Part 2 – Where are the insects??
Those of you with fine-tuned observational skills might have noticed that the first part of this Mojave National Preserve trip report failed to mention any bugs. The fact is that I went most of Saturday without looking for insects to photograph. My goal was to explore on Saturday and concentrate on finding and photogging bugs on Sunday. I wouldn’t be disappointed!
I should admit now that the first photographed insect occurred around dusk on Saturday. While hiking around Shadow Valley in search for a campsite, I discovered the unmistakable silk tent of the Western tent caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum) on a creosote bush. A few caterpillars were out of the nest for me to photograph. This wouldn’t be the last time I’d see these colorful, social moth larvae today.
After a cold night of camping where temperatures dropped below 30°F (-1°C), I packed up and headed south on Cima Road. It was another beautiful day in the desert. It was a little breezy – gusts up to 20mph – but wouldn’t last beyond 8-9am. My goal for the day was to check out the Hole-in-the-Wall campsite and info center, but I was in no hurry. My first stop of the day was at the ghost town of Cima. It consisted of a half-dozen or so buildings and a dozen rusted vehicles. It also had a simple building still in use as a market and post office (closed on Sunday). I stopped and explored the remains of a small home. The ground around the building was covered in pieces of wood and metal from the home. Of the scraps of metal strewn across the desert, I could identify a metal mattress frame, screen door, and a heating duct- all possibly over 50 years old. I spent an hour turning over the remnants of the dilapidated material looking for insects. In that time I would find two centipedes, a nest of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex), a beautiful desert spider and a small beetle with a blue sheen. I don’t know how, but I also spotted a tiny spider the size of a mite, no more than 1 mm in body length.
The large gray/black spider (Plectreuridae Plectreurys) measured about 13-15mm. It crawled in jerky movements based on vibrations or movement around it, which reminded me of how lizards move. The dark side of this wooden plank was obviously its lair for I found three dead beetles sucked dry in her trash.
The centipedes were not happy to have been disturbed. It has been years since I’ve captured a centipede, so I was a little intimidated by their speed and reflexes. I recently read up on the centipede and learned that they have unique “legs” called gnathosomes or gnathopods which are pincer-like appendages used to inject venom into their prey. They spend most of their time during the day under logs, stones, or in this case, a sheet of metal in order to keep from dehydrating. At night they hunt for anything they can catch and, based on how fast they move, that’s probably quite a bit. They eat mostly insects, but have been known to capture and eat lizards and small rodents as well. I’m having trouble identifying these centipedes, so if you can help, please leave a comment.
The small beetle I found measured about 7mm. It has a nice bluish-green tint to it in the light. It was very difficult to photograph, even in the small container I used to temporarily house it while I snapped away.
I could have spent all day in Cima looking for insects, but I was drawn by a desire to see more of the park. I headed west on Kelso Cima Road for five miles until I came to Mojave Road. This unpaved road has more history behind it than the nearby Route 66. In fact, Mojave Road was the Route 66 of its time before the Chicago-Santa Monica highway was built. This 138-mile trail is not much different today as it was when American pioneers traveled across it in their wagons in search of a new life and prosperity the decades following the Civil War. But even this layer of history can be peeled back. At one time, this was once used by Jedidiah Smith, John Fremont and other American pioneers. Before that, the Mojave Indians in the early 1800’s used this trail. And even before that, it is said that Spanish Franciscan Francisco Garces might have used this very trail around the time our forefathers were signing the Declaration of Independence.
The road is well groomed, thanks to local support, but with all dirt roads in the desert, it has become corrugated, making it a slow drive for my non-4WD vehicle. Going at speeds of about 15mph (24kph) allowed me to check out the scenery and keep an eye on the road for any crossing creatures. This is how I found my next insect.
It wasn’t hard to spot this large darkling beetle crossing the road. The black Eleodes measures about 4 cm from maxilla to pygidium. I found it just as it discovered its next meal, allowing me plenty of time to get out my gear to photograph it. I’ve seen Eleodes many times in the Mojave Desert, but this was the first that had striae along the elytra rather than a smooth abdomen. I believe this is an Eleodes obscura.
I drove 11 miles of dirt roads before arriving at Mid Hills Campground, one of the two “official” campgrounds in the Mohave National Preserve (“Moja”). The place was empty and it was immediately clear why. A 2005 wildfire had destroyed much of the woods in this area. Even today it still looks like the aftermath of a nuclear war, with blackened dead trees and dark brown earth. Life is slowly returning to the area, but I wouldn’t want to camp here given all of the other options. Besides, I don’t know who would pay $12 for a campsite when you can camp off the side of the road for free.
I continued south on Black Canyon Road which is still unpaved at this point. I assume most visitors on this road come up from the south, where the pavement ends immediately north of the Hole-in-the-Wall Campgrounds and Info Center. I wasn’t ready to check out the center quite yet. Just north of Hole-in-the-Wall, I took a mile detour down a dirt road. It was there I would spend the rest of my time in the park photographing a single creosote bush. For some reason, this bush had more life than anything I could see in the surrounding area.
If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll know that my favorite insect to photograph at the moment is the syrphid fly, more commonly called the hover fly. So you could only imagine how excited I was to find this single creosote bush covered in them! Along with 4-5 different syrphids attracted to the flowering bush were drone flies (Eristalis tenax), cactus flies (Copestylum Mexicana), flesh flies (Sarcophagidea), green bottle flies (Phaenicia sericata), and even spotted what looked like a fruit fly (Tephritidae) with their distinctly marked wings. Along with the flies were a few kinds of bees, most I’ve never seen before outside the covers of a field guide. Along with honey bees – by far the most represented at the bush of any insect – were 2-3 types of other bees. I spotted a few small mining bees (Andrenidae) and something that looked a lot like a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.).
Here’s my favorite syrphid photo of the day. I’m not having any luck identifying it, so if you can help, please feel free to post a comment.
Winged insects weren’t the only visitors to this creosote bush. One or two families of Western tent caterpillars (Malacosoma californicum) could be found climbing on the bush, looking for food.
It was getting close to 3pm and I wanted to stay in front of the weekend Vegas visitors, so I reluctantly left the creosote and headed home. Before I left the park, I stopped in briefly at the Hole-in-the-Wall Info Center, where I gathered pamphlets to read in order to plan my next trip out to the Mojave National Preserve. I have a feeling the trip will be sooner than later!
Also coming soon will be more photos – lots of photos! – taken on this trip. Stay tuned!
April 4th, 2009
There’s a good chance that if you’re a Southern California driver and old enough to gamble (or maybe not), you’ve driven to Las Vegas. Every Saturday, thousands of drivers jump in their cars and eventually drive on Interstate 15 towards Sin City. As they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but eventually they all drive home with more or less money. I too have been to Vegas on this notoriously congested freeway. On the way out there, I’m usually thinking about how much fun I’m going to have and where I’m going to have it. On the return trip, I’m usually thinking about how I spent too much or drank too much or did too much of too much. Rarely am I concentrating on the scenery.
This is probably why I’ve never heard of the Mojave National Preserve until recently. The Mojave National Preserve (which I’ll refer to as “Moja” for the remainder of this post) is a large piece of land outlined by the Nevada border to the east, Highway 40 to the south, and Interstate 15 to the north. When the land was protected in 1992 by the Desert Protection Act, it became the third largest national parkland outside of Alaska. It is so big in fact, it has a state park within it (Providence Mountains State Recreation Area)
Keeping my New Year’s resolution to visit the Mojave every weekend in the month of April, I decided to spend the first weekend of the month in Moja. I started my weekend at 4:00 am in the morning, hoping to stay in front of the inevitable Vegas traffic. With a couple of stops for fuel and food, it took me about three hours of traffic-free driving to get to the southern entrance of the preserve at Kelbaker Road.
Researching and planning your trip to Moja is highly recommended. The park is so large, it’s important to have a good idea on what you want to see. With 2,500 sq. miles (6,475 sq. km) of land, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it all in one trip. I would eventually cover over 200 miles of roads in and around the park during the weekend.
Above: General route of my weekend trip.
The first stop on my trip was the Kelso Dunes. Kelso Dunes is one of the largest dune fields in the western US, but that fact was lost to me when standing in the desert. The Mojave Desert is so vast, it is difficult to get a sense of the size of natural features – like mountains, valleys, or sand dunes – since there isn’t any man made objects to compare them to. If it wasn’t for the placard near the dunes’ trail head, I wouldn’t have even fathomed that the sand laid out in front of me covered more than 45 square miles. Nor would have I known that the tallest dune stood 600 feet – 60 stories – above the desert floor!
On my hike, I kept hearing what sounded like a low flying propeller plane. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the deep hum was the sound of the sand moving on the dunes, a completely natural occurrence found at only a few dunes in the world.
After a hike on the dunes, I continued north to Kelso Depot, the center of Moja. Kelso used to be a bustling desert oasis during World War II, when iron from Kaiser Steel’s nearby Vulcan Mine was shipped out of the desert by train here to be used in steel manufacturing for the war. When the war ended and rail traffic was reduced, the town dried up. Now, the highlight of the town is a single building: the Kelso Depot.
Built in 1924, the Kelso Depot is a beautifully kept train station surrounded by dark green grass and healthy palms: quite a shock to the earthy palette of the surrounding desert. Over the years, the building has served as a train station, restaurant, reading room, ticket and telegraph office, and housing for railroad employees. Visitors today will find it beautifully renovated, inside and out. The NPS Visitors Center includes a museum exhibit, a bookstore, and a few rooms furnished just as they were in the early years of the depot. They also have a 40-seat theater where you can watch a 12-minute movie on the park. I know I scoffed at those who watched a similar video playing at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, but with a park this big, I needed some visual assistance on what to see. Unlike the ancient video playing at the poppy reserve, this movie was fairly new and had a high production value. Plus, if it wasn’t for the movie, I would have never of known about the lava tubes of Moja!
A few million years ago, the Mojave Desert looked a lot different. Angry volcanoes spewed rock and lava. Large lakes were full of life and surrounded by vegetation. If you squint your eyes, you can still see this ancient landscape, especially in the area known as the Cinder Cone Lava Beds. About 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Kelso Depot, you’ll find over a dozen ancient cinder cones jutting out of the landscape. The blackened lava can be over 45 feet thick in some areas. A short hike into this area and you might think you’re in Tolkien’s Mordor. My quest was less noble than Sam and Frodo’s: find the lava tubes I learned about in the visitor’s center.
Even though I had three different maps and a GPS unit, I still spent over 20 minutes trying to find the unnamed, unpaved road that would lead to the lava tubes. Eventually I would find it and slowly navigate the rocky, uneven road with my Dodge Neon. I highly suggest to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle to Moja, not necessarily because roads are impossible otherwise (they could be after storms), but because it will allow you to see more of the park in a shorter amount of time. It took me more than 30 minutes to make it up the 6-mile road in my car. Once at a small parking area, it’s an easy 300-yard hike up to the entrance of the lava tubes.
Entering the tubes have been made easier in recent years thanks to the installation of a sturdy metal ladder with hand rails. After climbing down the 15-foot ladder, I carefully navigated the lose rocks until I reached the floor of the cave. From here, I had to shuffle 30 feet through the narrowest point of the cave, measuring about three feet tall and 10 feet wide. Although I brought my camera, camera bag, and tripod, I had forgotten the most important item: a flashlight. Nonetheless, I was able to make it through after a brief rest as my eyes adjusted to the dark.
After crawling through the opening, I would emerge into a place I consider the most magical place in the Mojave Desert. The main portion of the lava tube opened up into a room about 60 feet long by 40 feet wide. At certain times of the day, a glorious, brilliant beam of sunlight will shine into the cavern. I was lucky enough to have over a half hour of solitude in the room before other visitors would arrive.
I left the lava tubes and drove back onto Kelbaker Road, continuing north. It was now around 2pm and I was hungry, so I drove 19 miles (30 km) to Baker, California for lunch. After lunch, I headed 26 miles (42 km) east on the I-15 to re-enter the Mojave National Preserve on Cima Road.
The last major stop of the day would be a three-mile hike on the Teutonia Peak Trail, one of only seven maintained trails in the park. The first half mile of the trail appears to be an old road with two well-pronounced tracks. After a mile through open flatlands of Joshua trees, the path narrows and heads up towards the summit ridge. I was hoping to find an expansive view looking westward for the sunset, but the ridge only reveals a field of boulders among granite and monzonite outcroppings. I sat on the ridge and watched the setting sun change the colors of the desert from greens and browns to shades of orange.
Since this park is a preserve managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and not a “National Park” per say, camping is allowed just about everywhere. The National Parks Service suggests finding a spot that has been previously camped in. I didn’t look too far before finding the perfect campsite, complete with a boulder granite outcropping and a fire pit.
To be continued…here!
To go along with my Joshua Tree trip report posted yesterday, I’ve got a couple of photo galleries to share:
Here’s a checklist I go through when getting ready for a weekend getaway.
Do you remember your first notebook? The first time you kept a journal or diary? Notebookism.com asked their readers to share the roots of their obsession of notebooks. This has inspired me to find my first notebook/journal and rediscover what interests I had when I was much younger.
It didn’t take long to find the dusty book and when I sat down and perused the pages, I was surprised to discover that many obsessions I have now took root in this 13-year-old journal: astronomy, zoology, entomology, travel, exploration, art, to name a few.
I’d like to share a few pages and talk about them.
I bought this notebook from Barnes & Noble in the summer of 1995. I would have been 19 years old at the time. The bookplate in the rear of the book tells me that the type of notebook is a “Wire Bound” by Michael Roger Press, Inc. out of New York and it was printed in 1992.
I glued on a collapsible folder I’m pretty sure I designed and made myself to hold the newspaper clippings, postcards, letters, and other papers I thought might be interesting to hold on to.
The first entry, from August 8th, 1995, starts with:
As you can see, today I decided to start a diary or journal. I wanted to actually get onto paper my goals, plans, thoughts & feelings of archaeology and the role it will play (or how I would like it to play) in my life.
Although I didn’t finish my studies as an archaeologist, it did open the door to related fields I pursue today.
August 5th, 1995, I wrote:
I, Kolby Kirk, plan on being out of the Continental US by the summer of 1996. I will be able to send a postcard back to my parents showing that I am on an archaeological dig. Signed: Kolby Kirk
I eventually made it out of the country and visited an archaeological dig… in 2001.
In 1995, before the Internet and instant knowledge, I invented something I called the “VRchaeology”. According to the entry, it would be able to translate any language, “lost, dead, ect.”, with the help of video equipment and virtual reality. I based the prototype off of a Nintendo Gameboy. I wonder if the technology exists yet to make this thing?
The page on the right is a drawing of Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD, an event that I read about at an early age and started my fascination with archaeology. I fulfilled my childhood dream of visiting the ruins of Pompeii and hiking to the top of the volcano in 2001.
The page above is a record of my first trip to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It looks like the map on the right page is of the museum’s multi-building campus, and the map on the left is of the Egyptian exhibit on display there at the time (November, 1995).
I wrote very neat and small at nineteen years old. If you’ve seen any of my more recent journals, you can see that I still write this small (but probably not as neat).
I obsessively collected National Geographic Magazines in my late teens and early 20s, which I’ve talked about here on this blog before. I wrote about my bookstore discoveries like I just found some ancient artifact in the jungles of Peru. My obsession with the magazine peaked around 1997, when I owned all but sixteen issues from 1913 to 1997. Now I just own a few shelves of just the oldest ones, but I still subscribe to the magazine’s sister publications (NG Traveler Magazine, NG Adventure Magazine).
To help figure out how rare a National Geographic Magazine was, I graphed out the number of NGS members. Looks like I made a graph with Microsoft Excel for Windows 95. I was such a geek! Wait – I still am, but the only difference is now I get paid to graph out stuff in Excel.
The history of National Geographic maps during World War II in one page. Looking at the size of that writing, I could have made some money writing people’s names on grains of rice.
I’m surprised to discover in this journal that I followed the war in Bosnia pretty closely. Here, on the right, is a sketch of the Dayton Peace Agreement signing, ending the three year war in Eastern Europe. I did a quick search and found the photograph I used for the sketch.
On the left, a newspaper cutout from November, 1995 of the estimated number of Bosnian refugees per 100,000 population in Europe. According to the map, there’s over 500 in Sweden, more than any other European country. I commented, “Only one thing I want to know: WHAT’S IN SWEDEN!?” I have since visited Bosnia and I’m sure one day I’ll see what’s in Sweden.
The left shows a representation of how much potable water there is in the world based on a fact in National Geographic Magazine: “If all Earth’s water fit in a gallon jug, available fresh water would equal just over a tablespoon.”
I loved bugs all my life, it seems. Here on the left, in December of 1995, I drew a cicada and a Jerusalem cricket I had found on an archaeological dig. (More on this over at my other site, bugshutterbug.com.)
On the left is a sketch of Mount Pinatubo erupting in The Philippines. It had erupted in June of that year. A few facts I wrote down about the eruption:
A page dedicated to the Galileo spacecraft, which had arrived at Jupiter in December, 1995, completing it’s 6-year journey. According to Wikipedia, it lived another seven years orbiting the planet.
On the left, a drawing of an ad for a National Geographic television special on sharks. I wonder, what year did Discovery’s “Shark Week” begin? On the right, an entry on the “weather weirdness” that occurred that January (1996). Apparently, it was unusually warm in Los Angeles while New York was experiencing “the worst storm of the century.”
I met a family from Perth in late 1996, starting an interest in the eastern Australian city. On the left is a map of the city I drew, most likely based off of a map produced by the National Geographic Society. (This was still a time before the Internet). On the right is a something I drew based off of a Fox Trot comic strip. I looked forward to reading Fox Trot when I read the newspaper. I think I drew this based on the recent news that the comic’s creator, Bill Amend, was retiring.
An ode to Stonehenge. I don’t know how I had the patience or the skill to draw everything on this page in negative with permanent marker.
Speaking of things that I did for fun that I’m now being paid to do: here’s a map of the languages in the Caucasus Region (Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Chechnia, Azerbaijan). I’m creating a similar map for a project I’m working on today!
4-year-old Sonam Wangdu recognized by the Tibetan Buddhists as the Reincarnation of Lama Deshung Rinpoche III, a beloved scholar and teacher, who died here (in Seattle, WA) in 1987 at the age of 81. Before he died, Deshung told two students he would be reborn in Seattle. And on November 12, 1991, according to dreams and other auspicious signs, he was. The boy was born as Sonam Wangdu to an American mother and Tibetan father. He leaves for the Tharlam Monastery near Kathmandu, Nepal, for a life of celibacy and study.
I remember my Mom let me stay home to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It was so devastating to see, on live television, the explosion of the shuttle and the deaths of seven astronauts. On this page, I drew the sequence of events leading up to the tragic event.
Giant Squids! Still a major fascination of mine. There such mysterious creatures. If something so large could “hide” from scientists for this long, imagine what other creatures are out there that has yet to cross paths with humans?
During the summer of 1996, I taught archaeology and astronomy to children at a YMCA camp in the local mountains. The idea of teaching astronomy came in a pow-wow meeting earlier in the year, but little did I know at the time that I’d be the one teaching it. I knew nothing about astronomy beyond the introductory class I took in college, but soon I could spend an hour pointing out constellations and telling stories of their name’s origins. I still love sitting out under the stars any chance I can get. Even though some of the names and stories have slipped from memory, the vastness of the sky is awesome to look upon.
On the left here is a map of the camp I worked at. This was the summer of Comet Hale-Bopp, the most famous comet since Haley in 1983. I was lucky enough to live in an area without light pollution, allowing us to see the fuzzy comet (with the help of a telescope).
My first night at camp and I was almost attacked by a mother raccoon protecting its four kits (babies). They had broke into the cabin where I was sleeping on the living room couch. I woke up to see the big mama staring me down just 2 feet from my face. I fell in love with the Great Outdoors that night.
More astronomy-related entries during that great summer living in the mountains.
A page spread dedicated to meteors and the damage they cause when they strike earth. There’s nothing like learning to appreciate life by scaring the bejesus out of kids with stories of mass destruction and possible human extinction.
Sunday, September 1st, 1996: A journal entry dedicated to the recent eruption of the twin volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, in the South Pacific.
Sunday, September 2nd, 1996: A journal entry dedicated to “space weather”, which some believe caused the blackout of 1996.
Sunday, September 3rd, 1996: A journal entry dedicated to Easter Island and its mysterious statues.
Some information on the volcanic activity in Yellowstone National Park.
Have you ever heard of the stratosphere balloon called The Explorer? If not, you should read about it in the October 1934 issue of National Geographic. If you don’t happen to have that issue laying around, take a look around the web for more details. It’s really fascinating stuff! I thought so and it inspired me to draw this picture.
Also drawn based on a National Geographic story is the tarantula. (More on this over at my other site, bugshutterbug.com.)
I got to witness a lunar eclipse while living in Irivine, CA. This spread records my viewing of the phenomenon. I still take time to watch lunar eclipses, but now I usually record the event with my camera rather than with a notebook.
In the Autumn of 1996, I worked as a security guard at a computer chip company in Tustin, California. Across the street from the company’s campus was a large field where hawks would sit atop light poles or trees, intently watching the strawberry fields for prey. I was fascinated with these intelligent birds and their amazing eyesight and spent many days at work watching them survey the ground or soaring gracefully over the land, occasionally picking off rabbits and mice with their sharp talons. In this entry, I write how I rollerbladed to this field and watched the hawks armed with binoculars and a disposable camera (my camera of choice for many years). Although I didn’t write about it here, reading the entry brings back a thought I had about the future of the birds. I wondered how long they would be winged kings of this large swath of land before the city covered it with more buildings. I haven’t been back to Tustin for many years, but I do think these strawberry fields have been replaced by buildings. I wonder if the hawks have adapted to the change or have they moved away. On the map above, I highlighted in blue the range of the hawks, according to my observations.
When the English Patient came out in November of 1996, it quickly became my favorite movie of all time. I ended up seeing it over six times in the theater, read the book, met the author, and owned it on VHS and DVD. I saw it recently and it still holds up as a great film about archaeology, geography, romance and adventure. I still listen to the soundtrack from time to time on my iPod.
I walked into an old wooden bench and was impaled by the largest sliver I’ve ever received. It took thirty minutes for a nurse to remove it. She showed no mercy in doing so. I don’t know if I had intentionally taped up the actual sliver on the same spread as a photo of a rhinoceros, but the coincidence is humorous.
Photos from my days as an archaeologist. Again my camera of choice is a disposable Kodak camera. I didn’t start using a “real” camera until 2001 and purchased my first SLR in 2006.
The collapsible pocket I attached to the back of the journal has an eerie resemblance to the (much smaller) pocket found on Moleskine journals. Maybe that’s a subliminal reason why the notebooks became a journal of choice since 2004?
To see more scanned pages, head on over to my other site, bugshutterbug.com.
When asked to tell their worst nightmares, most Americans will mention insects or spiders. Some estimate that up to 35% of Americans have an irrational fear of insects (entomophobia) or spiders (arachniphobia). I have a friend who is so fearful of insects, she has difficulty looking at my photos without feeling uneasy.
It is every photographer’s hope that someone will have an emotional reaction to their work. Many of the recent posts on this blog have been about insects and, although my passion for entomology photography is strong, I understand how someone might not care to see any of the hundreds of travel photos I’ve taken because of one insect photo.
I have decided to move my insect photos to a new place on the web:
I welcome you to visit this new site dedicated to my insect photography. If not, you can rest assured that photos posted here on kolbykirk.com will rarely show anything with more than four legs. Maybe I should post more kitten and baby photos to balance out my insect photos? Here’s a few Moroccan cat photos and pics of my niece:
Being a proud Oregonian, I was excited to have the opportunity to visit the Motherland for an extended weekend. My youngest cousin was getting married and I looked forward to being present for the ceremony. (I’ll most likely keep those photos for family only.) After the Saturday wedding, I began my road trip home, 1,000-miles from Newport, Oregon to Arcadia, California. It was a fantastic three-day journey through the redwoods of Northern California, the rolling golden hills of Central California, and the fertile valley from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Here’s a map and some photos. Click on the photos to see them on Flickr. Scroll to the bottom for a link to a slideshow.
I’ve returned from a long weekend in Joshua Tree and have been basking in the memories. It was one of my most enjoyable trips to the national park. The weather was in the mid-80° F, a full 10° cooler than in Los Angeles that weekend. Wildflowers were in bloom, some for the first time in years. And the desert creatures! I have been in Southern California for 16 years and had only seen two snakes in that time (a Desert Nightsnake and a Mountain Kingsnake). This last weekend, I saw FOUR Speckled Rattlesnakes and two Glossy Snakes (one alive, one roadkill). I also spotted a Chuckwalla from 40 feet away and spent 20 minutes with my friend photographing the big beautiful lizard, the second largest in the United States. Fourteen friends made it out to the desert, where we camped at Jumbo Rock campground, made hotdogs and s’mores under the starry night, and went on a few hikes in the area. Here’s a video I made of the weekend:
Here’s some of the photos from the trip. See my flickr.com page for more.
Like most boys, I loved catching bugs when I was a kid. Spending time growing up in Oregon, Minnesota, and California, I’ve probably seen my fair share of creepy crawlies. I always have my camera handy nowadays to take a portrait of an insect when I’m outdoors and last weekend was no exception. I spent an extended weekend in the Bay Area with my family (including my beautiful 6-month old niece) celebrating Easter together. On Easter Sunday, we headed up Niles Canyon to Sunol, California – the epitome of a sleepy town. In fact, I think we doubled the population when our party of six arrived. Sleepy? More like unconscious.
But what better way to spend a beautiful Sunday than outdoors with your family in a town surrounded by rolling green hills abloom with wildflowers? Here are a handful of photos I took:
I was on a plane back to Southern California just four hours after these photos were taken. When I arrived home, there was a package waiting for me on my doorstep. It was a book I have been anxiously awaiting, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Because I like old things, especially books, I searched for and found an old copy of a insect field guide online. And now, a month later, I was holding a 1921 copy of Lutz’s Fieldbook of Insects. It was first published in 1918 but started to fade from history after its last printing in 1948, five years after it’s namesake – Frank Eugene Lutz – passed away. But Lutz and his book were not the main reasons I was excited to receive this book. It was the name written in the front of the book, most likely the name of a previous owner: Walter J Breckenridge.
This man has not faded from history. Known as “Breck” to those who knew him, Breckenridge spent most of his life promoting nature in one form or another. In the 1950′s and ’60s, he produced feature-length nature films and presented them across the Midwest to auditoriums filled with children and adults. He is a published author of wildlife books and an artist, adding images of fauna to his books as well as others. You could catch Breck answering questions and sharing stories at the Bell Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where he served as the director for twenty-four years. From a Bell Museum publication:
Breck’s influence is still much in evidence at the Bell, where dioramas he constructed even 60 years ago continue to draw museum goers. But his impact extends well beyond the University campus. In Minnesota, Breck’s scientific work and advocacy led to the creation of the state Scientific and Natural Areas Program and to the establishment of parks, wetlands, and wildlife areas including Nerstrand Woods State Park, the Spring Brook Nature Center, and the University’s own Cedar Creek Natural History Area. His encyclopaedic knowledge of winged, scaled, and four-legged creatures, his unceasing fascination with them, and his artistic talent helped create and illustrate definitive reference works on birds and reptiles as well as evocative oils and watercolors that captured the character and habits of osprey, prairie falcons, Canadian geese, and many other birds with astonishing acuity.
Dr. Walter J Breckenridge lived a long life, passing away just a few months after his one-hundredth birthday.
I was hoping that there would be some marginalia within the pages of the book. Some reminder that one of Minnesota’s leading ornithologists used the book on his trips in a meadow. Maybe a passage about an butterfly he spotted or notes on identifying a beetle he found underneath a dead log, but it is clean for the most part. There are a few small sketches here and there, quite possibly by Breck, but nevertheless, this book is a treasure and will be a proud addition to my antique guidebook collection.