I have now characterized my 2014 hikes as the Year of the Reptile. For the first time, after traversing hundreds and hundred of desert miles, I saw a chuckwalla and a rattlesnake in the wild. I had all but given up on the most exotic reptile of all in the Sonoran Desert. Until yesterday.
It was just another beautiful afternoon in Arizona’s still-young spring, and the loop trail I followed around Cone Mountain was filled with wildflowers, blooming cactus, birds, cottontails and squirrels. I was not distracted enough by the lush surroundings to lose all caution. I kept my eye out for snakes. I was walking only a mile west of where I came across the Western Diamondback about three weeks ago.
As I rounded the northwest side of the mountain, something caught my eye to the left. I turned my head and spotted it, moving away from me, up a sandy wash. My first thought, “What a large chuckwalla!” Reality soon stepped in.
It was a well-fed Gila Monster, 2-3 feet in length and six to eight inches wide. I was so startled, and thrilled, that I fumbled for the Canon on my shoulder. Rather than do the sensible thing and focus through the viewfinder, I tried to capture the Monster by blowing it up on the LCD screen. Any idiot knows that is trouble. You can easily lose the object, and that’s what happened to me. In the end, I shot only two photos before my prize eased up a bank and vanished into heavy brush.
For good reason, I was never afraid. While these largest of land lizards look ferocious, they seek no trouble and move slowly. If one decided to come after you, it would be easy to walk away from it. At one point, when I got too close, the Monster pulled to a stop and turned its head toward me as if more curious than anything. It is venomous but you almost have to place your hand in its mouth to be “attacked.”
I marked the spot of encounter with my GPS and thought of putting the coordinates on an Arizona hiking website. But at last common sense rushed in. I do not wish to imperil this ancient creature. I fear the two-legged predators might read the post and try to make a little money by capturing it. Everything is money anymore.
For now, I’m just glad I live in an era in which wildlife is valued and somewhat protected. No matter how ugly it may seem or how much you fear it.