7/24 Oliver Lee State Park

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Desert Life

Here we go – my second adventure through ART+BIO Collaborative!!  I’m very excited for this trip, especially since I’ll be exploring and gaining new experience with the desert habitats of New Mexico and Texas! 😀 I’m also looking forward to learning more about art+biology, getting more field experience, developing my ink+watercolor art skills, meeting new friends, and doing some more camping (we’ll be moving to different locations this time around).

Overall my flights went well, and we were picked up at the El Paso International Airport at about 2pm on Sunday, July 24th.  There are only two other students besides me which will be very different from my Island Life experience.  They are both Environmental Science majors who want to get involved with conservation, which I think is pretty cool since that’s what I’d like to help promote through art.  It was also really great getting to see Saul and Stephanie again, and I look forward to hearing their stories about what they’ve been up to lately.

On the way to our first campsite, we took a little detour so we could get a close look at the border between Mexico and the U.S.  It was so huge…and I didn’t realize there were multiple fences.  The poverty level was noticeable on the Mexican side as compared to the U.S. side too.  I wish we could all just get along… After driving by the border, we made our way to Oliver Lee State Park.  I really loved getting to see the vast blue sky, all the cumulus clouds, and the mountainous landscape.

After setting up camp, we went on solo hikes and explored Dog Canyon Trail.  It was very peaceful and relaxing as I sketched and took photos, and the sunset was gorgeous.  It was also really neat seeing the rain clouds and torrential downpours occurring in the distance.  Unfortunately we couldn’t explore the valley or the little cave because of the flash flood warning.  For dinner, we had pork with tortilla chips, rice, salad, and water, which was super delicious after all the traveling.  Thankfully our leaders had brought some ice along because it was very refreshing after experiencing the heat of the day.  Dinner was a challenge because the wind had really started to pick up, and it was so strong while we were trying to do introductions later in the evening!  The wind was so crazy that it actually blew down my tent in the middle of the night.  That was quite the adventure…thankfully I had help nearby.  But the stars of the night sky made it so worth it – I could clearly see the Milky Way galaxy. 🙂 I was completely exhausted, but excited for our next adventures in the desert!

Notes, Observations of life and habitat

  • Love the vast sky; can see for miles!!
  • Clouds had pink tint on underside (influenced by the color of the landscape below)
  • very dry heat, intense sun, cool in shade, no humidity; glad I have my sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat
  • very dry, browns, sparse greens and vegetation
  • very quiet, no town for miles
    • at night I heard lots of crickets; any sounds I heard were mainly insects or bugs of some sort, very raspy
  • very flat, long and straight roads
  • rained first day we were in the desert (didn’t expect that!); the rain encouraged a lot of creatures to come out, especially in the evening
  • visual ecology – study of how animals use visual communication within their ecosystems

Animal species

  • Masticophis flagellum – Coachwhip Snake
  • Cophosaurus texanus – Greater Earless Lizard
  • Sceloporus poinsettii – Desert Spiny Lizard
  • Asipidoscelis exsanguis – parthenogenic b/c there are no males, only females; reproduce by clonging themselves, female will lay eggs and they are exactly the same; populations can be easily wiped out by disease, very little genetic variation; tetraploids (we are diploids)
  • Jackrabbit
  • Cottontail rabbit
  • Mexican free-tailed bats – tail not attached to membrane, attached to legs instead
  • Curve-billed thrasher
  • Gambel’s quail
  • Hummingbirds, Rufus hummingbird
  • Turkey vultures
  • Solpugid – Sun Spider
  • Vinegaroon – order Thelyphonia; releases chemicals that smell like vinegar when threatened
  • Darkling beetle – smells bad
  • Velvet ant
  • Harvester ants – genus Pogonomyrmex
  • Robber fly
  • Millipedes
  • Tarantula hawk – spider wasp that hunts tarantulas
  • Antlions
  • Lacewing
  • Tiger beetle
  • Carpenter bees
  • Biting flies

Plant species

  • Agave lechuguilla – “little lettuce”, primary indicator species, found only in the Chihuahuan Desert
  • Dasylirion wheeleri – Sotol plant
  • Ocotillo – indicator species
  • Cholla cactus
  • Yuccas, banana yucca
  • Purple opuntia – prickly pear cactus, indicator species
  • Barrel cactus
  • Fishhook cactus
  • Mesquite trees – Honey bean
  • Cottonwood trees
  • Desert marigold
  • Creosote bush
  • Sage