All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
ARIZONA
April 2003
 1 of 4
ARIZONA
April 2003
 1 of 4
When my brother Ron and I visited Arizona in April of 2001 our biggest disappointment was not seeing a Gila Monster.   This time around we are determined to find at least one, even if it means cheating.  We receive an invitation to go herping at a research site where, among other things, they have at least eight Gila Monsters outfitted with transmitters.  So we are virtually guaranteed to see a Gila in the wild, albeit without the thrill of discovery, courtesy of radio telemetry.   Before heading to the study site we spend our first day in the field with Rich and Kerby, a couple of good guys I knew from an on-line herping forum. We met in person the night before at a BBQ graciously hosted by Jerry, another forum regular.  The two buddies are searching for Speckled Rattlesnakes and invite Ron and me to come along, so we rendezvous on a cool, windy morning and descend into a large boulder field at the base of some rocky hills. We aren’t there but 15 minutes or so when Kerby calls out, “Gila!”  I turn around, and there basking on a rock, right out in the open, is the very lizard we’ve flown two thousand miles to see . . . and we aren’t even cheating!  I knew we’d see one at the study site, but this unexpected find is the real thrill we’re seeking; we could end the trip right now and go home happy.   With its sharply contrasting orange and black aposematic (warning) colors you might think this lizard would really stand out.  Indeed, fully exposed on the naked rock the Gila is hard to miss; however, the effectiveness of its camouflage becomes apparent as soon as it crawls down to take refuge in low-lying vegetation. Its beaded texture and broken pattern blend perfectly with the fragments of light and shadow at the base of a nearby cactus. We proceed to wander among the boulders, looking at cactus blooming between the cracks and seeing the occasional lizard darting or basking on the rocks. In a clearing Rich spots a rounded form looking just like the gray granite, except this one has legs and a head that is quietly grazing on the green grass.          After a few hours of searching we begin to make our way back, pausing to look for snakes at the base of rocks sheltering from the wind but still exposed to the sun.  Nothing, nothing, nothing . . . then suddenly, it’s there.   Often times snakes are so well camouflaged that you can be staring right at one and never notice it, the cryptic pattern and coloration blending in perfectly with their surroundings.  If you do spot it, then the image takes shape gradually, slowly resolving into something recognizable as “snake”, the lines emerging from the background as something slightly different.  Not in this case.  I turn a corner, look around a rock, and the figure just pops right out  perfectly still, circular, and screaming orange against the gray and green background.  It is stunningly beautiful, all terra cotta and textured, with subtle shading and a silent stare.
 Kerby Ross
Speckled Rattlesnake Crotalus mitchellii
Banded Gila Monster Heloderma suspectum cinctum
Tree Lizard Urosaurus ornatus
Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii