Thursday, May 27, 2010

a field trip and some scary things

hello there.
i am a horned lizard and i live here at the desert tortoise natural area
in the western mojave desert (i'm not the scary thing)...

in addition to me, horned lizard, there are 27 other species of reptiles, 29 species of breeding birds, 23 species of mammals and many species of arthropods living on the natural area...

we woke at 4:00 am and arrived to the mojave around 7:00 am, only missing one or two turns on unmarked gravel roads. a naturalist (ed) was there at the interpretive center (a trailer) and kindly answered all the questions we had before we headed out on the trails.

we hoped to see tortoises and ed knew just where one was so we followed him...

here she is! this is turquoise, she's a wild tortoise (gopherus agassizii) estimated to be around 40 to 50 years old. she's expected to live 30 to 40 more years, if she were a captive she could live 50 more years.

i could see her eyes open half way checking us out and then she squeezed them shut tucking her head in at the same time. she was quite uninterested in us. in order not to cause her undue stress we said goodbye and continued on to..

wildflowers! the last thing we thought we'd see in the desert at the end of may.
it was about this time that my camera stopped working. putting frustration aside, i was grateful for my little leica point and shoot. it takes more photos for this blog than my canon anyway...

thank you little leica for not failing me too...

sorry i didn't know the name of the pink flower above, but this is winter fat
(krascheninnikovi lanata) now used as a grazing plant by ranchers. indians made tea to drink and to wash their hair. the zunis chewed the fresh root and used them as a burn remedy.
birds collect the soft seed to line their nests.

here is my husband getting a photo of a lichen covered rock and...

this side-blotched lizard (uta stansburiana) isn't he a beauty? the weather was uncharacteristically cool so he was out warming himself on the rock. he tolerated several photos,
even posing for a few.

this is an ant ring, it looks a bit like a volcano doesn't it?

i wonder if anyone knows what this little tube is? can you even see it? most everything in the desert is camouflaged. this little turret here is the home of a desert dwelling spider called the wolf spider. he builds his home out of gravel, plant debris and rabbit pellets. then it ambush's it's prey. this is the scary thing. even scarier is the larger tarantula.

here is a perfect example of desert camouflage, can you see whats in this photo?

it's the super cute and friendly horned lizard.
(phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum)

aren't his markings gorgeous? we held him for a minute and then let him back down to the sand. as far as lizards go, these little guys have a wonderful personality.

this is one of my favorites, the paperbag bush (salazaria mexicana). the inflated seed pods resemble tiny paper bags. and just look at these colors.

a leopard lizard (gambelia wislizenii) , named for how stealth they are and how fast they run...

and here a zebra tail (calisaurus draconoides draconoides), because it has a striped tail (sorry that's not in the photo). zebra tails are one of the fastest desert reptiles, they can run up to
18 miles per hour.

here is a desert tortoise in it's burrow. they spend most of their lives underground in burrows or caves. it's fascinating how the shape of the burrow mirrors the shape of the tortoise.

we spent hours hiking around looking for these animals. the desert tortoise is california's state reptile. it was listed under the federal endangered species act in 1989 and is classed as threatened. this has been their home for millions of years, i've joined the desert tortoise preserve committee in hopes that they'll remain for millions more. i read that perhaps its because of their gentle, inoffensive ways and behavior, desert tortoises are very popular animals. it would be sad indeed if the tortoise was allowed to go extinct.

golden cholla
(opuntia echinocarpa)

creosote bush
(larrea tridentata)
this covers much of the deserts in california.
i love it.

it's the horned lizard again. actually it's one of his many cousins, we found several of these guys on the trail and in the washes...

see how sweet?

the sun was beginning its decline and so was i. we had been out walking/hiking for over 6 hours. first it was cold and windy, then it was hot and breezy. and now it was cooling down again and i was letting down my guard. can you see the small coiled object a quarter of the way up from the bottom in this photo?

it is the "mojave green" rattlesnake.
(crotalus scutulatus scutulatus)
reputed to possess the most toxic venom of any u.s. rattlesnake.

i almost stepped on it.

i wasn't scared, but chuck was. he saw it first and yanked me backwards just in the nick of time. it upset me to see him shaken, he said if my foot had come down it would have been on it.
after the initial scare we were so excited.
i don't think we were in any danger taking these photos. the snake was very calm and docile, it woke slowly and gently checked out the new visitors (us).

we watched it move out of it's coil, but only partially. it seemed to know we wouldn't cause it any harm and it wound it's self back up and seemed to go back to sleep.

(when we got back to the naturalist he id it as the mojave green,
a female that had recently given birth).

we'd decided it was time to head back home, our field trip had been a great success, we saw so much, more than we ever expected.

driving away from the natural area, on the gravel/dirt road to the highway, we had another fantastic find, here is chuck running back to make sure we didn't run over another....


this time a coachwhip or a gopher, we were not sure.
but he was a beauty.
it was a perfect ending to a great day.
♥ lori


  1. Hi Lori, I wandered over from Robyn's to look at your sea glass but I've been captivated by the wonderful desert creatures you met up with including the snakes*!*

  2. That was an awesome post!! Wow! I so enjoyed your field trip and seeing all your fantastic pics. The rattlesnake would have done me in. Yup.... not a big snake fan!!

  3. What an incredible post.
    It reminded me so much of growing up in Southern California, where I played with those horny toads in the fields, and once found a box turtle, pretty good size too.
    This was fascinating because you are recording what is there today, so great to see those turtles and horned lizards, the plants and even the snakes!

  4. Hi Lori,
    Nice to meet you- I love the photos.
    You are so brave dealing with the Mojave snake- I hope I don't meet one anytime soon.

  5. OK...I'll take the tortoise (LOVE turtles, etc), but you can keep the lizzards and tarantulas!! hahaha

    Beautiful photos of the desert plants. :)

  6. My dear Lori Ann,

    I am sitting beside the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa and I am so glad I took the time to pay you a visit. What a great post. I feel like I took a trip to the Mojave, without the heat, cold, and possible treading on a rattler. Yikes! I know you realize how quickly they can strike and the amazing distance they can cover in a lightning swift second. I was nearly nabbed by one up San Simeon Creek Road at the top of the Santa Lucia ridge. Although I already respected the rattlers, it instilled a NEW respect.

    Love the horned lizards. My best friend and I adored catching them in Highland Park and playing with them. And the desert tortoise, who wouldn't love and appreciate them? Unfortunately, thinking about it I KNOW who. I once rescued a tortoise and my sister and I had him, Murgatroid Sylvester Borland Lovejoy lll for years.

    Sending you lots of love from the road. Such an amazing country we have and Oklahoma was like a crazy quilt of wildflowers, but nowhere near as diverse as our California wildflowers.

    Love and best,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  7. What a wonderful day you and your husband had! Great shots - they captured the desert denizens beautifully! I happen to adore lizards, tortoises and yes - even snakes (as long as I see them first)! But....not very grateful you did not take photos of the Wolf Spider or the Tarantula. (Did you know the word for "Spider" in German is "Spinne"?
    Isn't it perfect!

    Loved those Horned Toads....

    Thank you for taking me along on this desert trek.... I miss it after 10 consecutive Summers in New Mexico...


    ♥ Robin ♥

  8. P.S. Forgot to say how much I love the "Winter Fat" and "Paperbag Bush" plants - they are whimsical and wonderful!!! I never saw them in NM.....

    ♥ Robin

  9. What a wonderful place is California with so many amazing places to go!Such an adventure reading this post and all those photos and the spetacular nature everywhere, sometimes scary and at the same time so fantastic! Thank you for sharing your trip , I loved every detail of each picture!!!

  10. The horned lizard is adorable. Who would have known a lizard could be cute? We had wildlife of our own today (though nothing to compare to the snakes)-my daughter caught a fly and brought him to me. I was proud:)

  11. The raw beauty of the desert inspires me...thank you!

  12. Woweee! i loved those paperbag plants, so unique. Didn't love the snakes ...NOPE, but the rest was fabby! Glad you had a fun time. ♥

  13. Whoa!
    Those lizards are very cool and the tortoise (I didn't even know they lived in the desert), but that snake?
    That's one scary animal... beautiful, but scary!
    Glad your man caught you just in time, and you could check it out at a safer distance.
    Love the pics Lori.

  14. Hi Lori

    you two really are intrepid travellers in search of beauty and adventure.

    I loved to see the monitor's and bearded dragon's cousins on another continent.

    I'm glad you didn't stand on the rattlesnake my dear... Oh and you have such a lovely gentle voice Lori...I loved to hear your comments on the videos...

    Happy days my friend

  15. bimbimbie,
    thank you for your visit! i saw your comment on the seaglass, i hope you find some soon.
    So glad you enjoyed the trip to the desert with us (including snakes!)


    thank you and sorry, i knew there would be some that wouldn't care so much for the snake photos. They are truly gorgeous, from a safe distance.


    thanks, aren't the horned lizards the sweetest things? they are one of my favorites. this preserve is so important, because of atv use, so much of desert habitat is lost.


    hi! it's nice to meet you too,thank you for the lovely comment. it was the first time for us to see the mojave green. it was pretty exciting, i like snakes.


    what about the snakes? :) i could defintely live without spiders!


    your life is such an adventure.
    i'm glad to know your enjoying every bit right now.
    yes, we do have great respect for nature and everything in it. particularly the things that can do us harm.
    my first thought though, when i almost stepped on the rattler was how much i could have hurt it.
    we were at a safe distance at all times (as soon as we discovered it).
    we rescued a tortoise when i was a little girl too! and he was my best friend for many years, charlie brown was his name!


    i did not know that word and i have to tell you when i read it it gave me chills! i feel the same about spiders and would not ever take a photo or even get close enough to one to try.
    i'm so glad you enjoyed!

    (i think those plants are mainly in the west, so pretty!)


    california is so diverse, people are always surprised there is so much here, somethings to be found nowhere else on earth. I'm so glad you enjoyed, thank you!


    whitney lee,
    it's great to encourage respect and love for nature in children. i'm sure your daughter would like the horned lizard so much!


    i LOVE the desert too, and your right, it always inspires.


    sorry about the snakes, i guess i should have given more of a warning. they are just so facinating though.
    wished i'd have had my other camera for those plants!


    thanks so much, when you go to the desert you really have to spend alot of time, walking slowly, looking and listening carefully or you wouldn't see anything. we were really happy to find all these stunning creatures!


    i was thinking the same thing when i saw your bearded dragon, we have seen monitors in indonesia and africa, and more lizards to count, isn't it amazing? makes our world feel comforting and friendly.
    thank you for your kind words.

  16. burrowing tortoises
    rattling snakes
    podgy geckos
    horned lizards

    who says there isn't wildlife in the US of A!

    That rattler reminds me of our lazy fat venomous Puff Adder. Well spotted Chuck!

    Love the flowers

  17. thank you for this - although i'm far from the desert, i feel like i was able to take the hike along with you! the kids and i found a tortoise in my garden a few days ago, but not as large as your beauty!

    thanks also for your positive view of snakes... the poor creatures are unfairly demonized and in fact are an ancient symbol of the feminine --

    loved the last video of the coachwhip/gopher snake slithering off into the sunset!

  18. Wow, great post Lori! That was such a cool trip! I would really enjoy that too! So many criiters to photo. The pics are wonderful and I agree, the scarriest thing is the spider! Glad you didn't show it! Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

  19. wow that is some day - I'd LOVE to go out there and see those tortoises and all of the other animals except for the rattlesnake - I'd run screaming. Great, great photo's Lori

  20. So many wonderful finds!!I had to keep going back a couple of times,just to get another look...I really love the Paper Bag Bush..What a beautiful flower.Thanks for sharing some of your journey..I feel like Im walking right beside you guys.Big Hugs-Cat

  21. Looks like a stunning day.
    Passed quickly past the sankes but lingered by the amazing flowers!

  22. Hi Lori, thanks for reminding me HOW MUCH I MISS THE DESERT!!!

    I loved finding "Horny toads" as we called them.

    Nearly stepped on a Rock Rattlesnake when I was 12 hiking down Mount Lemmon with my dad! How, I miss those days. There's not much to watch out for here in Ireland since St. Patrick except for what dog owners have left behind them :) That's the most danger I encounter on a daily basis.

  23. Lori thank you for the wonderful "field trip". I am sitting here with coffee enjoying my glimpse into what looks & sounds like a marvelous day! The photos are wonderful! I also got to hear your voice on the video, you sound just like you look :)
    Have a Blessed Day!

  24. That is so cool, what a fun walk. I must admit I jumped at the horned lizard, though snakes don't scare me. It looks like bags of fun and educational too. I think my favourite is the winter fat, with all the facts in addition to the gorgeous slow-moving, long living tortoise.

  25. I loved the horned lizards (and your chat and looks and all the rest), but NOT the rattlesnakes!!!

  26. wow!! what great finds! those snakes give me the heebies. :) and i've never heard or seen a paperbag bush but wow! so beautiful!

    ps - hubbie and i put in for a lottery ticket for tonight. if we win we talked about buying a home in northern california! gotta dream!

  27. janet,
    there's also the coyote, american badger, kit fox, black-tailed hare, kangaroo rat...and more! and you know we also have black bear, cougar, jaguar (on the mexican border)...and more... did i tell you about the time Chuck almost stepped on a puff adder? now we are even ;)



    wow, what a find! i agree about snakes, but i understand the fear prompting it. i have that same inexplicable fear of spiders.
    i'm so glad you enjoyed!


    same to you too! luckily we didn't see the spider :{


    haha, luckily snakes are not that easy to find! it took us the entire day!


    i'm so glad you could come along, its so much more fun to share. have a great weekend!


    sorry about the snakes, they are really pretty though. but i agree the flowers are the best!


    oh dear, thankfully that is one thing you don't encounter in the desert except for the occasional coyote poo. its so great you have those memories though. we called them horny toads too!


    your a sweetheart, thank you. i'm so glad you enjoyed, i love the desert!


    if you could only hold a horned lizard you would be smitten, i'm sure. they are harmless and really cute. really.


    okay, i won't show the rattlers anymore, haha! but they are quite harmless in photos! the second snake was not poisonous, it was a constrictor. and SO beautiful.


    you just reminded me i wanted to do that too. and here's a secret, if i win, we'll be neighbors...i've got my heart set on a piece of property in a place called san simeon (northern cali)....
    good luck!!

  28. OMG, how could i not have commented already? i cannot pass up visiting you as soon as you post, so i've obviously been in the clouds these last few days.

    lori, this is fascinating and educational. you sound like professor lori saying the names of all those lizards. that little guy (or girl?) in your hand is just adorable--just plopped down and relaxing in place.

    and the paperbag bush: i've never seen that.

    i love how you travel from the desert to the ocean and back again. and everywhere in between.

    by the way, i love my seaglass. they are jewels to me. thank you so much. you are a wonderful friend, lori. i thank renee too.

    have a great weekend. ♥

  29. simply wow....
    love it lori....made my mom come look at the paperbag plant...we both loved it...the colours are superb in that picture.
    my mom says you look like a strong individual...and i most definitely agree....strange how a picture can tell so much with its split second capture of your life.
    keep writing will always be reading

  30. kj,
    that made me laugh, professor! sometimes its fun to know the names, sometimes not. i thought it was interesting that the names had african references, zebra,leopard,rhino...i'm glad you enjoyed, it's always fun to share!


    aw thank you dear. that's so cool that you and your mom liked the plant, i wish i could describe how it felt too, so amazing. i would not describe myself as strong at all, and feel interested and a bit flattered that you and your mom did. thank you my friends.

  31. Oh wowowowow! I see a horny lizard and snakes and no thank you. I am staying inside my air-conditioned home. Hahahah! I am scared of lizards and snakes that is why I include them in my drawing to remind me not to be complacent.


    Oh Lori, you are a beautiful and wonderful woman and a Gemini to boot. You brought tears to my eyes with your comment but now I am also happy because I see how you are so happy, busy, productive and doing fun and exciting and beautiful things.

    We all have crosses to bear, some heavier than others, that is why we need people who love and support us so they can help us carry our crosses sometimes. I believe in the power of helping others and as difficult it has been for me to learn because I always considered myself on the giving end, I have learned to reach out and ask for help. I am most thankfully surprised and grateful for all the wonderful people in my life.


    I have been opening many wonderful fortune cookies lately...

    Happy Birthday my dearest Gemini sisterfriend. You, Manon and I may now be triplets. Hahaha! My birthday is on Wednesday.

    I actually have a real sister with the same birthday. Yes, a Gemini twin because we were born on different years but the same month and day. Hah!

    Happy Birthday to us again and thank you for your comment.


  32. thank you ces, wow, sisterfriend, the word warms my heart, i love my sister so much and all my friends. i'll raise my glass tonite to you, in honor of your birthday, your sister, manons, and my own. there is so much to be thankful for isn't there?
    i hope you have a wonderful day today.
    x lori

    i love that snakes and lizards remind you, i really believe that complacency is worse than apathy, especially in regards to the things that scare us.

  33. Wow, look at all the critters you found! I'm still a little shaken, though, over the last video. Okay, okay, so maybe he isn't as dangerous as the rattlesnake, but I'd be freaking out to have him slither so close to me. Horned lizard is cute, I must say. And I'm SO glad you identified the paperbag bush! I saw it in your first photo, and I was thinking, whoa, what IS that beautiful flower?!

    I read somewhere that most Americans have never traveled outside the states. No wonder, actually, when there are so many beautiful places right here.

  34. sorry bella,
    i worried that video might be too much! not to worry though, we knew it wasn't harmful, to us anyway.

    it's interesting you said that about americans and travel. i believe that it's important to see where your from (the usa) as much as it is important to see the world. it's all a good, great education!

    i think you should paint the paperbag plant!

  35. o0o i have only just seen this post. its beautiful!

  36. Wow Lori what a trip and what beautiful pictures!!!!!!
    Love that horny guy, oeps this doesn't sound good. Well you know who I mean ;)
    I love reptiles too So cute you could touch and hold him!
    Most lizards I see always run away.....
    Good you didn't step on that snake!

    Thanks for all your visits and comments!
    I added your blog on my bloglist so your posts will show up. So I can visit you more often :)

    Have a nice day!

  37. As I was enjoying all the photos of the tortoises and lizards, I was thinking the whole time about "what if they see a rattle snake?!"

    I'm glad it was only a close call. It looks like you had a wonderful day with stunning, glorious critters!
    I love how you both respect them ;)


xoxo lori