Those of you not on a high-speed connection have my apologies in advance for this entry. I couldn’t force myself to reduce these pictures as much as they required. For some reason my camera was able to compensate for my complete lack of artistic ability on this trip, and I managed to get some wonderfully detailed shots of some desert fauna. I just couldn’t bear to reduce these to loadable sizes.

We had planned to go to Death Valley this trip, but in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, heavy rains did severe damage to the roads in that park just before we arrived. It would have been impossible to traverse the park in our little Kia rental, and indeed the park had been closed due to the road washouts anyhow. Our planned pass-through of the Mojave National Preserve became a three-and-a-half day stay instead. I’ve visited deserts many times before, but never have I managed to see so much desert wildlife as I did on this trip.

Animals I saw but have not included pictures of in this entry include Gambol’s Quail, coyotes, a probable kit fox, and some sort of ubiquitous beetle that I have yet to find the proper name for but which The Socialist and I called “Black Butt-beetles” because they raised their arse-ends in some sort of defense posture whenever we approached one.

I saw more and more varied kinds of lizards on this trip than has ever before. Part of it is simply that I’m getting better at looking. Mojave has an incredible lizard population, and I got to seem some varieties of lizards for my first time in the wild.

The Mojave Desert Fringe Toed Lizard was common. If you look closely at my picture you’ll see how they come by their name. The fringe is supposed to help keep their little toes off the hot desert sands. I can think of a few visits to the beach when I could have used fringed toes myself.
This little guy was hiding out in a prickly pear. If he hadn’t moved, I’d never have seen him. He’s an Eastern Fence Lizard, and is probably the lizard I’ve seen the most of when visiting deserts. This particular specimen was a cocky little guy who seemed to feel that those spines were sufficient defense to keep me away from him. He was right, too. There was no way I was going to risk those spines to see how close I could get to him. Not far from there I stepped on a piece of dead cholla cactus, and the spines went straight through my sneaker into my foot. I’d been advised by someone who does a lot of desert hiking to wear hiking boots at all times; now I wish I’d listened!
I’m pretty sure that this little guy is a Juvenile Long Nosed Lizard, though I’ve yet to find any pictures that exactly match up to him. I saw these in a few places, but this one was not all that far from where I found the eastern fence lizard. Like the fence lizard, this little guy was bold, and let me get my camera quite close to him. Out of curiosity, after I’d taken my pictures, I reached out to see exactly how close he’d let me come. My fingers just brushed his tail when he decided to bail from that rock he’d been sitting on.
Unfortunately, what the little fool decided to bail off onto was my sneaker (the very one that I was to extract cactus spines out of a few minutes later). He sat there for a minute or two, until I decided to see if he’d continue to stay put while I took a few steps. With the onset of the first step, he jumped from my foot and scrambled to some nearby brush. Take a close look at this guy; you’re about to see a less fortunate friend of his in the next shot.
This is a Large Spotted Leopard Lizard. This is a large spotted leopard lizard having lunch. This is a large spotted leopard lizard dining on a juvenile long nosed leopard lizard. The large spotted leopard lizard wasn’t about to give up on his meal and run away, and I was able to get fairly close to him. I was able to snap an incredible series of shots from this first shot just after he’d caught lunch through his repositioning the unfortunate victim so it was head-first into his mouth, through the dozen or so gulps it took to get it all down in one big swallow. My last picture shows just the tip of lunch’s tail extending from the large spotted leopard lizard’s mouth, while the rest of the lizard looks much wider than it did in the initial shots.
OK. This picture comes with a plea for help. If anyone out there knows what kind of lizard this is, could you please let me know. I’ve gone through all my herp books, and spent several hours on the web, and all I know for certain is that I have no clue what species of lizard this is. This lizard taunted me as I tried to take its picture, speeding down the path just ahead of me. He never let me get too close, nor did he ever duck into the brush to either side of the path. It’s as though he were trying to make a fool of me by setting me up on some sort of Lizard Candid Camera thing. I’m sure there were dozens of lizards hiding on either side of the path, laughing their fool little tails off as they watched me try to capture this guy on film. Heck, that blue belly could well be make-up. I’ll bet he disguised himself so he could continue to drive me crazy once I returned home. It’s all been a plot! Heck, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you.
I also got a chance to see not one, but two desert tortoises. Both were spotted as they were slowly but steadily crossing the roads. While the two I saw were about eight or ten inches in length and probably weighed about a pound, they can grow to be about nine pounds. There is an ancient wisdom in turtle faces, and I’m half convinced that Spielburg had met up with a desert turtle before he decided what ET was supposed to look like.
We drove the roads of the park after sunset, looking for reptiles. They often come out to the paved roads after the sun has gone down, because the paving holds the heat longer. Small furry food items like kangaroo rats come out to the pavement to scavenge at night, another reason for predators like the sidewinder rattlesnake to bask on the center line in the evening hours. I inserted blow-ups of the sidewinder’s head so you could get a better look at his “horns”. It turns out that this is the only North American snake that has these weird looking scales above their eyes. I haven’t been able to find anything that tells me why they have them, but it certainly makes the snakes look ominous.
Here’s another sidewinder we came across. Notice how much more brightly marked this little guy is? That’s because he’s a baby, probably just hatched this year. This picture is displaying larger than the snake really was. When this sidewinder was coiled up he was only marginally larger than a dollar coin. Even then I was wary of getting too close, though The Socialist thought I was far too near when I was taking this shot. Newly hatched venomous snakes tend to have much more concentrated venom than the adults, so while they inject less poison into you with their bite, it can be just as dangerous to be bitten by one.

Not every snake is dangerous though. This beauty above is a Mojave Glossy Snake. I wish I could post the full sized picture in my entry, because this reduced shot does him no justice. With the flash lighting him, he looks bright and slippery, as if he’d been greased.

In keeping with our creepy/crawly theme, I present to you the first live in-the-wild tarantula I’ve ever seen. We actually came across three of these, crossing the park road at night. I’ve found references to these but I’ve yet to find out exactly what variety of tarantula this is. The tarantulas were actually quite friendly, and very photogenic. I’ve got about two dozen shots of the tarantulas in various positions. The were rather graceful and elegant to watch, though I’m just as glad I had to go three thousand miles from my home to see one in the wild.
Sorry Tex. I know these freak you out, but I was absolutely amazed by this scorpion. It’s a Giant Hairy Scorpion, and close inspection will show you why. His color reminds me of those glow-in-the-dark plastic toys that shine with an eerie green light when you turn off the lights. I wished I’d had a black light with me to see if this guy would glow. I strongly suspect he would have.

In all, I took just over two hundred pictures this trip. If I have a chance, I’ll put some of the landscape/cactus/La Brea tarpit/miscellaneous tourist shots in a future journal entry. But now it’s half past midnight, and time for good little Salamanders to go to bed.

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  1. I’m glad that you posted these pics because there’s NO WAY I’m ever going near those creatures. Except the tortoise, he’s cute. And the long nose lizard.

    I look forward to seeing some of those landscapes & hearing more about everything.

  2. Fantastic pictures and well worth the long trip. Sorry to hear Death Valley is still closed. I guess the flood was much worse than I thought.

    I’m so happy all the critters cooperated =)

  3. Wow.

    Land O’ Lizards!

    Eeek! Urk! and keep that Tarantula away from me!

    Great photos though….

    I think the beetle you saw was a Stink Bug.

    See anything warm and fuzzy?

    Any mousies or bunnies?

  4. Ummmmmmmm, you do, of course realise that when rattle snakes coil, that is a BAD thing? Very, very bad???? That means they want to bite you, in a bad way.

    Desert fauna is quite interesting, thought, isn’t it? I greatly enjoyed your pics. Having grown up in New Mexico, I remember close encounters of the creepy crawley kind. Don’t miss it a bit!!

  5. What great pictures~ Wonderful clarity. The last few are broken, not sure if that is your end or mine, I’ll check back later and/or reboot to see the rest.

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