Public Servant

Clean up is part of the job.
Clean up is part of the job.

I worked at the Cave Creek Visitor Center this past Friday and Saturday. A total of 24 visitors came in and demanded information. I supplied the facts. The public sometimes does odd things. One man asked if he could leave my number with his mother’s nursing home in case of emergency.  I said, “Sure, but there’s better ways of keeping in touch” and gave him some alternate ideas for keeping tabs on mom. Cell service and wi-fi are spotty but if you know where to look it is reliable.

So between giving directions and instructing people on the natural history of the area (you saw a black-tailed rattlesnake, sir, not a Mojave) I cleaned the restrooms, swept and dusted, practiced the fiddle and read a pile of New York Times. My friend Carol gave me the slightly used and out of date papers but the reading is good no matter the age.

The man with the elderly mother called me from his hike to tell me they’d lost the trail. His cell phone worked up there, I noted. He asked if I knew where they were and how they might find the trail. Sadly my ESP and internal Google Earth spy cams were not working and I could not answer his questions. I suggested he back track and head down hill. A few hours later he popped in to let me know they made it back safe. I’d forgotten to worry.

Supplies
Supplies
Cave Creek Visitor Center
Cave Creek Visitor Information Center
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Southwestern Research Station

The view from Stateline Road.
The view from Stateline Road.

Once again Burt and I are spellbound by the beauty and wealth of interesting things to do in the Portal area. Two nights ago we kept ourselves up past dark with dinner out at the Rodeo Tavern. Joe and Donna were on duty and they cooked up some swell service and yummy food. Joe brought out Burt’s steak for inspection prior to cooking. It was a lovely slab of meat in his bare naked hand. Afterwards we drove around looking for some spadefooted toads. The recent monsoon rains wake these toads up for a few days a year. They dig out of their underground abodes and sing to find each other, copulate, lay eggs in the new water and rebury themselves. I presume they have a bite to eat, too. More research is in order. If we find some I’ll be inspired to tighten up my knowledge. This night we found one dead frog, two unseen but croaking bullfrogs, and we saw the eye shine of a frog in a drainage ditch. It was dark. The mosquitoes made a fine meal us and the two dogs. More interesting were the colorful and dramatic rain cloud skies. The sky view is tight in the canyon where we are living. Outside the canyon the panorama never lets us down.

Last night I went to a lecture on the Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard. Click HERE for a picture and more info. I learned some pretty interesting but specialized things during last night’s lecture. This lecture is part of a course on animal behavior and it covers some out-there animal research. I didn’t learn much about the lizard in general. I learned some crazy stuff.  The spiny lizard has a thing called a nuchal pocket near its armpits. Scientists have wondered about the function of this pocket. Here’s the deal: It’s a home for chiggers. Yes, those same chiggers that love our groins and waist bands and armpits and bra straps. It seems the chiggers are going to dine on the lizard in some not so convenient locations if they don’t provide them a spot. So through the course of evolution the lizards said, “Hey stay out of our eyelids. I’ve got a spot for you that I think will be better for both of us. Check out my nuchal pocket.” This is grossly oversimplified but accurate. I think.

Lizards are covered in scales. Chiggers under the scales lead to water lose (and irritation?). Water loss is life threatening. Chiggers on eyelids sound darned uncomfortable. Chiggers in my nuchal pocket? I guess that’s tolerable. The nuchal pocket is coveres in smaller softer scales and provides a moister environment. To prove this the scientists captured a bunch of lizards, removed and counted and mapped all chiggers, and applied clear nail polish to the nuchal pockets. Then they let the lizards go. After a time the recaptured the lizards and inventoried the chiggers and their locations. The chiggers really wanted the nuchal pockets and some attached themselves to the edge of the nail polish. Most relocated to the eyelids and various leg and arm groins of the lizard. All very interesting but what I really wanted to know was: HOW DO THEY CATCH AND RELEASE AND RECATCH THE SAME LIZARDS???? This question was not addressed.

Next up I learned that lizards must be conscious to drop their tails. What? Did you forget? Lizards can drop their tails if they are grabbed by a hungry predator. I once scared a lizard and it dropped its tail. It turns out lizards drop their tails and enjoy short term survival but their long term viability is severely curtailed. Evolutionary questions remain. It seems they buy enough time to reproduce (maybe) but their tail loss results in other short comings. How does the tail detach? It can detach all along its length. Sphincters (just like the ones we have) close and separate one end of the tail from the other. Weird. This defense mechanism is called autotomy. Anyway, a sleeping lizard will not let loose its tail no matter how hard you pull. The short coming we learned about was impaired mobility. The lizard is not as agile without its tail. Lose of agility may make the animal more susceptible to predation or it might make it more prone to ‘conservative’ choices (lower perches) that make it easier to catch.

Today I already put some of my new lizard knowledge to work at the Cave Creek Visitor’s Information Center. Tonight is a lecture on echolocation in bats. I’ll fill you in tomorrow.

Other animals can loose a limb or tail and regrow it. Do you know what they are?

Willow Tank
Willow Tank
Ant Lion reserach.
Ant Lion research.
Yarrows Spiny Lizard with chiggers on the eyelid.
Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard with chiggers on the eyelid.
Southwestern research Station
Southwestern research Station
An aggrieved Horned Lizard.
An aggrieved Horned Lizard.
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Cave Creek Visitor’s Center

National Bird in his patriotic cape.
National Bird in his patriotic cape.

Come to the Cave Creek Visitor’s Center in the Coronado National Forest at the edge of the Chircahua Wilderness Area and you might find me. I am officially a volunteer of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Months ago I applied for this position hoping to help up during the mad rush of birding season. The slow wheels of bureaucracy finally swooped down and picked me up this week. The slow season is upon us but I’m getting trained up anyway. Perhaps next year I’ll be here in time to help during the high season.

My supervisor visited day one and impressed upon me that my main job was to provide accurate information to the public. No winging it. Only correct answers will do. 100% accuracy. Got that? No guessing, hypothesizing, or philosophizing.  Here are the facts I’ve committed to memory so far: The Chiricahua mountains were formed 27,000,000 years ago when the Turkey Creek caldera blew up. The last ice age (10,000 years ago) did some sculpting and erosion. In between there was some basin and range sinking and lifting.

The drive over the mountains on Forest Service Road 42 takes about an hour. Destination Chiricahua National Monument. The pass over the mountains is Onion Saddle and is about 7,400′ above sea level. Do not run around naked unless you are sure you are in a clothes free area. The regulations were unclear on where clothes are and are not required. There is a difference between loitering and recreating. You can use a chain saw to cut wood for your campsite but you cannot collect wood for home use until October 1. Wood cutting for non-campsite purposes requires a permit. Mice come in our bathrooms every night and poop in the sink. I wish I knew why. There are a lot of spiders trying to make permanent homes in our public restrooms despite daily evictions. We have a live display of some 7 or 8 rattlesnakes, and a kingsnake, two hognosed snakes, and a Gila monster. There’s a tank with aquatic insects, too. The rattlesnakes have short memories and get cranky after a slow spell. If the visitor’s center is busy all day they get used to the activity and stop rattling. Carry out all your trash. Dogs on leashes at all times and pick up their poop. If you don’t know what poison ivy looks like, here’s a picture. If that doesn’t help stay away from all three-leafed plants. Most of this knowledge was acquired under the tutelage of Ron, the regular staffer. Ron is a kind and fun man and great to work with.

Here’s some pictures from yesterday’s Fourth of July parade in Rodeo, New Mexico.

Float participant.
Float participant. Burt and Pat in the background.
I see you.
I see you.
Is this the barn owl?
Is this the barn owl that flew away a couple of weeks ago?
Rodeo from 50 years ago.
Rodeo from 50 years ago.
Which flag is this? The 4-H club knows.
Which flag is this? The 4-H club knows.
Faithful reader and commenter, Pat, as infantry personnel.
Faithful reader and commenter, Pat, as infantry personnel.
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