this poser has no chance against superior reptile reflexes.  But the lizard underestimates Kevin’s determination and opposable thumb.  Taunting us, the Chuckwalla turns his back, thinking his opponent is gone.  That’s all Kevin needs.  He lunges, his arm shoots up the rock, and flash!! the lizard is caught. We take close-ups as our reward, admiring the intricate pattern, color, and texture of the scales.  I wonder if this lizard skin was an inspiration for Native American beadwork? We leave the canyon and cross a desert plain that’s become a meadow covered with wildflowers. An approaching storm gives us hope that perhaps a rare desert rain will stimulate snake activity.  Far away we can see a downpour on the horizon, but the clouds above us never make good on their threat.   Behind us the sky is clear enough to see the details of towering mountains in the distance.  We decide to drive in the opposite direction, towards the storm.  Maybe the increased humidity will help, even if the ground remains dry.   It’s slow going on the dirt roads, and by the time we reach our destination, the rain clouds have disappeared.  Just can’t seem to catch any of our targets, even when they’re in plain sight, and big as the sky.  We park the truck on a worn out rise, pull out our sandwiches, and resign ourselves to another snakeless day.   Kevin is in the truck bed, talking on his phone.  I’m sitting in the cab, eating, staring impassively at the dull ground.  My phone rings.  It’s Darin, calling to ask how things are going.   “Can you believe it,” I complain, “worse than the weekend . . . ”   Where I’m staring, the ground starts melting.     I continue talking.  “Haven’t seen a snake . . .”   The melting ground blurs into a ribbon of slow rectilinear motion.  My eyes shift with the distortion, then suddenly I realize . . .   “Sorry, Darin!  Gotta go!!”   I yell to Kevin.  He hangs up on his call, jumps off the pickup, and we rush to greet the Speckled Rattlesnake that has crawled right up to the truck.   So, I suppose you could say we still didn’t find our target, even when it was in plain sight; instead, we had to rely on it finding us.  No matter, I’ll take it.   It was a lucky way to end my trip, just as I was lucky to have Kevin as my companion.  He was great company, which increased the enjoyment of what we did find, and helped make up for what we didn’t.  Many thanks, Kevin.     For a true representation of Kevin’s expert herping and excellent photography, check out A Hundred Highways,  a photojournal/travelogue of ten years traveling the Southwest, Baja California, and mainland Mexico in pursuit of reptiles.
Speckled Rattlesnake Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard Gambelia wislizenii
Tiger Whiptail Aspidocelis tigris
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