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I can’t emphasize enough how thrilled I was to be in this area of the world. Here is sort of a cheesy self portrait I took at one of the countless scenic points along the hike.

A herper on the lookout for Collared Lizards

I really didn’t need to look so hard, because the collared lizards were quite obvious and hard to miss. These lizards are fast even on cold days, and it was 100 degrees! I think I was lucky to get even as close as I did for these shots. I can’t believe how much these green lizards contrast against the red rocks that they live in.

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris)




Those Collared Lizards were a real spectacle to see, and I am glad that I was able to encounter them on my journey. Collards in Colorado have much more yellow in their feet than collared lizards in populations elsewhere. I have seen this species in Missouri as well, and the Colorado individuals are much more vibrantly colored, especially the yellow feet on the males. As hot as it was outside, these lizards remained motionless until I was only a few feet away, then they took off like a bolt. I thought they would be much more wary of my presence then they actually were.
In the remaining hours of the hike I continued to see numerous small lizards, but no more collareds, or any snakes. Regardless, the trek was extremely enjoyable. Everywhere one looks there is some spectacular sight to see. One moment I remember is when walking through a stand of Juniper trees, when dozens of birds started flying right around me and through the trees. I was told the birds were probably Gray Jays (Perisoreus canadensis.) The Jays made a low humming noise as they swooped from tree to tree, and it almost seemed like a few of them were following me. Their color and movements made it seem to me like they were ghosts that were keeping up with me, and watching me. It’s an experience I wont soon forget, and was haunting in a way, to tread through the short forest that these avian creatures call home. I was honored to spend part of my hike in the company of the Gray Jays.

These are the Junipers that the Gray Jays inhabited

In my search for herps I came across dozens of scorpions. The monument is home to two species of scorpion. There is the Hairy Desert Scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis) and the Northern Scorpion (Vejobis boreus) which is pictured here:

Vejovis boreus, The Northern Scorpion

As the sun sank lower in the sky I started to hear a faint rumble every so often, which grew louder as time went on. I was very surprised to realize that a storm was moving into the area. This part of the country is very dry, and it seldom rains here. This was extremely good news because if there was rain, the chances of seeing snakes on the road that night would be better. I began to walk with a little more ambition as the storm rolled in, as I surely didn’t want to be caught on top of the mesa during the barrage of lightning. I guess I was lucky, and I was not stranded in the squall, but I think it was George Lucas who said, “Even good luck has its storms.” On a very steep portion of the trail a rock I stepped on slipped from its resting place and sent me tumbling to an abrupt halt. It was only a minor fall, but it did leave me with a nasty looking gash on my right calf, and I think it was at that point that I lost the case of the flash for my camera. It wasn’t the end of the world, but an unfortunate way for luck to even itself out. I wish someone was there to see the fall, because I am sure it would have tickled the funny bone of at least some of my usual herping partners, but it surely wont be the last time I lose my footing!

Here are a few more views of the stunning scenery I was privileged to spend time in on the hike.





The ending point of my journey was a place called Monument Canyon Overlook. My mom was supposed to pick me up here seven hours after she had dropped me off up the trail, and I was there right on time. About eight hours after I had set out there was still no sign of her, and my cell phone was out of juice. I didn’t know what was going on, and I was in the middle of nowhere with no food, water, or shelter, and the sun was beginning to set. I decided I needed to flag down a car and ask to use a cell phone, but only a couple of people had driven by in the hour I had already waited. The next car that drove down the winding road was occupied by a couple who for lack of a better term, looked like they had just come from a horror movie. I got that sketchy feeling like something wasn’t right from the time they slowed down. I still asked if they had a cell phone, to which the mullet-clad husband replied, “No, but we can lift you to the visitor’s center.” Well, I really didn’t want to end up on a milk carton so I declined the “lift” and sat back down to await the next passer-by. During my wait I noticed this sign which I thought was sort of curious:

Danger!

Despite the efforts of the plague, serial killers, and mother nature, I finally recognized our little rental car cautiously creeping over the horizon. It turns out my mom had been waiting at THE OTHER Monument Canyon Overlook, there were two places with the same name. Well needless to say she was pretty sure I had fallen off of a cliff and was even more relieved to see me as I was to see her. We started down the monument and back towards civilization, and to do a little road cruising…

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