7/26 Valley of Fires State Park

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Valley of Fires

After a night of crazy wind, thunder, lightning, and rain, we woke up to a beautiful morning surrounded by the black rock lava formations of Valley of Fires State Park. For breakfast, we ate cinnamon oatmeal, bananas, and milk, and then we were off to explore for our hike. The gnats were really annoying and kept buzzing around my face and ears, but I had fun following some Whiptail Lizards along the trail.  I got to see one of them eat a grasshopper of some sort, and it chased some ants that were carrying the wings of the grasshopper away.  I’ve also got a new favorite animal – the horned lizard!  I love their patterns and texture, and they were so cool to hold and touch.  They’re like cute little flat poky pancakes. 😛

For lunch, we had bratwurst, potato salad, and tortilla chips.  Then we decided to stay out of the sun, so we had a good amount of time to sit and relax to work on artwork, take photos, and explore.  Once the worst of the sun’s heat had passed, Saul led us on a herp hike off trail.  We were hoping to find some rattlesnakes and other types of lizards, but to no avail.  Then it started raining on us again, so we drove around the trails to see if we could spot any rattlesnakes or tarantulas.  Still, nothing… I couldn’t believe how much rain we were getting considering it was the desert.  Things aren’t always as they seem apparently.

After our herp hike, we returned to a beautiful view of a double rainbow right next to our campsite, and we could see both ends of it.  The colors were so rich!  My photos couldn’t compare to what was actually there. <3  Afterwards, I continued working on my trading cards (decided to focus on desert lizards for my theme, of course 😛 ).  Dinner was delicious – spaghetti and meatballs, Caesar salad, and cheesy garlic bread!  Thanks to our leaders’ portable grill, we got to eat in style that night.  Once it was dark enough, we conducted some nocturnal insect collecting using a huge white sheet and a giant lamp.  There were so many bugs that got attracted to the light, and my favorite was the sphinx moth.  It was as big as my hand!  The last thing we did before bed was a night herp hike, which was pretty exciting. Saul led the way while we all kept an eye out for snakes, tarantulas, toads, and any other creatures of the night we could find with our flashlights. The best find was the rarest sighting – a Ring-tailed Cat!  I didn’t get to see it myself, but apparently they are pretty rare and super cute, and they have a black-and-white-striped tail, just like a ring-tailed lemur.

Definitely one of my favorite days of the Desert Life trip! 😀

Notes, Observations of life and habitat

  • Very chilly morning
  • Had about 3 1/4 inches of rain the previous night
  • Dark-colored animals in response to their black lava rock environment; melanism
  • Lava came from vents, not a volcano
  • Very quiet, few people around, can hear the occassional insect
  • Hot sun, cool breeze
  • Very cool textures in the lava ridges and rocks
  • Beautiful mountains in the distance, lovely blue and clouds in the sky
  • Surprisingly a lot of plants – bushes, grasses, cacti, Juniper trees
  • Thunderstorms on and off in the distance

Animal species

  • Sceloporus undulatus – Eastern Fence Lizard; saw on the bathroom wall and the asphalt road nearby
  • Horned Lizard
  • Whiptail Lizard – so many of them!!  Watched one eat a grasshopper-like insect, observed another one lifting front feet off the ground and waving them up and down, lifting tail up too
  • Red-spotted toad
  • Chihuahuan Raven
  • Nightjar birds
  • heard cows mooing
  • Ground squirrels
  • Grey Fox
  • Harvester ants

At night:

  • Walking stick (evening)
  • Sphinx moth
  • Hawk moth
  • lots of other moths, Tiger Moth, and a cool black and white striped beetle (unidentified)
  • Weevil
  • Blister beetles
  • Centipedes
  • Desert Hairy Tarantula
  • Ring-tailed Cat
  • 2 Red-spotted Toads

Plant species

  • Prickly pear cactus
  • Juniper pine
  • Cholla cactus
  • Agave
  • Sotol
  • Yucca