Friday, June 2, 2017


I have only just begun to work on my new website, but my haste led to it publishing here and replacing the site that existed. So I will begin publishing my blog there and add more images to the gallery and create the portfolio page over this weekend.

Please now visit and bookmark and you'll soon find all of my online content there. Thanks and goodbye "Blogger".

#67 - Friday, 2 June 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

R O A D   C R U I S I N G

The night before last I turned south out of the gates at Rusty’s RV Ranch and headed south on Highway 80. One half mile later I turned to the east and followed Highway 9 toward Animas. The posted speed limit was 55 and would be 65, but my dusty white-gold F150 creeped along at about 22 mph. It was 6:40 p.m. and the temperature was about 92ºF. 33ºC. Sunset would be at about 8:15.

I’ve mentioned “road cruising” and thought it time to elucidate on the practice of traveling mostly deserted paved desert roads at dusk and into the night in search of serpents and other crepuscular wildlife. This effective method allows snake hunters to cover ground and encounter animals drawn to the pavement. At dusk ectothermic (poikilothermic) animals like reptiles take advantage of heat energy trapped in the asphalt. They have no furnace of their own, and have evolved wondrous ways of attaining optimal body temperature. The blazing sun might have cooked them and they might have escaped the heat of day in burrows or beneath rocks or other cover, but as the sun falls into the horizon some reptiles thermoregulate and digest meals by using nature’s hot water bottle. This behavior varies throughout the year as the contrast between daytime highs and surface temperature beneath the sun and that of evening roads differs. The roads may hold heat into the dark, but other reptiles are just on the move. Roads are the arteries of man, and these thoroughfares cut through wildlife habitat. Natural movements by snakes, whether hunting or mating or dispersing or whatever, cannot help but cross the roads. By road cruising the snake enthusiast can search much territory in a night and chance upon wildlife just moving from point A to B.

The night before last I crept east and my first sighting was a dead-on-road (DOR) Sonoran Gopher Snake that was perhaps three feet in length before its vehicular slaughter rearranged its anatomy. People are oblivious. That sad truth becomes more so every year as we become more device-oriented/obsessed and have so many LED lights and techno-gadetry inside our vehicles. Other drivers are focused on the sunset or birds or that next mile. Few notice anything on the pavement. Others are just pondscum. They see a snake on the road and intentionally aim their wheels at it. To them the only snake is a good snake and I can only fantasize about them being eaten alive by diseased and plague-carrying rats and other rodents in a snake-less world. They are far too ignorant to understand how beneficial snakes are or how every single organism is integral to its ecosystem.

After passing the grotesque remains of that first Sonoran Gopher Snake, I came upon another. It was very much alive. Big and beautiful, its golden scales shimmered in the light of dusk as it headed off the road towards the rocky red desert. I pressed the button for my truck’s hazard lights and moved slightly off the road. I don’t like to move too far off the pavement if I can avoid it as you never know what animals are in the scrub at the roadside. Vehicles are few and far between and I typically have them to myself except for the ubiquitous Border Patrol trucks. I already knew what the snake was so there was no need for my snake hook. I only use this to move venomous snakes off the road and position them for photographs. I now wear a pouch on my belt holding a point-and-shoot camera and always snatch my iPhone as I use it to record GPS coordinates (waypoints; Gaia GPS app) and dictate field notes (Voice Memos app). Of course, it also has a mediocre camera. I jumped out of the truck and grabbed the four-foot-plus snake about eighteen inches from the tip of its tail. Sonoran Gopher Snakes hiss and puff and strike and will bite, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I moved it farther off the road without any blood loss. The scent of snake musk filled the air. The gorgeous snake only struck at me once, but it huffed and puffed and when I set it down for photos it continued to hiss loudly. I decided to head back to the truck for my other cameras and snake hook, and then continued to capture images of it. Snakes usually are calmer when you manipulate them on a hook (metal tree branch) rather than clutching them like straws. I used the hook to lift the snake onto a rock for some better images one of which you will see below. After recording my data and noting time and temperature it was time to bid farewell to Mr. Huff and Puff and push on. The time was now 7:01 and the desert was long from cooling.

In Animas I headed south on Highway 338. At this junction there were a few other vehicles, but I continued my slow crawl with my eyes fixed on the pavement. Just outside of town I saw a minivan with a canoe strapped to the roof pulled off the side of the road. As I approached, I noticed a guy about my age with a long ponytail taking a picture of something using his smartphone. His cell phone was held only about a foot off the roadside shoulder so I knew he was photographing something that would be of interest to me. I slowly creeped up and rolled down my passenger window. I became excited when he told me that it was a Mexican Hog-nosed Snake and put my truck into reverse and aimed it off the road a bit far enough behind him. He and I both continued to capture images of the snake, which was in full-on possum mode. Hog-nosed snakes are masters of feigning death. They roll onto their backs with mouth agape and even secrete blood in their mouths. The mistake they make wouldn’t be noticed by a predator. They will move their tongues and hold them out erect like only a live snake could do. Me and my fellow road-cruiser (I would later learn that his name is Clay) got to chatting. I noticed he had Washington State license plates as I once did. I told him I was out looking for snakes and he showed me a bunch of great finds of his own using his smartphone. Since we were both headed the same direction and doing the same thing, and I was duly impressed by his ability to notice a diminutive juvenile hog-nosed snake, we agreed that I would follow him about 1/4 mile back and would join him when he found something and stopped. I stayed back far enough that I might see something he didn’t or that came onto the road after he passed, but so that I could usually see his tail lights. It was getting darker. Clay and I continued down the road until the pavement ends and then turned around and continued our road-cruising as we headed back north. We found another Sonoran Gopher Snake. He stopped for a Groundsnake, but it raced off the road before he could catch it. We stopped for a Texas Horned Lizard. We stopped for a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (WDB). And so on.

It was about 10 pm when I fell farther behind him and encountered another WDB. It was a pretty juvenile. Stopping to photograph it and record data increased the separation between my truck and Clay’s van and I later continued back to Animas alone. When I turned west on Highway 9 and passed Valley Mercantile I noticed his van parked near its fuel pumps. I decided to pull in and top off my tank and have one last chat with him. A group of young “good ole boys” in a big customized truck seemed to be eyeing him with ill intention. When I pulled in and got out they eyed me and then squealed their tires and kicked up a dust storm as they headed the way Clay and I had come. I walked over to his vehicle and he said that the young locals definitely looked like they wanted to hassle him or were otherwise up to no good. We chatted and said our goodbyes after discussing some trails in the Chiricahuas. I went back to the fuel pump and filled my truck. As drove to the exit he stopped and tapped his horn twice. I thought he was just sounding a final goodbye. But he jumped out of his van and exclaimed “there’s an atrox right here”. That’s the species name of the Western Diamondback (WDB) and, sure enough, our last snake of the night was a gorgeous four foot WDB slowly crawling across the pavement right at Valley Mercantile.

Yesterday I finally visited the Chiricahua Desert Museum (CDM). Earlier I drove into the Chiris to visit the Chiricahua Nature Shop at the Southwestern Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History. I had intended to hike the Basin Trail again after Clay had told me about finding some bucket list snakes along the mountain trails that include Basin. However, I did not sleep well and was exhausted. So I decided it would be tourism gift shop day. As I pulled into CDM, I saw Bob Ashley out front. Owner/director of the museum and co-owner of NARBC, the national reptile show where I used to exhibit during its Tinley Park (Chicago) stop, Bob and I don’t know each other well but I thought he’d recognize me. I used to deal more with his partner Brian Potter and also longtime colleague-friend Russ Gurley who helps with their shows. But Bob at least acted like he knew me, shook my hand and welcomed me to CDM. I told him I was registered for the Biology of Snakes conference he was hosting/organizing at the end of July and he got back to work on his big Baja Blue Rock Lizard enclosure while I spent some money on books, hats and cards in his amazing gift shop and then toured his incredible, mostly-reptile oriented museum and its live exhibits showcasing over thirty species of rattlesnakes and many other denizens of the desert. Next door to the gift shop and museum is his Apache Museum and Geronimo Event Center where the conference will be held. The Apache Museum features Geronimo and other Native American history. I spent all of two minutes in there as history/culture is not my thing and it seemed the air conditioning wasn’t on and it was hotter than hell. I then toured the beautiful gardens and outdoor displays where Bob worked on the lizard enclosure. He invited me to return on the weekend when he would have more time to give me a little behind-the-scenes personal tour of his impressive complex.

But this is a story about road cruising … Last night I decided to travel exactly the same roads and perhaps run into Clay again. This area is “closer to home” than the roads I have cruised that lead to Hachita and south to the border at Antelope Wells. I didn’t see Clay or anyone else other than Border Patrol. I actually had two nice conversations with Border Patrol officers that offset the story I told here of the officer I had encountered a couple weeks earlier when I went all the way down to Antelope Wells. The first pair stopped when I moved off the road so I wouldn’t have to speed up and chatted with me for awhile. They were young and friendly and so much more officer material than the fat country bumpkin I had met near Antelope Wells. They asked me what part of Illinois I was from and let me know if I had any troubles to flag them down. We wished each other a safe night and I was left with a better impression of Border Patrol. Later, long after dark, I stopped to photograph a rattlesnake just after turning around to head back north and a solo officer pulled over to make sure I was OK. I just said I’m a snake photographer and there is a rattlesnake right next to your truck and he wished me a safe evening.

I’ll close with a brief report of last night’s “cruise”. I don’t have time now to process my photographs and insert them into the blog so please check my Instagram tonight. There already are plenty of pix from the previous night.

I road cruised 75 miles over the course of 4 hours (6:45-10:45).

  1. 7:15 pm. 85ºF - Sonoran Gopher Snake (live, ~24”) - Had just started south on Highway 338. 
  2. 7:29 pm, 82ºF - Patch-nosed Snake (DOR. ~28”) 
  3. 8:02 pm, 77ºF - Texas Horned Lizard (live) - Just north of Mile Marker 13. 
  4. 8:43 pm, 76ºF - Mohave Rattlesnake (live, ~16”) - Just north of Mile Marker 23
  5. 9:05 pm, 76ºF - Western Diamondback Rattlesnake [WDB] (live, ~30”) - Just after turning around and heading back north
  6. 10:20 pm, 70ºF - WDB (live, ~18”) - Just west of Animas on Highway 9
  7. 10:28 pm, 70ºF - WDB (live, ~28”) - About four miles west of Animas 

Other wildlife seen: jackrabbits, more jackrabbits, cottontails, mule deer, Ferruginous Hawk, open range cattle, etc. 

The Mohave Rattlesnake was the jewel of the night! Such a pretty little youngster. This species is much less commonly seen road cruising than WDB. This snake is known for its dangerous mix of haemotoxic and neurotoxic venom components and envenomation causes severe respiratory distress and is extremely threatening to life.

     —   All the best, M

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#66 - Wednesday, 31 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Thunderstorms and dusty roads … and flies

As I headed northeast on Highway 80 toward the New Mexico state line I saw very few other vehicles. I kept looking southeast, watching the dark clouds and rains engulf the Animas Mountains. Looking out my driver’s side window I saw most of the Chiricahuas sunlit while the northern peaks looked like they were also receiving rain. It had been a long time since I had seen rain. I had about ten more miles to go before I’d reach New Mexico. While driving out of the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness, past the San Bernadino Wildlife Refuge and on to Douglas, Arizona, I had driven through some rain. However, it didn’t do much to cleanse my dusty truck. Dust and winds are constants here. I had been in the Peloncillo Mountains, again looking for tarantulas and scorpions. This rugged wilderness is mostly deserted. It is the domain of smugglers of both drugs and people and Border Patrol officers trying to discourage the latter. I had stopped for lunch at the type locality for one of my favorite scorpions, Diplocentrus peloncillensis. It’s unknown to all but arachnologists. It is found beneath rocks on the north-facing slope across from a historical marker memorializing the Mormon Battalion, the army’s only religious unit, which crossed the mountains in 1846. This road through the Peloncillos is called Geronimo Trail, and as I now headed northeast back through camp I approached another historical marker in Apache, Arizona where Geronimo surrendered to U.S. troops in 1886. I was focused on the lightning in the distance and the darkening clouds and rain over mountains both to the west and east. I saw an approaching vehicle driving on the two-lane highway’s shoulder and slowed as I wondered why. It began to stop and as I slowed some more I noticed the scene unfolding in my rear-view mirror. The entire highway behind me and the skies above were almost black. A dust storm had enveloped desert. Passage was impossible for the driver headed toward Douglas, but I forged ahead marveling at the ominous palette of mountain skies.

Yesterday began like most. I had no plan other than to get out into nature. Very often I roll out of Rusty’s RV Ranch’s gates with no destination. Unless I want to head north toward Lordsburg, NM, everything is to the right (south). Once I begin toward Rodeo I can head east on Highway 9 toward Animas or west into the Chiricahua Mountains or continue southwest on Highway 80. I hadn’t had much of a breakfast or packed lunch so I decided on the easterly option, planning to stop at Valley Mercantile in Animas for a breakfast sandwich, extra sports drinks and fixin’s for lunch on the trail. Then I just spontaneously decided to drive south out of town on Hwy 338 which becomes the Geronimo Trail. Next thing I knew I was all the way down to the Peloncillos and the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness. 

Texas Horned Lizard found on road on drive south
After hiking around at a few different spots and having lunch, I began to notice the threatening skies. From my lunch spot at the Mormon Batallion Historical Landmark I was 40 miles from Animas, New Mexico and 38 miles from Douglas, Arizona. The first was actually shorter as my campsite is 16 miles from Animas so I was 56 miles from home if I went in that direction. However, I knew that path well. I had yet to drive farther west in the Peloncillos all the way to where you exit the Coronado National Forest and parallel the Mexico border into Douglas, Arizona. With the possibility of rain I decided I’d rather do a scenic drive than hike and I’d like to see the rest of the road and then take advantage of being able to shop at the Wal-Mart in Douglas. From Douglas it is another 60 miles or so back to camp. The drive out "the other side" of the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness was beautiful and the terrain changed several times. With my truck in four-wheel-drive I scrambled along the rocky and winding, ascending and descending, rubble road. Eventually my southwesterly direction brought me into Arizona, but there was no posted state line. The road eventually headed mostly west and was often within walking distance of Mexico. I stopped to photograph a huge Red-tailed Hawk. 

Red-tailed Hawk along the Geronimo Trail at the confluence of Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico 

As I continued west, I saw many Border Patrol vehicles and even one with its flashing lights illuminated down a little side trail where it was detaining another truck. After spending the day in four-wheel-drive, getting my truck dustier and dustier as I left a big cloud everywhere I rolled, the road finally straightened to parallel the border for good and, after a dozen or so more miles, became paved. I entered Douglas thinking that maybe I'd best find a car wash, but it's only going to get dusty and dirty again tomorrow. Four-wheeling along the narrow rock and dirt roads of remote canyons is much of my fun. 

Eventually I ended up along Calle International, which literally runs right along the fence wall between countries. You see cars and pedestrians ten feet away from you, but isolated in another world. The road ran to the border crossing and then turned north. I stocked up on a few things at Wal-Mart and then drove northeast back to camp through intermittent drizzle until the dust storm where we began.

Calle International
In the days before this I have been mostly hiking in the Chiricahuas where one morning I visited the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station. I intend to return there tomorrow as the gift shop was closed and I want a detailed map of the trails of the Chiricahua Mountains. They have a bird feeding area with numerous hummingbird feeders and I sat for a couple of hours and watched Black-chinneds, Magnificent and the super rare Blue-throated Hummingbirds. I posted some images to Instagram. Tomorrow I will also finally visit the Chiricahua Desert Museum that is owned by the co-promoter of the reptile show I used to do in Tinley Park. Bob Ashley also owns Eco Books and Eco clothing lines. The Desert Museum sits right at the road that leads you from the main highway into the Chiricahuas, two miles north of Rodeo and four miles south of Rusty's. I drive by it every day, but have been trying to resist the temptation to pop in as I know I'll leave with several pricey books. Part of the Desert Museum complex is a conference center and on July 26-29 it is hosting the first Biology of Snakes Conference. I registered yesterday. So, after a July 21 String Cheese Incident show at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, I'll return to Rusty's for another month beginning July 23 (RV will be stored here for a month) and be only four miles from the conference. It may seem crazy to stay on in the hot, dusty, windy desert through July and August, but that is monsoon season. Rains will fall and wildlife will be on the move.

Magnificent Hummingbird male, Southwestern Research Station, Chiricahua Mountains
Originally I had hoped that my mate Mark would be joining me in the desert for my August 5 birthday, but that isn't in the cards. Therefore, I decided I'd really like to attend the snake conference and that then I may as well spend my birthday here instead of moving about. I love the Chiris and this park is very inexpensive if you book a month and extremely peaceful and relaxed. It is also very dry and dusty and remote. And full of flies.

For images from my adventures go here. I continue to work on a new website that will integrate everything in one place.

     —   All the best, M

Friday, May 26, 2017

#65 - Friday, 26 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Windswept in the desert…

Not much new to report … I’ll be here for awhile and will settle into a routine. Having an address has allowed me to order some RV supplies and DVDs online and I’ve been stuck at my site yesterday and today awaiting packages. They’re supposed to just leave at my site as noted on shipping address, but it doesn’t seem as straightforward as that.

Yesterday I was attacked by a dust devil. I’ve seen them throughout this desert and the section of Interstate 10 to the north is marked with large warning signs alerting motorists to the extreme winds and potential of zero visibility. Another sign they should have considered is “Very well may be sandblasted”. I was up on a stepladder cleaning the seals on my two slide-outs in preparation for applying a protectant when I suddenly was knocked on me arse. Jesse’s little-used playstand, which sits along the side of the Wheelhouse came crashing over. The large map book I had been looking at with my morning coffee was obliterated into single pages tumbling across the dusty hard-packed ground toward the office trailer. Rusty and her main “hand” Bob came out and helped me collected my widespread mess, which included collecting my hat from 100 yards away from where it shaded my baldness only moments before. The winds persist, but that dust devil was gone as quickly as it engulfed me. I was relieved that my awning had not been extended. There is no shade and the Wheelhouse sits parched beneath the blazing sun, but I can’t give it the shade of the awning for fear that it be ripped off the RV and plunged into the duck pond.

I continue to work on my new website using Squarespace. I’ve designed so many from scratch, writing XHTML and CSS and refining in Dreamweaver, but today it is so easy to make a clean site with click-and-drag template services. When the site is live my blog will move there. Then whether you use or you will land at the same one-stop website with galleries, blog and info and links to my Instagram and other sites.

Wednesday I visited a home near Portal Cafe at the gateway to the Chiricahua Mountains in Portal, Arizona some twenty minutes from here. The owner has a little parking area with a gate that opens to a trail that takes you through her (or his) property along the house for aways to a clearing that contains a number of bird feeders. There is a picnic table and several chairs. When I arrived one birder was leaving and told me as he got into his truck that the morning’s special sighting was a Blue Grosbeak. The sign welcomed birders and instructed you to watch for snakes. Aren’t I always? The path winds through cover past a feed shed until you get to the bird viewing area where a donation jar is mounted. I had zero dollars in my wallet at the time, but I’ll contribute to the feed tab when I revisit. A lone woman sat in one of the chairs with binoculars and camera at the ready. The gentleman who was leaving was the only other car so I wondered how she got there. I wondered if it was her home. I sat with my cameras and watched the Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxia, beautiful Tanagers and other birds. Gambel’s Quail were abundant and a female with chicks darted in and out of the clearing. Both White-winged and Collared Doves were particularly prevalent. The late morning light wasn’t great and I wished I had binoculars instead of cameras. None of my images are worth posting. That’s ok though … I increasingly tire of worrying about images to share instead of just enjoying the moment. Think I’ll trade one camera for binoculars.

     –   All the best, M

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#64b - Tuesday, 23 May 2017 - Rodeo, NM

Here is the video mentioned in this morning's blog entry

#64a - Tuesday, 23 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Yesterday I filmed a little video showing the outside of my home for the next thirty nights. The whole idea was to embed it into this blog. Unfortunately, due to slow wifi and some technical difficulties, I can't share that quite yet. It is hopefully uploading to YouTube right now and I will be able to share tomorrow. So here's a photograph of my campsite. I think this is the nicest in the park as it is still in the corner off away from everything and is adjacent to the duck pond. It also has the best patio. In the pic below you will see a wooden table (pallet on legs) for grilling on the left, a nice fire pit in the foreground and a picnic table, all of which are right outside my doors and partially covered by my awning. You'll also note Jesse's play stand outdoors and the hummingbird feeder hung in the tree at far right.

This morning I did some laundry and am having a relax day. Last night I drove 100 miles (2 hours) to the Antelope Wells border crossing and waited there for the sun to set. I had tried to time my drive so there wouldn't be much of a wait, but I left camp about 30 minutes too early. Each time I drive from my camp at Rusty's east to Animas (16 miles) for fuel or groceries I have been seeing horned lizards at the highway edge if it is somewhere around 8-10 a.m. They are more active when the sun isn't completely blazing and retreat from the midday and afternoon heat in burrows. Last night, as I drove toward the Mexico border and Antelope Wells I thought I saw one again. There are a few species in this area, but the largest and broadest is the Greater Short-horned Lizard, which is only five or six inches long but has a back almost as broad and flat as my hand. I hit the breaks, swung an off-road U-turn and slowly creeped back north in my truck. Sure enough this bucket list species was basking on the pavement at dusk. I jumped out of the truck and approached, stupidly not bothering to grab my camera. I wanted to catch first and photo second, positioning the lizard on a natural background and not photographing it on pavement. First mistake. I would love to have that photo now. As I reached down toward it, the horned lizard (aka horny toad) surprised me with its speed. What ensued fortunately wasn't captured on film. It was a comedy of errors as the lizard darted back and forth and headed toward the roadside. Big, clumsy me was no match for even this super stocky and robust lizard's moves. It paused and darted, again and again, each time evading me and taking advantage of my height and girth. I simply wasn't agile enough or quick enough to bend over. Along the road's shoulder I picked up ground and went in for the grab. Just as my hand touched its extraordinarily broad and flattened back it scurried further out of reach and darted down one of the many holes that led to its tunnel. Foiled. I sat on the side of the road and cursed myself for not taking an image while it was calmly on the pavement.

This all occurred about ten miles north of the border. I was getting very hungry and also cursed my ill-preparedness at not having a sandwich or snack in the vehicle. I had a little siesta before leaving the RV two hours earlier and hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had no idea what Antelope Wells was and expected at least a small village where perhaps I could purchase a snack. Foiled again. It may look like a village on the map, but it turns out that Antelope Wells is nothing but a border crossing. I was in the middle of nowhere with no food for two hours in each direction.

Antelope Wells. No food in sight.
I took a few social media snapshots of the crossing, which had been closed since 4 pm and then sat watching the sun set over the Animas Mountains. I am not patient and didn't wait for dark. I began to creep slowly north on Highway 81. My normal "snake road cruising" speed is 25-30 mph, but I tried to go 10 so I wouldn't get too far before nightfall. A few nights earlier I had found four Painted Desert Glossy Snakes between mile markers 16-20. I was hoping that this stretch would yield other species. 

Near mile marker 6 – just a handful of miles north of Mexico – I spotted a snake coiled in the road. It was still light enough that I could see its stockiness and reddish color. I knew immediately that it was a rattlesnake. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes in this area are very red as that is the color of the desert here. It was simply beautiful with its tightly wound coils an adobe red. I put my truck in park and quickly jumped out. I had learned my lesson with the horned lizard and grabbed my macro camera set-up. When I am road cruising I have my two camera bodies set up - one with a 100mm macro lens and ring flash, the other with a 70-200mm lens and an external flash with a softbox diffuser. Thankfully, I captured the beautiful image you see here. But before I did I had to open the passenger door to grab my snake hook. As I went around the side of the truck I was surprised by another rattlesnake, almost identical in appearance to the one in the road, but perhaps four feet long instead of three. I grabbed my other camera and tried to position the snake for a photo, leaving the road snake coiled as it was. Western Diamondbacks are noted for their irascibility and are quick to throw themselves into a defensive positive with their heads held high and their necks in an S-shape. This one did not disappoint and struck at me repeatedly as it rattled loudly and slithered in reverse. Each time my snake hook touched it the snake used serpentine motion to keep facing me and striking while it moved quickly away from the roadside shoulder. I decided to let it be and return to the snake in the road. With good images captured it was time to move it off the road if for its own safety and nothing else. It gave me the same performance as its friend had, agitated and refusing to balance on the snake hook as it thrust its body away from the road. I ended up with two beautiful red diamondbacks rattling and striking and moving quickly into the roadside brush. It was interesting how two snakes that were about fifteen feet apart at the start of this encounter and eventually were about 25 feet away from each other ended up in almost exactly the same place. They both retreated to some bushes surrounding a soaptree yucca and their rattling was deafening. By now it was too dark to see and I went back to my truck to put on my headlamp and sip some water. I spent a little time with a flashlight looking for the snakes hoping to get another photo or two, but decided I had stressed them out enough. I got back in my truck and started slowly north. About a mile along I realized that I had neglected to record GPS coordinates so I turned back and looked for that soaptree yucca. I could hear the rattling from the road so it was easy to find the spot again. I use an app called Gaia GPS that allows you to create photographic waypoints so I took a picture of the yucca and used my iPhone to record the sound of the rattling bush.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

I'd say that the rest of the drive was uneventful, because I didn't find anymore live snakes. I did find one more Western Diamondback, also in this reddish color, but sadly it was on the slightly busier Hwy. 9 after I made it back 50 miles north to Hachita where I took it west. However, road cruising is never uneventful as you have to contend with hundreds of jackrabbits and hundreds of cottontails that seem to think launching into the roadway is a good idea when they see two tons of bright lights humming their way. I return to camp totally exhausted from my efforts to swerve and brake and accelerate as needed to minimize the number of hares and rabbits I trample. I would estimate that in the course of last evening's drive down to Antelope Wells at dusk and then road cruising at dark and driving 100 miles back to Rodeo I saw several hundred black-tailed jackrabbits and almost the same number of cottontails (both species, common and desert). In addition, the road at night is filled with racing rodents like kangaroo rats that are like psychotic gerbils as their plump little bodies and thick long tails streak from one side of the road to the next, crossing the two lanes of pavement in the blink of an eye.

I mentioned that today I am just relaxing. By that I mean I am not in my truck, not hiking and not photographing. I am just hanging out in my RV. I did a load of laundry this morning and checked out the clubhouse here to see if I could watch hockey there tonight. I also have been doing some Internet stuff. Yesterday I joined a website called It allows you to upload images for identification if you don't know what you've found, but in my case allows me to ID for others or upload my images just to share. Even if I didn't interact with others it is a great place to store the same low-resolution watermarked images I post on Instagram and record the GPS coordinates and other info about each observation. I've only played with it for two days, but I am really excited about fully utilizing its potential and becoming part of the community. It's also a great way to find other peoples observations from the areas I visit and get locality information for species I am seeking. Sharing exact locations by precise GPS coordinates does have a certain risk as it can be used by collectors (read: poachers), but the trend today in scientific papers is to share this precise locality data and I don't imagine that someone is going to eradicate a species of scorpion or snake just based on my information, or that my not sharing info is going to prevent people from doing as they choose. It's all out there now and I choose to embrace the positive aspects.

Another Internet thing I am finally getting around to is building a new personal website. For many years was my primary home. Today it has been reduced to a single page and I started before I left on this road trip. The latter was intended to be more about living on the road and doing some freelance design work and such, but I now wish to have one website that really focuses on my naturalist and wildlife photography adventures. Some of you may know that my SmugMug site is my true photo gallery and it even offers you the chance to buy prints of my images, but I don't really think it sees much traffic and I haven't been uploading new images there. 90% of the photos there are images of tarantula species taken in captivity. So the new site will contain my images of animals in nature and allow a better platform for everyone to view them than social media does. I will keep you updated on the completion of this site. I will just plug away at it here and there and probably spend a good deal of time finishing it when I am spending a couple weeks in Chicagoland in early July.

Note: If you haven't seen the first RV video I made, which gives you a tour of my Wheelhouse and was filmed in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park back in March, click here to view. Hopefully tomorrow I will blog again with a link to the video I shot here.

Whirled peas, M

Monday, May 22, 2017

#63 - Monday, 22 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Settled in Rodeo, New Mexico …?

When I decided racing back to Texas to rejoin the Millsaps College Scorpion Searchers was not in my best interest, and that I would stay longer between the Chiricahua and Peloncilla Mountains, it gave me the opportunity to minimize RV towing and maximize exploration of the beautiful Chiricahua Mountains and the reptiles and arachnids of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. I have expressed my love-hate for birding, but this also is the best birding area in the U.S. for bucket list Mexican species that cross the border nowhere else. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the trails in the Chiricahuas or the spots in its foothills where people allow you onto their land to enjoy the birds at their feeders. My decision to extend my stay at Rusty’s RV Ranch for another week transformed into another month when I spoke with Rusty. Today is my checkout from my first week of stay and I will move to another site (this one is reserved by someone incoming) and, for the first time, become a temporarily sedentary gypsy/pikey/nomad. My stay here will now surpass five weeks and I’ll depart around June 20.

I’ve mentioned the need to return to Chicago to renew my driver’s license. I might be able to do so online, but I want to take a little break and visit family too. I need new eyeglasses and need to put 90% of the clothes I have in my RV into storage and grab a few stored items that I wish I had with me. For example, if I would have had my tent and sleeping bag it would have made it possible to spend a little more time in the field with Brent and his students. It would allow me to hit a few spots where my RV cannot go. So, my present plan is to leave my RV here at Rusty’s at the end of my stay and head back to Chicagoland. I’ll take a bit of a scenic route and perhaps take a week to drive what I could do in a couple days. After a visit to Chicagoland, where Jesse and I will stay with Joel and no doubt gorge on sushi a couple times, I will take an even more scenic route back to New Mexico with my sleeping bag and tent allowing me to camp in some national and state parks en route.

Here in Rodeo I look forward to continued road cruising at night for snakes, hiking in the Chiricahuas and maybe taking a few longer day trips to other areas in southern Arizona and New Mexico. I've now driven down to the Mexican border at Douglas, Arizona and that same road would allow me to visit the old mining town of Bisbee. Douglas is the closest city of size and has a Wal-Mart that I'll visit a few times over the next month to stock up on supplies. I'll probably do that in the evening so the drive back is after dark and may allow me to happen upon interesting snakes on the road. Yesterday I ran out of propane for the first time and drove to Valley Mercantile in Animas to find them closed on Sunday. Instead of back-tracking and heading down to the Wal-Mart again, I drove up to the interstate (I-10) and headed east to Lordsburg, New Mexico. It's actually a bit closer than Douglas and has a decent grocery store. I was able to find propane at a truck stop so Jesse and I would have heat last night (temps are currently in the low 90s by day and the low 50s at night). Today after I move to another campsite I'll get my two primary 20# cylinders filled in Animas. So here is an updated map that shows the added frequented stops of Douglas, Arizona (Agua Prieta, Mexico lies on the other side of the border) and Lordsburg, New Mexico. Note how State Hwy. 80 runs diagonally southwest from Rodeo. From my site it takes less than ten minutes before I cross the Arizona state line. 

     –   All the best, M