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
TEXAS
May 2004
 3 of 4
TEXAS
May 2004
 3 of 4
Next morning we go for hikes, everyone scattering in different directions.  The sky is gray and windy, just like the past few days; we’re not too optimistic about finding herps.  I decide to return where we were last night so I can explore it by daylight.  Though the stream bed is parched, pools of water remain in depressions carved out by flash floods, and borders are thick with vegetation, evidence of storms that soak the desert each spring. I walk along puddles and watch the edges come alive.  Rapid-fire succession of splash! splash! splash!  I’m amazed at the sight of so many frogs in the desert, diving underwater or hiding in mossy shadows from the desiccating sun.  Here and there small hops betray the presence of other anurans, toads as flat and rough as the rocks.        So, where there’s water, there are frogs, even in this arid land.  And where there are frogs, there are certain to be frog-eaters.  My eye catches movement as something long slithers up the bank, and in a moment I’m admiring this handsome Garter. The clouds give way to sun and the overcast morning burns off, becoming a blinding afternoon.  Down a smaller, drier wash, the bare walls and bleached stones intensify the glare.  I feel a headache coming on.  Time to find shade and take a drink. I plant myself beneath a mesquite tree, throw off my pack, and undo the water bottle.  I’m leaning against the trunk, head back and taking a sip, when suddenly a Whiptail darts out from a thick tangle of brush off to my right.  Then another.  And one more.  Now, it’s not unusual for these lizards to be on the move, with short jittery advances as they actively forage during the day.  But these guys are racing at full speed, as if something were . . .   A large pointed head pokes out from the bush, an inch off the ground;  a slender pink body slowly follows.  The snake periscopes and turns in all directions, surveying the ground, alert for any lizard-like movement.  It’s two feet from where I sit.   I watch for a moment, trying to decide if there’s any way I can get my camera without spooking the snake.  I conclude it’s hopeless, and that my only chance for a picture is to make a grab.  I get ready, begin to lean, and then with all the grace of a middle-aged management consultant, I dive.   Voom!  The snake vanishes.  I don’t simply miss, I cause it to disappear.  I separate the brush, pulling back the branches:  don’t see a thing.  I rush around back, hoping to cut off an escape:  no sign of snake.  I listen for a rustle in the leaves:  nothing.  I’m about to give up, when I remember something other herpers have described in similar circumstances.  I look up, and there over my head, is the high-climbing Coachwhip. Meanwhile, on another part of the property, Danny discovers two jack rabbits on a first date. And Jay’s also been busy, chasing down a hard-to-catch lizard for us flat-footed Easterners.  What can I say, the man’s got game.       We meet up back at the campsite and Joe invites us for short climb to a nearby hill.  Up to the crest overlooking a gorge, then leaning out carefully, Joe points to something wedged on the ledge of a cliff.  It’s a hawk’s nest, and through our binocs we see a pair of large, downy chicks, almost ready to fly.     Joe tells us the same hawk returns to that isolated perch every year, at home in its own private niche.  It reminds me of our host.  Here in this wilderness, surrounded by unbroken beauty, he’s found and protected an extraordinary place that tugs at you to return again.  I scan the dramatic scenery as the sky fades towards evening, knowing there are herps hiding somewhere below, and once more I’m touched by the privilege of sharing this special place.   Thanks, Joe, with deep appreciation.       
Rio Grande Leopard Frog Rana berlandieri
Red-Spotted Toad Bufo punctatus
Blackneck Garter Snake Thamnophis cyrtopsis
Western Collared Lizard Crotaphytus collaris baileyi
 Danny Mendez
© Danny Mendez
 Danny Mendez  Danny Mendez  Danny Mendez  Joseph E. Forks