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
MEXICO/CALIFORNIA
May 2016
 5 of 5
MEXICO/CALIFORNIA
May 2016
 5 of 5
After a prolonged border crossing, Ron and I say our good-byes to Kevin and Don, then ascend into the desert mountains of California for a late-afternoon hike.  We drive around until we find an attractive canyon, one that reminds me of Baja, where we found our daytime Speck and nighttime ruber. While I continue to survey the wash, Ron wanders ahead, scoping out the slopes.     Soon he’s out of sight, but then I hear his distant shout, “Snake!!” I rush to catch up, and there’s our second Speck of the trip, this time a reddish one.  It’s simply gorgeous.   The sun is going down, and we begin to make our way back.  Along the way a snake suddenly appears in my light, a pretty little Spotted Leaf-nosed on the crawl.    And speaking of little snakes on the crawl, I thought this was an unusual find, at least for us.  Ron is shining the rocks when he spots something small speeding along a narrow ledge.  At first he thinks it’s an insect, but when his eyes manage to focus on the streak, he realizes what it is. We’ve found Blind Snakes before, but not like this.  Never expected to find one racing over the rock face of a canyon wall.  For photos we place it on the ground, where burrowing worm-like things are meant to be, but afterwards we place it back on the ledge to continue its unorthodox transit.   It’s been a good hike.  Three snakes in a short time, walking up on them in natural habitat, finding them in my favorite way.  It’s immensely pleasurable to stroll the canyon, especially at night.  The sandy wash forms a comfortable path, the temps are just right, and every glance of my headlamp holds the possibility of revelation.  We take our time, not only to carefully search, but to take in the magic of this place. We do several up-and-backs, then make a final walk towards the truck.  I get there way ahead of Ron, then sit and wait.  And wait.  I wonder what’s keeping him?  I prepare to go back and check, but as I get ready, I hear his voice calling my name as he approaches the road. Seems Ron spotted something he didn’t want to leave, but when he couldn’t reach me (no cell phone service, and too far for shouting), he decided to come get me, in hopes that his find wouldn’t disappear before we returned.  Fortunately, it didn’t, and just like the canyon in Baja, we once again follow our daytime Speck with a nighttime ruber. Satisfying in the extreme. Next day we have time to kill before road cruising with Darin at night.  It’s going to be hot, so we decide to target Coachella Fringe-toed Lizards (Uma inornata), since they can tolerate the heat, and besides, they would be lifers for us.  We arrive in Uma habitat and explore the dunes.  The desert is deserted, no one else in sight, not even lizards.  Why?  Because it’s mid-day and 113 F, too hot for Fringe-toeds, who apparently aren’t as stupid as two guys from the East.  We see only tracks, obviously lizards fleeing from the sun, and we decide to do the same. Up ahead we hallucinate an oasis, which to our surprise turns out to be real.     Inside we find smart lizards, protected by the shadows of palm trees.  We follow their example; however, I’m afraid it doesn’t change their opinion of us (it’s still over 110 F in the shade).    Conceding the point, our new target is any species of air conditioning.  We retreat to a restaurant, where Darin meets us for dinner.  Kevin couldn’t make it, but he’s given us directions to a Rosy Boa road, so off we go off-road. Here I’ll confess to a selfish desire. I really like Rosy Boas, but in my whole entire life, I’ve seen only two in the field, both found by other people.  The first was 15 years ago, and it was flipped.  Nice, but then I wanted to see one on the crawl, which I did in 2009, thanks to Devin (Darin’s spooky-good herping buddy).  Great, but it was seen from a distance while riding in a car, and besides, it was Devin’s sharp eye that found it.  What I want most is to discover a Boa on my own, especially while searching on foot, in its natural habitat and not on a road.  Happy to say it happened. Kevin’s road is long and rough, alternating between flat open stretches and steep canyon cuts.  It’s night, and after about an hour of seeing nothing, we decide to turn around.  As we make our way through one of the brief canyon passes I suggest getting out to search on foot.  Everyone’s agreeable, so we spread out, with Ron climbing the walls while Darin and I stay well-grounded (so to speak). I’m spotlighting between rocks and shrubs. At some distance a small branch is lying in the sand, looking slightly out of place, in that “I wonder if it’s a snake?” sort of way.  I get closer; the branch is moving.  A celebratory shout, the others come running, and the universe grants my self-serving wish.   Now, next time, all I want is to find a pair of boas.  Feeding on kangaroo rats.  While mating.  In a tree.  And they must be aberrant intergrades. No more snakes on the dirt road, though we do come across DORs on the highway, the most heartbreaking of which are another Boa and a clarus phase (black & white) Long-nosed, run over by vehicles right in front of us.  About 3:00 am we pull off the pavement and pull out the cots, courtesy of Darin’s Port-a-Bed Boutique, then rise with the sun for our final day of herping. Today we join Darin on his quest for a lifer.  It’s a spot that could be good for Mountain Kings  (Lampropeltis zonata), a top target for me and Ron, but Darin checked that box long ago.  Instead, the object of his desire is a little wormy thing that has eluded him, despite his usual dedication to the hunt and his impressive snake-finding skills.  Besides being in the right place at the right time, sometimes you also need dumb luck, which I’m  hoping to provide (I can guarantee the dumb, not necessarily the luck). Darin leads us to a mountainside, mostly covered by vegetation, but here and there rocks are scattered about.   We randomly begin flipping, though Darin, being the perfect host, leaves the best-looking rocks for me and Ron.  A moment later luck strikes, only instead of hitting Darin, it finds the stone I’m turning, and underneath, what should have been HIS snake.  He seems kinda happy about it anyway, but I feel kinda bad for deflecting his victory.  So I do what any true friend would do under such circumstances, and repeat the offense for good measure.       That was our last find, a fitting finish to a trip that included so many lifers and other new discoveries.  Baja lived up to my expectations, with its desolate beauty and hidden gems, and California continued to reveal itself.  Though we didn't see a lot of herps, the ones we did were highly satisfying, and encountered in the manner we wanted to experience.  Equally gratifying was the company we kept: Kevin and Don went above and beyond to accommodate us, stopping to show us wildlife and scenery we otherwise would have missed; waiting for us when we were far behind, making sure we didn’t get lost or left alone; sharing their stuff and their know-how; providing translation; and perhaps most important, laughing at our jokes, which even we don’t understand.  Couldn’t have asked for better guides or more generous hosts, not to mention good- natured buddies and kick-ass herpers.  My deepest gratitude to you both, with an extra helping for Kevin, whose invitation to Baja and willingness to share his vacation made this entire trip possible. Speaking of incomparable hosts and herping companions, they also don’t come much better than Darin. He made us move in, eat his food, and borrow his gear, all for a Baja trip he wasn’t even joining.  And when we did spend time together in the field, it was wonderful sharing the same sensibilities, not to mention our identical style of driving.  Very many thanks to you and your fantastic family. And so we end the trip as it began:  trees, grass, flowers.  A final hike, unburdened by herps, but full of memorable moments in-between.       
Western Blind Snake Rena humilis
Desert Spiny Lizard Sceloporus magister
© Darin Germaine
Northern Three-lined Boa (formerly Desert Rosy Boa) Lichanura orcutti (L. trivirgata gracia)
Southern Rubber Boa Charina umbratica