Summer Comes Scurrying

Ornate tree lizard

Ornate tree lizard

Female Chuckwalla

Female Chuckwalla

Male Chuckwalla

Male Chuckwalla

Chuck's tailSpringtime in the desert is glorious, made precious by the specter of the scorching summer that looms ahead. The carpet of wildflowers is browning, and creosote and brittle bush are unwrapping bright yellow blooms. Accents of magenta dot the landscape, as hedgehog cacti unfold brilliant patches of color. Birds flit from branches to shadows, busy with breeding, nesting, even feeding youngsters. The morning is bright and a blue sky cups a hint of cool air to the desert floor.
Summer’s drawing close, and the heralds come scurrying and sunning and gobbling up bugs and blossoms. I walked later in the morning than usual and discovered this was lizard hour. Ornate tree lizards, bold little insect hunters about four and a half inches long scampered up and down boulders along my way. I must’ve seen a dozen of them.
Near the top of Telegraph Trail a female chuckwalla hustled across the path. She paused in front of a hunk of rock and struck a regal pose. I pointed her out to a mom and her young son who were coming along the trail. They had a chance to admire her briefly before she dashed up the hill. I overheard the boy say to his mother, “That must’ve been Lizard Rushmore.” The kid had a point, the chuckwalla did look to be part of the rock for a moment.
I’m descending Kiwanis Trail when I see another chuckwalla, a male this time, as evidenced by his tail. Chuckwallas with bright orange tails such as his are endemic to South Mountain. The orange color is attributed to a diet rich in cartenoids. Chuckwallas are herbivores, and crevice dwellers. In fact they inflate themselves to wedge into crevices as a defense mechanism. These large lizards grow to be 16 inches long.
Seeing so many reptiles near well-used trails reminded me of a comment made by a docent at Desert Botanical Gardens. He claimed that lizards that overcome their fear of humans are able carve out territories in areas shunned by others of their species. In any case, the robust population of reptiles added considerable interest to what turned out to be a pretty warm hike. Summer’s coming!

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