On Friday Bear had another new experience in the desert when he saw his first Mojave rattlesnake. I use the term “saw” rather loosely as though I was keeping a close eye on the trail in front of us, it’s quite narrow in this section and as we rounded a kink he walked right past it and I, following close behind, only saw it at the last and instinctively hopped over it.
After my heart started beating again, with the snake so docile and Bear so well behaved, I took a few moments to watch it from a safer distance. It was on the small side, motionless apart from an occasional flicking of the tongue, and seemed to have a green tint to its coloring. The funny thing is, I only see hints of the green in the pictures, perhaps a trick of the light or a trick of the fright. It was coiled up on top of its tail and never sounded the alarm with its rattle. After a few quick pictures and taking a moment to revel in its beauty, we warned an approaching cyclist and continued on our way.
I love peaceful encounters with rattlesnakes but I don’t need to come that close to one ever again. I wasn’t sorry we were taking a different route back to the car but I am thankful I got to watch it for a little while, it was only my second time seeing this species and it’s such a treat to watch them when you both feel safe.
After seeing his first rattlesnake on Saturday, the desert offered Bear another first on Sunday when I took him to the Pima Dynamite trailhead for the first time (and my first visit in a long time), hiking from there to the Brown’s Ranch trailhead. At the end of the hike from a distance I heard a rattlesnake and it continued its rattle as we approached. It was safely off the trail hidden under a bush (I never did see it), but I also couldn’t see the source of its agitation until we rounded a bend and saw a bobcat relaxing in the shadows next to the bush. I was shocked Bear didn’t seem interested in it, and that after a quick glance it didn’t seem bothered by Bear. When Bear asked what a bobcat was I said it was like Trixie but several times larger and with less attitude.
Last night as we relaxed in my office the cats sprang off me when there was a rustling outside and we heard chomping on the other side of a large bush. Not wanting to scare whatever was enjoying a meal I waited until at last the chewing stopped and a small bobcat trotted into sight before disappearing into the neighbor’s yard.
We’ll never see the desert’s big cats but the small ones do put on a show from time to time.
Yesterday as Bear and I took an afternoon walk around Cone Mountain, I took a few snapshots of the desert in bloom as mementos of our time together on the trails. Later on as we circled the mountain, as we passed a boulder closer to the trail than this one, the tall grasses began to shake and rattle. I instinctively told Bear to leave it (we’ve been practicing whenever my beloved lizards scamper across the trail) but he wasn’t showing any interest in any case. To be sure he understood what I wanted him to ignore, I backed up a few feet, still far outside striking range, to make sure he saw the rattlesnake. He looked at me the same as when I stop for a picture, ready to go when I am, so we continued on our way.
I’m delighted he didn’t try to position himself between me and the snake, or show any interest at all, but the snake was fairly hidden in the tall grass so perhaps it would have been a different story if the snake was slithering on the trail in front of us. Odds are highly in favor of it being a western diamondback but it was so obscured I couldn’t tell with a quick glance and didn’t take a picture since I didn’t want to risk disturbing it any further or to take my eyes off the pup.
Bear gets formal snake training in a few weeks but I’m glad to see he passed the test, this was his first rattlesnake. It’s a test he’ll have to pass repeatedly to be allowed to hike in the desert in the warmer months. Sadly our afternoon hikes will come to an end soon as hot weather is fast approaching, then it will be early morning hikes only for him. There are more dangerous things than rattlesnakes.
People often wonder how tall saguaros can grow as it can be hard to grasp from pictures. The rule of thumb is the old giants can grow so tall as to almost touch the moon. So, pretty tall. You do have to be careful though as some saguaros use a technique known as heightening, where they convince a desert denizen to perch up top to make them look taller.
A soaptree yucca is surrounded by shadows early on a fall morning. This camera has a tilting screen which came in handy as there is a bush between the trail and the yucca so I was holding the camera overhead and using the screen to position the camera so the dried flowers on the flower stalk were set against the blue sky but without letting the big bush creep into the bottom of the frame. The screen didn’t help with the vertical shots, my little Nikon with its fully articulating screen would have been better there, but I ended up preferring the horizontal shot as I like the context it provides.
There is gold at your feet that leads not to greed and destruction, but to wonder. I photographed this yellow brick road a year ago, a focus stack of 28 images since the boulder was so bumpy. I’ve been meaning to relocate this lichen since I enjoy taking pictures of the same subject over time, and I must have walked past it recently when Bear decided to take this fork of the trail, but the pace he sets doesn’t exactly allow you to revel in the subtlety of the desert. To be fair even when alone I often get distracted by other things I see and forget to look for what I originally hoped to find.
As part of his continuing education Bear and I have been hiking each weekend, I take him on a mix of trails he’s well familiar with as well as some new ones, to give him some new sights and sounds and see how he does on different types of terrain. He’s been doing great, on this occasion I took him up Brown’s Mountain, when we met a woman on a horse he immediately stepped to the side and sat and earned praise from the rider and a treat from me.
When we got to the overlook near the top of the mountain I planned to take his picture with the summit behind him but I couldn’t as this was my only view of him. He was transfixed by the view of the desert below, to the point he wouldn’t drink his water and even only ate his carrots if I reached around and placed them in his mouth, so he didn’t have to avert his eyes for even a moment.
I wondered if he knew our house was off in the distance by the mountains to his right? That the dozens of trails we had walked lay near and far below us? That seeing him blossom on our walks first in the neighborhood and now in the desert brings me such joy? He gets so excited when he sees me put on my hiking clothes he starts chasing his tail, and when we arrive he bounds down the trail with such enthusiasm I once wondered aloud if he was making up for lost time. Which perhaps he is.
I realized he had probably never been up this high before and let him soak in the view for a while. A fighter jet roared overhead to celebrate our achievement, or perhaps to fly over the Super Bowl on the other side of the valley. A woman the size of an ant appeared on the trail below and he let out a quiet growl to let me know something wasn’t right. I assured him she was so sleight because of our great height but he wasn’t convinced. When he was finally ready to go our wandering wizard had reached the overlook, thankfully she had transformed back into full size and Bear was happy to continue on our way.
Far and away my favorite rock is folk rock but Cathedral Rock is pretty nice too (given how many made up names I use for my favorite places in the preserve, I should point out this is the official name of this massive rock formation at the foot of Cholla Mountain). This visit a couple of weeks ago was Bear’s first, I’ve been here before but not in a while as the potholes can hold water long after it rains, which tends to attract my arch-enemies the bees. I had a wonderful experience here with two desert spiny lizards in 2018, and in the same year saw two of the three Gila monsters I’ve ever seen on the trail leading here, which is a good reminder to visit more often when the rocks aren’t buzzing.
Last weekend I took Bear up to some favorite trails, we were going to visit the Amphitheater again but he started down a different trail and since he hadn’t been down it yet I decided to go with it. He soon started snuffling real hard and, like with the coyote pack, I eventually had to physically turn his head so he could see what he was smelling. Not too far away were a pack of mule deer, two does and their fawns. He sat still, quiet and transfixed, and since the deer weren’t showing any of their various signs of alarm, I let him watch for a while before we continued down the trail and left them to their grazing.
On the way out of the park as sunset approached I stopped him for a quick picture in the warm light. I always try to sneak in a little wildlife in my non-wildlife shots, in this case behind him is a Harris’s hawk on a saguaro. We met several members of the family a few moments prior, one of whom was relentlessly dive-bombed by an angry kestrel.
A couple of weeks ago I took Bear to my favorite trail, arriving late in the day both so there would be fewer people and so by the time we reached the Elephant the light would be getting soft, with time left to get back to the car before closing. Except my timing was off because I planned for how long it takes me when I dawdle along and not the go-go-go pace set by the Great and Mighty Bear, so we arrived at the Elephant 45 minutes earlier than expected.
This was his second time meeting her and I’m confused why he isn’t more animated when he sees her, normally he perks right up around mammals, but he was as calm as if he was next to an inanimate object like a tree or boulder. I’m glad though he didn’t spook her, she’s an old friend and has suffered much, mostly long before we met, with damage spreading across her extremities the last couple of years.