Yep, we spent the last week in Arizona, in and around the Tucson area. While I find the politics and lack of gun control more than a little whacky (things you don't see in Canada: men open-carrying semi-automatic pistols in the local pharmacy), the people were great and the landscapes exquisite! We rented a car for the week and found it very easy to get around.
I spent several years, on and off, illustrating the kids' book Katie of the Sonoran Desert, which took place in this very area. I had to illustrate the whole thing using photos and other reference material. I also received a ton of help from Roger, one of the herpetologists depicted in the book. I sent him my drawings and he sent back critique. This allowed me to draw everything as realistically as possible, given that I had never been to Arizona!
If you think drawing a snake is easy, I can assure you it isn't. They are surprisingly complex, as I soon found out.
When I stepped off the plane, I felt like I had already been to Tucson, even though it was my first visit. We had a great trip. How many photos can you stand? I've got LOTS.
The first night we were there, we checked out a trail near our guesthouse, on the way to dinner. (I don't usually hike with a purse!) We heard a Great Horned Owl hooting, although I couldn't spot him!
The next day, Sunday, we had to get up early to meet Roger for a trek in the desert. The sunset was very beautiful...
Roger bundled us up into his Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck and drove us off the the very sections of desert featured in our book.
There are many prickly plants in the desert...
Often at this time of year, there will be a beautiful display of wildflowers in the desert. Unfortunately, the area is in a bit of a drought and did not receive enough rain this winter for wildflower seeds to germinate. Thus flowers were few and far between! But this lovely cactus was in flower, and a honeybee was visiting for pollen:
And here is Roger, radio-tracking one of the many desert creatures with radio transmitters implanted in them...
And here is what Roger found...
"It was good for me. Was it good for you? Cigarette?"
Two Western Diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus Atrox) in the act of mating! Apparently they can stay tied together for up to 24 hours. I would have liked to get closer for the photo, but instead I used my zoom. I am not a fool. Nonetheless, these snakes would rather slither away than strike you, but you shouldn't push your luck.
The lead character in our book, Katie, is in fact a Western Diamondback. I was THRILLED to see these beauties in the wild at long last.
Of course a rattlesnake can bite you, and while the Western Diamondback can sometimes cause a fatal bite, usually it is not life-threatening. And despite the fact that the snakes just want to go about their lives, and do not seek out humans, they are routinely and cruelly persecuted. Just the other week, Roger went to a known rattlesnake burrow only to discover that some idiot had shot it and the resident snake to pieces. Wasteful, disrespectful, idiotic and offensive. I can MAYBE see killing a venomous snake that has you cornered in your bedroom (although I would just call a herpetologist myself), but to go out and kills snakes for thrills, as they do in disgusting rattlesnake round-ups, is beyond my comprehension. People have way too many neuroses about snakes. If you're scared of snakes, fine, but for God's sake just leave them alone. Don't vilify them, and don't wantonly destroy them.
Rant off. Next photo...
The intrepid Gordon and his trusty water bottle!
And what do we have here?
It's a Desert Tortoise, another of the creatures I illustrated in our book. And here's an interesting fact from that Wikipedia entry:
"One defense mechanism the tortoise has when it is handled or molested is to empty its bladder. This can leave the tortoise in a very vulnerable condition in dry areas, and they should never be alarmed, handled or picked up in the wild unless they are in imminent danger (like in a road)."
Meanwhile, back in the desert, you'll find oodles of Prickly Pear cacti:
Not to mention the fantastic, majestic saguaro. This one has a huge bird's nest (hawk, perhaps?) nestled in its arms:
And the insidious Jumping Cholla, which LOVES to attach itself to you in a painful fashion:
Fortunately I didn't get any on my bare skin, but it did have a fondness for my hiking boots:
Stems easily attach to passing humans and animals, thus spreading their prickly love all over the desert!
And here's a video of the sexy snakes. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to get too close. You can hear one of them rattling at the start...