My thought, expressed to Clint, was: “We should sell everything we own, move our families out here, take whatever jobs we can get at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and we’d be here every day.” Of course, this flight from reality did not last long, but we were up in the Chisos Mountains on the Lost Mine Trail, and the scent of pine and juniper combined with the bright sunshine and fresh air to form a mind-altering substance. The views of the mountains and the wonderful colors of wildflowers, the blue-green of the agaves, and the various butterflies that visited tiny mountainside meadows wove a powerful spell, and in that moment I could have lived there permanently.
The truth was that this was to be anything but permanent. We came down Friday for a quick visit to the Big Bend, driving two days for a visit of a little more than one day. The demands of everyday life and the limits of available cash dictated that this was to be a quick trip, drive the roads and look for reptiles and amphibians a couple of nights, and visit the Big Bend National Park in between nights.
The first night we drove through storms on our way south through the Davis Mountains, down through Alpine and on across the desert flats. Beyond the storms we began to see a series of Mojave rattlesnakes on the road; one was a neonate less than a foot long and others were small to medium-sized specimens. The biggest disappointment was a small long-nosed snake that had been run over on the road. These are beautiful little relatives of the kingsnakes and I hate to see them run over. Later that first night we walked the road cuts, shining the rock faces and crevices. We did not see snakes, but we found Texas banded geckos, canyon lizards, various invertebrates such as the tail-less whip scorpion, and a couple of rock wrens roosting in shallow depressions in the rock.
Saturday we visited Big Bend National Park, and right away we were treated to a wonderful sighting, an adult central Texas whipsnake. The snake was on the pavement, all four feet of him trying to get a purchase on any irregularities to propel forward. As soon as he reached the rocks and gravel beyond the pavement, he slipped into high gear, which for this species means rocketing forward at impossible speeds. Clint was out of the car and tried to head him off (for photos only) and the snake went up a creosote bush that was far too small to get him out of reach. Clint set something down on the ground and as soon as his attention was diverted, the whipsnake shot out of the bush and near where I was standing. However, in an instant he disappeared into a catclaw bush with a pile of rocks under it, and at that point we had to give up on any photo opportunities.
We drove up into the mountains and started up Lost Mine Trail. We saw a few lizards, including what was apparently a plateau spotted whiptail. The hiking trails in these mountains have produced some great sightings for others, such as Baird’s ratsnake. Clint and I found a regal ring-necked snake on the Lost Mine Trail one year, and Clint has seen a mottled rock rattlesnake there as well. However, we did not see snakes in the Chisos on this trip, but it was still a wonderful experience.
Saturday night we saw mainly night snakes. These are small snakes, harmless despite having enlarged rear teeth and mild toxins used in subduing the small snakes and lizards that they eat. We also saw a baby sonoran gopher snake and several snakes that had been run over.
Starting home Sunday, we saw several snakes that had been hit on the road as we traveled up highway 118, and at one point managed to straddle a young whipsnake stretched out on the road. We stopped, of course, but the small ones are just as rocket-propelled as the adults, and this one was gone in a flash. We were just glad this snake survived his experience on the pavement. An additional final treat was a Texas horned lizard that we managed to get some photos of.
It was a great trip, but all too short.