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
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
2 of 6
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
2 of 6
We   reach   the   desert   and   camp   out   under   the   stars.      Except   I   can’t   see   the   stars,   because   my   head   is   pulled   into   a sleeping bag.  Which is being sandblasted by the wind.  Which is screaming in my ears.  Which are frozen.   At one point I’m forced out of my bag by a certain bodily necessity.  As soon as I wriggle out and rise from my cot, the entire contraption is lifted by a gust and flung 20 yards away, while I stand there, helpless, desperately trying to avoid a deflected spray coming back at me in the swirling wind.  It was a sleepless night.   With   daylight   the   frenzy   subsides.      The   air   calms   down   and   gradually   grows   warmer,   so   we   break   camp   and begin to search the creosote flats.   In the open spaces we spot Desert Iguanas basking, but they run for cover as soon as we approach, sprinting to the closest bush, lying low in a tangle of brushwood and shadows. I would love to get a close-up, but the lizards seem impossible to catch, at least by hand (I understand it’s a different matter with a noose, which we don’t have).  Too fast to chase down, and too difficult to grab behind a barricade of protective branches.  Looks like I’ll need to settle for obscured shots taken from a distance.  Then Devin steps in.   I’ve been fortunate to know many excellent herpers.  Some are academics who have acquired advanced knowledge through college courses and field research.  Many are hobbyists whose expertise comes through extensive study and experience on their own.  And a few have that gift, a natural instinct for herping, something inexplicable but self-evident when seen in action, an intuitive skill for finding and catching herps.  Devin is one of those.   Somehow, Devin manages to approach a wary Iguana without scaring it away.  He slowly inches closer.  The lizard looks at him, but doesn’t move.  Devin leans down.  The lizard stays motionless, almost within reach.  Devin gradually extends his arm.  The lizard is hypnotized.  Then Devin springs forward, and in one swift movement, the lizard is in hand.   Needless to say, I’m impressed.  But then Devin demonstrates a special technique he developed himself no, it’s not covering or cooling the animal, this is something different  and before I know it, the Iguana is sitting perfectly still, posing for close-ups without being held.  I’m doubly impressed. We return to the highway, not really cruising, just heading to another spot. Darin is driving, and way up ahead he spots something strange in the road.  It’s white and moving, not crawling like a snake, but bobbing and twisting.  We speed up to get a better look, and realize that what we’re seeing are the flashes of a white belly:  it’s a Sidewinder throwing loops high in the air, flinging itself forward, trying to avoid contact with the burning asphalt.   We jump out of the car and assist the snake off the road, where it winds itself down a slope and snuggles up to the remains of a creosote bush. Back onto the highway, and a short while later we see something else in the road.  This time it’s a person, and she’s shooing a Desert Tortoise off to the side.  We’re pleased to see someone, who’s obviously not a herper, caring enough to stop and save a herp from becoming roadkill.  We thank her on behalf of the tortoise, who is in too much of a hurry to express its gratitude, obviously having somewhere important to go in the middle of the desert.            Devin mentions something about needing a bathroom, which leads to a discussion about finding herps while otherwise preoccupied.  Just about every herper I know has accidently found a turtle or snake while standing (or squatting) in a compromising position.  It’s happened to me several times, including a few near misses.  I’m surprised to hear that my companions have never had the experience. We turn off the highway onto a dirt road and up the side of a mountain.  A Chuckwalla is basking right by the road, and as we pass he dives into a crevice beneath his rock, but the tail is still visible.  It’s a blind hole, so we’re able to gently dig out the lizard, and admire it in hand.  Another nearby lizard wonders what all the fuss is about.        In the meantime, Devin still needs to go.  While Darin and I are taking pictures, Devin hikes up a gully looking for a suitable spot to conduct his business.  A few moments later he returns and says, “Look what I found.”  First time for everything.    On top of the mountain is a lava field where Collared Lizards hang out.     I wander around and come to the edge of a ridge.  Looking down, I see a Chuckwalla sunbathing on her own personal deck, perched high above the valley below.  I work my way down the rocks, hoping to get a closer look.  I expect the Chuck to move at any moment, but so far so good.  I continue to advance, pausing when it looks like she might get disturbed, but instead the lizard remains completely calm.  I’m surprised by how close she’s letting me approach.  Finally, I sit down right next to her, within arm’s length, and together we enjoy the view until it’s time for me to go.   
Desert Iguana Dipsosaurus dorsalis
Mojave Desert Sidewinder Crotalus cerastes cerastes
Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii
Chuckwalla Sauromalus ater
Side-blotched Lizard Uta stansburiana
Great Basin Collared Lizard Crotaphytus bicinctores
Desert Tortoise (hatchling)