This Harris’s antelope squirrel had the high ground early on a June morning, perched atop granite rocks atop a small hill, so it saw me from a distance as I approached up the Vaquero Trail. The rising sun soon joined us and we spent that wonderful moment together when the light first sweeps across the desert landscape. It was moments like these that made me fall in love with the area, the trail is close to our new house so perhaps the squirrel and I will be reunited before long. I haven’t been hiking since we moved, Ellie’s had a tough week adjusting to the new house so I’ve spent my evenings with her when she struggles the most and have been too tired to go out in the mornings. We’ll see about tomorrow, the wildflowers are in full bloom so it would be a shame to miss them, but she’s a higher priority.
I researched Arizona as much as I could before deciding to move here and now that we’ve been here over four months I can say there haven’t been any major surprises. I was a little worried that the summer heat and inescapable sun would drive me crazy right away, the risk I thought was low but the consequences severe. I thought it more likely I might be sick of the heat by the end of the summer and would want to escape back to the mountains or coast of the Northwest for a vacation, but so far that hasn’t happened. We are probably past the hottest days although it will still be above 100 degrees for a while yet. I’ve been pleased to find I can hike even on the hottest days as long as I’m on the trails early and off before the real heat of the day. We’ll see how I feel about the heat in the long term but so far the air conditioning, a nice swimming pool, and the wonders of the Sonoran Desert have made it tolerable.
Speaking of surprises, I was hiking near Granite Mountain one day when I saw what at first seemed like outstretched fingers of a human hand retreating into the earth before I quickly realized it was a tarantula pulling its legs into its hole. We saw a tarantula during a week’s vacation in New Mexico years ago so I assumed they would be more visible but so far I’ve only seen the one. I think this may be a tarantula hole, I saw it on the Vaquero Trail but didn’t see its owner, but I’m far from certain as I still have much to learn about my new home.
I knew even before setting foot in Arizona that my pictures in the desert would draw heavily from a palette of browns rather than the green of the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know that there would occasionally b red in the desert too, such as the red racer, the house finch, and the northern cardinal. However, for a month or so at the end of spring and the start of summer red explodes across the desert in the fruit of the saguaro.
Here near The Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve a ripe fruit bursts open, exposing the pulp and seeds inside. The fruit is chockfull of seeds, according to the National Park Service there are about 2000 seeds per fruit. Few will develop into a seedling and fewer into an adult saguaro in the harsh desert climate but its not for lack of trying. I noticed multiple birds eating the fruit but mostly it was white-winged doves, who apparently digest the seeds rather than passing them in their waste like some other birds. They end up with so much juice and pulp and seeds on their faces that I imagine some of the seeds will fall to the ground as they preen, so perhaps all is not lost.
As the fruit continues to ripen on the saguaro, even the outside turns red. The dried stalk above them is all that remains of the flowers that grew atop them, the ripened fruit results from flowers that were pollinated. Most of the fruit grows at the top of the saguaro or the ends of its arms but some grows on the sides like the one below that has been cleaned of most of its contents by the denizens of the desert, only a few of the tiny black seeds remain inside.
I arrived early on the Vaquero Trail to look for the antelope squirrels but as I approached from below I could see none were out on the rocks. I took a breakfast break and while drinking some water I noticed what reminded me of rhubarb back in the rocks. I hadn’t seen any plant like that in the desert but then I still have so much to learn. In case it was a discarded rubber gasket I went in for a closer look in case it was trash I should take with me, and that’s when I realized my rhubarb had scales.
I believe this is a coachwhip (of the red racer variety) and I have to say I was rather stunned to see it, I had no idea such a lovely creature existed! While not venomous it is a threat to many of the small animals of the desert and I hope the bulge I saw in its middle wasn’t one of my squirrels! Since it wasn’t coiled up and resting I took some pictures and then backed off in case it wanted to move, it didn’t while I finished my water and food break but after a mountain bike came whizzing past I looked up and the snake was gone.
I love this little spot on the Vaquero Trail. I first started stopping here to look for the Harris’s antelope squirrels that use the rocks as a lookout, replete with a surrounding network of holes leading underground. It’s a nice spot for a water break and a little breakfast and in that quiet I’ve seen a variety of other desert wildlife, from birds to mammals to reptiles. Including a remarkably beautiful creature I didn’t know existed and which I hope didn’t eat my beloved little squirrels.