7/27 Valley of Fires, Rio Grande

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Valley of Fires (continued), Percha Dam State Park

Our last day in Valley of Fires….I’m going to miss this place.  In the morning, we had breakfast and then got ready for a morning herp hike.  We were hoping to find a rattlesnake and a collared lizard this time, but still no luck.  We did, however, find Sceloporus undulatus, one of the species that Saul has studied so much.  We actually caught the species by “noosing” it, which Saul told us was one of the ways herpetologists will catch lizards. The tool was a thin pole that expanded to be at least 6 feet long, and there was a little noose made of dental floss at the end that was tied similarly to a slip knot.  To catch the lizard, we had to carefully sneak the pole’s noose from behind and over top the lizard’s head, and then once the noose was over the head, we made a quick jerk motion to catch it.  Apparently it doesn’t hurt them at all, and you can easily release the noose so you can hold and closely observe them.  I actually caught a female Sceloporus undulatus using the noose later in the morning, which was pretty exciting! Unfortunately she got away when we tried taking the noose off, but it was still really cool to see her up close.

After the herp hike, we were each given time to make some more individual installations.  We all decided to go a bit off trail because we had more options available to us than just the dirt trail.  I found a really cool cave-like place that was located inside the lava rock formations.  I loved the sunlight shining through one of the openings in the rocks, so I made an installation where the sunlight could touch the stacks of rocks and glass I found along the trail.  I thought it was really pretty, and you had to be there at just the right time to see all the colors darting out from the glass shards.  I wonder how long my installation will stay there?

We had spaghetti leftovers for lunch, and then we relaxed a bit before packing up camp so we could get to our final location at the Rio Grande.  Before we left, we made our “resinations” with found objects, little magnifying bug boxes, Petri dishes, and a resin (Lisa Pavelka Magic-Glos) that we poured over our compositions to seal them in place.  This was one of my favorite parts – I love making little intricate designs/compositions using the natural, found objects.  It’s a cool memento from where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, and I can touch the objects too.  We also sketched the Collared Lizard, Coachwhip snake, and Whiptail lizard we had collected from our hike and worked our on trading cards.  Then we released the critters and got into the vans.  It took about 2 hours to get to our last campsite by the Rio Grande, but we made a stop on the way to check out a sign for Trinity Site, which was where the world’s first atomic bomb was set off as a test by the United States in 1945.  It was cool to see for the historical aspect, but still, it makes me angry how humans just go and do destructive things in their own self interest, seemingly without a care for the other creatures that we share this world with.  It’s just wrong.  Not just to the earth, but to each other as well.

Anyways, we made it to Percha Dam State Park, which reminded me a lot of home because of the river, all the beautiful greens and trees, and, yes, the mosquitoes.  We set up camp, ate dinner (stir fry with turkey sausage – yum!), and went for a night hike where we searched for nocturnal insects, scorpions, and reptiles with our UV lights and regular flashlights.  Still no rattlesnakes though…maybe tomorrow we’ll get lucky.  And, once again, we had thunderstorms and rain throughout the night, but at least the trees provided protection from any strong winds.  I listened to music on my MP3 player to drown out the storms and noisy rain to help me sleep.

Notes, Observations of life and habitat

  • Valley of Fires
    • Lava terrain – so many cracks and crags you could fall into if you’re not careful; many rocky lava cliffs
  • Percha Dam State Park
    • Riparian habitat, close to the river, reminded me a lot of home (trees, so much green, Cottonwood trees)
    • Way too many bugs and moths around at night!! So many were attracted to our lamps and flashlights

Animal species

  • Valley of Fires
    • Crotaphytus collaris – Collared Lizard; they’re like the T-rex of the desert, will eat lots of other lizards, even each other; can get pretty big, and when they run, they get up on their hind legs and tuck in their front legs, much like what the T-rex looked like
    • Coachwhip Snake
    • Whiptail lizards
    • Stink bugs
    • den of a pack rat
    • Wild feral cat – saw it roaming the lava formations, looked like a sandy-colored house cat
  • Percha Dam State Park
    • Asipidoscelis tigris – Western Whiptail
    • Derobrachus geminatus – Palo verde beetle
    • Centruroides scorpions – super tiny, only get to be about 2 inches big
    • Solifugid – sun spiders
    • Bufo cognatus – Great Plains toad; found a small one, they get much bigger (up to 4 1/2 inches)
    • Striped skunk – was wandering around campsite after dark
    • Bats – unidentified; had fun shining our flashlights up in the air to attract bugs, then we watched the bats swoop in and eat them

Plant species (Percha Dam State Park)

  • Screwbean mesquite tree
  • Cottonwood trees