Turning Rocks Into Lizards

A desert spiny lizard peeks out from behind a rock on the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As I hike the pattern recognition part of my brain is constantly scanning for objects that might be wildlife even though they often turn out not to be. I spent a summer in Florida in the mid-90’s and was delighted by the many alligators there, it took years after we moved to Oregon for that part of my brain to stop trying to identify possible alligators when I hiked in marshland. In Yellowstone on a gravel road there was a large rock in the distance that in the periphery resembled a bear. I loved that road and drove it a number of times and as I approached that spot, I’d tell myself not to be fooled even for an instant by what I came to call Bear Rock. But every time the pattern recognition would kick in for a fraction of a second and say “Hey is that a …” before the rest of my brain would reply “I just told you it wasn’t going to be a bear!”

Here in the Sonoran Desert I am fooled by cholla skeletons that look like rattlesnakes, twigs like small lizards, granite protuberances like large lizards. I try to use my mental powers to turn rocks into lizards but usually I fail, rock stays rock. But sometimes I succeed and the rock comes to life, such as this beautiful desert spiny lizard on the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. One success is worth a thousand misses.

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