Epic Desert Road Trip – Part 1 Reno to the Great Salt Lake

On October 19, 2010 I flew to Reno to meet up with my brother from Hawaii and my Dad who lives in Reno in the summer and Arizona in the winter. Our mission: drive from Reno, NV to Surprise, AZ via Colorado and visit as many National Parks as we could along the way.

We started our epic journey by packing up Dad’s 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. We had a lot of stuff, including two boxes of home-grown tomatoes plus three grown adults to take, but my experience loading vehicles for live animal shows has taught me a thing or two about how to pack!

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Will and Dad and a Packed Monte Carlo

We headed out of Reno on I-80 east, along the Truckee River.

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The Truckee River

We were following much of the Truckee River Route of the California Emigrant Trail. We stopped at a rest area that marked the Forty-Mile Desert.  This part of the trail was described as the most dreaded section of the entire route to California.  We decided to have lunch.  Too bad those emigrants in the mid 1850′s could not have gotten in a time machine to join us.

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Lunch in the Forty-Mile Desert

We continued heading east until we reached Wendover NV.  We spent the night there and in the morning, we toured the historic Wendover Air Base. “Wendover Air Base operated primarily as a training site for the crews of B17, B24 and B29 aircraft, including the Enola Gay and Boxscar, the crews of which were responsible for the first deployment of nuclear weapons over Japan in 1945.” – (Tooele Co Website)

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Wendover Air Base

The Great Salt Lake loomed ahead – and we stopped at one of its shores to explore and have lunch.

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Great Salt Lake

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Caroline examines the Great Salt Lake

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The Great Salt Lake is too salty for most plants and animals to survive, however, there is one famous resident of the salty lake: Sea Monkeys! Sea Monkeys are actually shrimp that are able to exist in salty inland lakes around the world.

No reptiles live in the Great Salt Lake, however, many species of snakes and lizards live in the surrounding desert. Sadly, I found a juvenile gopher snake in the parking lot of the lake’s marina, but it had been squashed by a car.

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Smooshed Gopher Snake

Next Posting…Arches National Park

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Arches National Park

Exploring Myakka River State Park

Located nine miles east of Sarasota FL, Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest Florida state parks and protects one of the state´s most diverse natural areas.  On April 19, my Dad and I headed out for a day of hiking and picnicking with the hope of seeing a few cool Florida herp species.

We were in luck!  Wildlife was everywhere at this beautiful park.  At the picnic grounds, however, it was obvious that a few people had broken the rules against feeding wildlife because we were mobbed by cunning gray squirrels and even vultures as we enjoyed our delicious chips and sammies.

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Black Vulture at the Picnic!

Squirrels and vultures were not the only non-herps we saw that day however.  A Florida invader made his presence known as Dad and I hiked through the jungle.

Next, we found an animal that is native to both Florida and Virginia.

Florida’s most famous herp was abundant in the lakes and ponds in the park.

We also saw tons of anoles – mostly Cuban anoles which are an introduced species that has been displacing the naive Carolina anole from Florida.

After spending time hiking around the forest floor, it was time to head up, up, up into the canopy. We took a walk through the treetops and then climbed a 74-foot tower for an eagle’s-eye view of natural Floridian hammocks and wetlands.

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Dad and Caroline at the top of Florida

Whew, after all the hiking and climbing, we were both pretty tired. So we headed back to the house for some relaxing. And I found one more animal.

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Caroline and Catfish

For more information on visiting Myakka Lake State Park, visithttp://www.floridastateparks.org/myakkariver/default.cfm

Amphibian Action!

After the snowiest winter in Washington’s recorded history, the amphibians have finally made their way to the vernal pools to signal the beginning of spring. They are bit later than usual in this area. Late February is typically when spring peepers, wood frogs, and spotted salamanders make their first appearance in the DC area. This year, due to abnormally harsh winter conditions, they were about two weeks or so behind.

Last Friday night a few of the team members from Reptiles Alive had the special opportunity to visit a wetland area that is usually off-limits to the public. Off limits because it is behind a shooting range! We were invited by master naturalist Greg Zell along with a handful of other professional herpetologists and naturalists.

We met up at dark in the cool rain. Perfect weather. Well, maybe not perfect for humans, but definitely perfect for amphibians! On the road into the park, we discovered our first amphibians of the night – American toads!

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After putting on our rain gear, we crossed the shooting range walking over millions of broken clay targets until we reached the wetlands.  Immediately someone yelled “Spotted!”  Then more shouts were heard, and we realized, we were in the middle of hundreds, possibly thousands of spotted salamanders!  It was AWESOME!  They were everywhere!  Large female salamanders were being surrounded by 5 to 10 males at a time.  Salamanders were almost everywhere you pointed your flashlight, crawling through the mud or swimming like fish in the cold, clear water.  After an hour or so, spermatophores from the males began to fill the water as the ancient amphibian breeding rituals took place. It was the most amazing salamander sight I have ever witnessed.

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We spent a few hours observing them, photographing them and discussing them before we all decided it was time to come in out of the rain and dry off.  A few of us headed to Dogfish Head to warm up and have a late night dinner, but that, is another story…

Gardening for Frogs, Snakes & More

Gardening for wildlife is becoming increasingly popular.  Most wildlife gardening information is geared towards attracting birds, bees, and butterflies.  At Reptiles Alive, we also like to garden to attract frogs, toads, snakes and other creatures too.

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If you want to attract some awesome critters into your yard, here are some really easy steps you can take.

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One of the easiest ways to attract wildlife is to do nothing! That’s right – just let a part of your yard go wild.

Birds, snakes, frogs and box turtles all love to live in areas that humans ignore.

Remember when mowing, trimming, or doing yard work to watch out for small creatures like snakes, turtles and bunnies.

When choosing plants, picking plants native to your area will encourage native animals to take up residence

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Leaving fallen logs can give salamanders, worms, and small snakes a place to live.

Rocks can add beauty to your garden and provide shelter for snakes, spiders, toads, and more. Adding a small water feature like a bird bath at ground level can attract not just birds, but many other animals as well. Just be sure to change the water every couple of days so you don’t add more mosquitoes to your yard.

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Even a vegetable garden can provide habitat for animals. Under the straw covering this asparagus bed, I find brown snakes and toads.

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Here’s a Reptiles Alive secret: My Dad introduced me to my first snake when he was lifting straw off the potatoes in our garden. I was 4 years old. I decided at that moment in our garden that I was going to be a herpetologist when I grew up.
So, who knows where gardening can take you?