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
July 2009
 1 of 6
ARIZONA
July 2009
 1 of 6
                          
We’re driving on a secret road.  It’s dark, and we have the desert to ourselves, not a headlight in sight.  Young Cage is at the wheel, taking us through his private route.   I’ve corresponded with Young for five years, but we just met for the first time a few hours ago, at his home near Tucson.  He’s an A-list herper, a superb photographer, and a first-class host, generous in both knowledge and hospitality.  So when Young invited me and Ron for a visit, I was looking forward to finally meeting him in person, as much as I was looking forward to finding herps again in Arizona.      My brother and I stare through the windows, on alert for something to appear in the headlights.  It isn’t a long wait.  I’m expecting snake, one of the ordinary species, but instead, jackpot!  A hefty Gila Monster lumbers across the road and crawls into the surrounding rocks.      I’m happy to say, that although Gilas are no longer a novelty to me  this being my fourth trip to AZ  it’s still a rush to suddenly see those Halloween colors in the spotlight.  Even more of a thrill when it turns out to be a five-Gila night. Of course, we’re still on the lookout for snakes, and quite happy when a Tiger Rattlesnake shows up to accommodate us.  Oh, and another Gila.   While Ron and Young are taking pics of this latest lizard, I look up, and just beyond the farthest reach of our headlights, something small is moving off the road.  I yell to the others and we start running.  We catch up to the little critter, and it turns out to be an adorable baby monster, no bigger than a fat cigar.  With legs.  And venom glands.   Another Gila, another Tiger, and then we’re done.     I can’t believe how many of the big lizards we’ve seen in just a few hours.  Even Young is impressed; it’s been an unusually good night, another high score on his secret road. The next morning it’s lizards all over again, this time some common diurnal species.         Young is eager to introduce us to an old herping buddy of his named, well, Buddy.  He’s almost always at home, so Young drives us out to meet him.           Turns out Buddy is a Collared Lizard.  A big, blue male with an unusual characteristic.  Besides being reliably in the same place all the time, Buddy is somehow unafraid of Young and his friends.  All the other lizards take off when approached, but Buddy allows us to get within just a few feet for a series of close-ups.   Apparently I get a little too close, because the lizard puffs up into a defensive display.   And then Buddy does something he’s never done before.  Suddenly, he leaps off his rock, but instead of running away, he comes towards me, and then hops right onto my arm!   Collared encounter of the third kind.                  We linger awhile and wonder about this endearing, yet somewhat risky, behavior.  Sure hope Buddy knows whom to trust, and doesn’t mistake a coyote for some kind of khaki bearded herper (it’s happened before).   On the way out we drive past a rival male perched on a distant rock.  Grab some long-distance shots with the telephoto, but as soon as I step out of the car, the lizard dives over the edge and is gone.  Typical.  Young doesn’t bother to give this one a name.  
Gila Monster Heloderma suspectum
Monster #2
Tiger Rattlesnake Crotalus tigris
Regal Horned Lizard Phrynosoma solare
Earless Lizard Cophosaurus texanus
Eastern Collared Lizard (female) Crotophytus collaris