Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#57 - Tuesday, 9 May 2017 - Tucson, Arizona

I am now camped at the worst place I’ve stayed yet, but am having a blast! I was disappointed that I had to cancel my campsite reservation in the Santa Catalina Mountains / Coronado National Forest above Tucson due to rig size. I drove past the site and it would be a beautiful, albeit very alpine and chilly place to camp. But it is too small for the Wheelhouse. I’ll end with more about the freaky place I’m staying.

The drive to Tucson was amazing and I loved my little detour down to Tombstone. I’d have stayed there a bit longer, but was worried about my truck getting too warm for Jesse. If I’d had my thinking cap on I may have considered moving her travel cage from truck to RV to give her more air space and give me a little longer without worry. But I don’t really do tourist things so I would have quickly tired of Tombstone. Some pix, a purchase of a Stetson hat and a fine local ale from Old Bisbee Brewing at Doc Holliday’s Saloon was plenty for me.

I had two nights to do some scorpion hunting in the Catalinas before Brent and his students arrived. A quick overview: sky islands refer to high elevation oases, the mountainous forests being the islands and the desert below being the sea. The Coronado National Forest northeast of Tucson climbs to Mt. Lemmon at 9100’+ and beyond. With every thousand feet or so of elevation you change habitats. The Sonoran desert surrounding Tucson, which itself lies at about 2500 feet, rises to about 3500’ and then gives way first to semi-desert grasslands (4000’) and then Chaparral & Oak Woodland (5000’), Pine-Oak Woodland (6000’), Ponderosa Pine Forest (7000’) and Mixed Conifer Forest (8000’+) before things get really montane. On my first day it was 93ºF in Tucson, but it was 55º at dark when I began black-lighting for scorpions at Palisades, which is 7500-8000’. A cold front has moved through so on the second night I was bundled up after dark when it was 41ºF. Still, I found scorpions active at a site at 7000’ where the temperature was 44ºF.

The cold front is why I was searching for scorpions before Dr. Brent Hendrixson and his crew arrived. With chillier weather and rain forecast, I wanted to help them out by collecting some material prior to their arrival. Oddly enough, the student who is working on this project elected not to come due to the poor weather, but yesterday afternoon I picked up Brent, Ashley and Aaron at their hotel. They had originally planned to camp, as they normally will during their field trip, but the temperatures and, especially, the rain had them elect for indoor sleeping quarters. After I picked them up at the hotel we headed to “the hill”, stopping for snacks at a grocery store on the way. Brent has spent a great deal of time in this country, but it was the first time in Arizona for Ashley and Aaron. There are few drives more beautiful than the thirty miles ascending into the Catalinas and I am sure they loved it. We began our field work up at Palisades, which is the highest elevation site and one that I hadn’t found any scorpions by black-lighting the two previous nights. We wanted to do some daytime flipping of rocks and we had success finding the scorpions and I also discovered a Madrean Alligator Lizard and saw a wild turkey hen. Later we descended to another site where I did have luck black-lighting the previous two evenings and found more scorpions by flipping rocks and a Striped Plateau Lizard. Our next stop was the third of the three locations Brent had provided me. I had found three scorpions by black-lighting (using a UV flashlight to make the scorpions fluoresce [“glow in the dark”) on my first night, but hadn’t returned on the second much colder night. It was still light when we arrived so we began with “flipping”, but didn’t have much success and then the four of us had a nice cold Imperial Costa Rican beer from my cooler while we waited for dusk. We had great success after nightfall. I found 27 scorpions in the dry stream bed where I had collected three on the first night and the others had a bounty as well. The whole mission was to collect a large sample size for research into whether this scorpion (Vaejovis deboerae) and another found near Seven Cataracts vista that had been described as a different species (Vaejovis brysoni) are different or the same. Our next stop was the type locality for “brysoni” and we finished our day’s field work there by collecting some of them off the rock faces across from the scenic vista parking lot. Brent also found a nice Centruroides sculpturatus, which is America’s only medically significant scorpion (read: dangerous). I didn’t have my camera with so I collected it and walked back to my truck to get camera gear. Unfortunately, re-posing it on the rock face for a photograph allowed it to quickly make its way into a crevice before I could get an image. No worries, there will be plenty at our next destination (Picacho Peak State Park, between here and Phoenix).

Anyway, I’ll write more soon. I have to jump in shower and head to pickup Brent and crew, hopefully stopping at a Starbucks along the way. I look forward to today and then heading out tomorrow for another adventure. I promised I’d close with a comment on this dive RV park. It isn’t for travelers. It is for the almost homeless. The 30-year old beater motor home next to me is straight out of Breaking Bad. But instead of cooking meth they just seem to smoke cigarettes and tinker with garbage-picked bicycles. There are only 34 spaces in this tiny urban park and only two are vacant for travelers like me to use. These people must look at my shiny new truck and RV and wonder why I’m here, not the other way around. It is a freak show of people who seem to have nowhere to go and can’t be bothered to pick up their trash. But we all have our stories … I'll leave you with a pic of the crew from Milsaps College ... 

Ashley, Aaron & Dr. Brent Hendrixson

– All the best, M

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