California Spring Break 2011

Roxanne, Ryan, and I went to southern California for spring break. We were there from March 19-24 and visited the Inland Empire, Palm Springs area, Anza Borrego, and Ridgecrest (where my parents live). In addition to visiting my parents, we also planned to explore, look for reptiles, and experience warm weather. Roxanne, in particular, was interested in finding warmth. But warmth was not to be. We hit particularly cool and wet stretch of weather for our visit. I believe we ran into rain ever day except for one while we were in California. We also encountered hail, snow, and high winds. I would say that 45F, rain, and high winds in the San Gorgonio Pass is about as nasty as any weather Ohio can serve up.

Fortunately, it wasn't that bad all of the time. It is always a pleasure to come back to southern California. I can't believe it's been 17 years since we left. It seems to have changed little. One new thing I realized on this trip is that the 210 freeway now extends all of the way to Redlands. Who knew?

We bounced around the region quite a bit, trying to take advantage of the weather (a bit of a joke). The results below are arranged by geography, and are not necessarily in chronological order.

Let's begin with the Palm Springs area. The town of Palm Springs itself is rather unappealing (think California version of south Florida), but there are interesting areas to explore in every direction from there.

A young Red Racer AKA Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum piceus).

Another young Red Racer, somewhat larger.

California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra). This individual appeared to be in pre-shed condition.

A closer look at the previous animal.

Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), the most commonly-encountered reptile on the trip.

Western Shovel-nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis).

Ryan and I trying to pose the above snake in the wind. I think Roxanne found the process amusing and worthy of a photo...

A young Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans), found by Roxanne and Ryan.

Another look at the above snake, on Ryan's finger.

Desert Night Lizard (Xantusia vigilis).

Another Western Shovel-nosed Snake.

Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata), found by Roxanne. I was hoping we'd see one of these on this trip, as I had not seen a live one in the field since 1994.

A closer look at the above snake.

Roxanne and Ryan admiring the snake.

Ryan really liked the boa. He remarked "No wonder they make good pets. They don't have to be tamed."

A young Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei). It insisted on curling up into a ball with its head in the middle.

Some habitat near Palm Springs.

While hiking down a steep canyon, Roxanne spotted something interesting on the canyon wall:

A Banded Rock Lizard (Petrosaurus mearnsi).

It let me get a little closer...

Another look, after it scooted to a new location on the cliff face. I really like this species.

A lovely Barrel Cactus.

A Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) that I managed to bring to hand (photo by Roxanne). Posing it for photos was a failure.

More cactus.

Granite Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus orcutti). We only saw four of these the whole week, despite being in good habitat for them much of the time. Cold weather...

A young Granite Spiny, with a stubby tail.

Western Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris). These guys are always on the move and getting a decent photo of them is tough.

Another Western Whiptail, photographed by Roxanne. Also challenged by the vegetation.

Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), photographed by Roxanne.

Beavertail Cactus, photographed by Roxanne.

A closer look at the flower, photo by Roxanne.

Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), as found.

A young Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides).

An adult male Zebra-tailed Lizard.

A Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), found by Ryan. The only one of the trip.

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos), found by Roxanne.

Another Desert Horned Lizard, as found soaking up the late afternoon sun.

We spent one day in Anza Borrego area. I had high hopes for Urosaurus sp. or Crotaphytus vestigium, but we only saw two or three sideblotches. The scenery was excellent.

Quality desert habitat.

These flowering bushes were everywhere.

A Beavertail Cactus.

We also went to Ridgecrest. On the way, we stopped off at the poppy preserve near Lancaster. They were starting to bloom, but due to the cold and windy weather the flowers were not open. In the Ridgecrest area, the reptile action was very slow. I did find a couple of critters under rocks.

A young Western Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus). It's tail was broken when I found it.

Some High Desert habitat.

A Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) I found under a rock on the above hillside. It was not very happy, and this was the best pose I could get.

I will finish with the Inland Empire. The valleys of western Riverside County (i.e., west of the desert) have many boulder-covered hills that are home to numerous reptile species. This area has seen a lot of development since we left. One of our old "spots" was a hill surrounded by open fields -- the hill is still intact, but it is now an island in a sea of housing tracts. This story has played out many times over. The traffic is also much more intense. One of my first trips to this area was with my dad around 1980. I remember we went to pick up a custom camper shell from Perris Valley Campers. I also remember there being stoplights on the 215 "freeway" even in the late 1980s. Progress, I guess.

Granite Night Lizard (Xantusia henshawi), as found.

A closer look at the above animal. They are very flat.

Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata).

Another look. I found this animal on a rainy evening and quickly took the above photos (Roxanne and Ryan stayed in the warm and dry hotel room). Four days later, Roxanne and I were in the same area again, so we re-checked the board it was under:

Sure enough, as found.

The hillsides are covered with granite boulders...

A young Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata), as flipped. It was actually wet from all of the rain the previous night.

Posed shot.

The animal and its habitat.

Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas), found under a rock. This animal was very sensitive to the Canon pre-flash and was consequently nearly impossible to photograph.

Western Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus).

The animal and its habitat.

A young Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer).

And that's it. I was really hoping to see a Red Diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber) on this trip, but that didn't pan out. In addition to the reptile and amphibian species depicted above, a Two-striped Gartersnake (Thamnophis hammondii), a Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister), and two Garden Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps major) were seen.

We had a great time, but hopefully next time we try this trip for spring break the weather will be a little warmer.