Big Bend 2007
Friday, June 29
I left home at 7 A.M. sharp. It was 58 degrees, strangely cold.
It rained most of the way across Missouri. I stopped at Missouri
Wildflower Nursery south of Jefferson City. This is the Mecca of prairie
plant lovers, but a frustrating experience because I couldn’t buy
anything. I got the catalog. I was supposed to meet Chuck at the first
rest stop west of Springfield at noon. He got there five minutes before I
did, so we were fairly synchronous. We motored out on the interstate
until the signs indicated there was a crash and lane reduction ahead, so
we took a detour through the southwest corner until we ran into Oklahoma.
We made a similar detour around Oklahoma City, otherwise we would have hit
it at rush hour. The scenery was really nice, even in the rain. After we
got down into Texas we got back on the interstate again. It was raining
hard and dark—very difficult driving conditions. We could see the leading
edge of the storm north of Dallas. It looked rather menacing. We got to
our campground at Mineral Wells Lake State Park, west of Fort Worth just
after 10. To get into the campground via the main entrance, you have to
cross the spillway of the dam. It was running about an inch of water,
which was interesting, to say the least. Chuck was hooking up the water
to the trailer when he tried beating a small oak tree with his head.
People say that oak tree is washed up, but I think it’s got a few good
years left in it. He got a good scrape on the forehead. I slept well,
perhaps owing to road weariness, even though it stormed on and off all
Big gopher snake.
Mating walking sticks.
Large neuropteran, maybe an antlion adult.
The next morning one of our neighboring campers was manipulating something
in the road with a big spatula. By the time I identified it as a snake,
he flung it into a tree, clearly already dead. I was irked that the guy
probably killed it, and I didn’t get to see it, much less photograph it.
The exit across the spillway was closed because the water was too high.
We went out an alternate route. It rained on and off that morning, but
the desert was in bloom. There were fields of flowers. Just amazing,
compared to the previous years of hot, dry weather and brown landscapes.
As we traveled west, the clouds thinned and the air warmed. We stopped at
Monahan Sand Dunes State park in the afternoon. By then it was hot and
cloudless. We walked around on the dunes observing and taking pics of
wildlife. A gopher snake was the first exciting thing. Many cool insects
followed. There were lots of flowers in bloom, which was fueling the
insect abundance. We went from there south to Balmorhea. The state park
campground was closed, so we stayed at a private campground a short
distance away. It was only a couple of years old. It had not many mature
trees yet, but a nice nature trail, where we found lots of tarantula hawks
feeding on a stand of flowers on a ditch bank. They occupied much of our
evening. For once, we were not in a park, so we collected some insects.
We bought beer at the gas station and drank it back at the trailer, where
I write this paragraph now.
Pepsis, the tarantula hawk.
Polistes, a paper wasp.
I had a research idea so we took advantage and caught a big mess of
tarantula hawks. We motored down to Balmorhea State Park and swam in the
huge spring. There are many small fish and a few catfish in it. The
water is crystal clear, cool, but unchlorinated. There was a scuba class
there. We left after the boy scout troop showed up. It was probably all
in my mind, but I felt 10 years younger…for awhile. We motored down to
Alpine and stopped to buy groceries and eat our last prepared meal for
awhile. It was a gorgeous drive through the Davis mountains. There were
lots of wildflowers, and the agave and sotol were in bloom. We got into
the Rio Grande Village campground at 5. The river was so high they were
flooding some of the areas to irrigate them. The ditches have always been
dry before. Jon Hastings showed up after dinner. We took a little walk,
while Jon took his daily run. We saw dozens of cicadas, and a few
javelina. We all had a beer afterward.
Dolomedes, giant water spider.
Unidentified flower–a token plant.
July 2, 2007
We started out at the old burn area here near our campground, but there
were no cicada killers there. We went out to Boquillas canyon, and saw
none there either. Next was Hot Springs. Finally, we saw some cicada
killers, the eastern and western species. Chuck collected several of the
western, which Jon wanted for their DNA. Everywhere we went were lots of
cicadas. Sometimes they were loud enough to rival choruses of periodical
cicadas. Some are infected with a fungus. We think it affects their
behavior, so we’re doing a study on it. There were only a few of the
little Bembix wasps, which had been so abundant in previous years. I had
some ideas to do with them, but they’re not happening. I wanted to
actually bathe in the hot springs this year, but there was a large family
occupying it by the time I got down there. Oh, well…
Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus
Dueling butterflies. Round metalmark and a sulfur.
The Wheel Formation.
Dasymutilla magnifica, a velvet ant.
Dasymutilla gloriosa, another velvet ant.
I hiked the nature trail near the campground in the morning. I was looking
hard for cicada killers and their burrows, but saw none. I did see a lot
of neat wildlife, though. We went up to the Chisos Mountains in the
afternoon. It was cooler, and the lodge had wi-fi. We all checked our
email. Jon did a literature search on cicadas and the fungus. We did
more observations on the cicadas later.
The Bordered Patch.
Big, green buprestid beetle.
Desert snail. Really.
Colorado checkered whiptail, Cnemidophorus
Cute little basket-shaped nest. Two different eggs. Cuckoos in the area. Draw your own conclusion.
Big Polistes nest. Don’t mess with us!
Two cicadas. Note pink butt on fungus-infected one on the right.
Vermilion flycatcher, finally.
July 4, 2007
We were trying to boost our sample size for the cicada study, but things
were really slow early on. I did a load of laundry because I knew we were
leaving later. The rangers stopped and checked our permit. They thought
we looked a little too conspicuous walking around with our insect nets.
But there was almost nobody else there. They ran wants and warrants, of
course. None of us was wanted, but my car was not in the system as a
registered vehicle (though I do have current stickers and registration
sheet). Thanks, Missouri! In the later morning the cicada activity
really heated up, and we got what I hope were enough observations for a
solid study. I watched a cicada fly up to a calling male and land nearby.
As it walked toward the caller, the end of its abdomen fell off,
revealing the pink butt characteristic of the fungal infection. Weird.
Then another infected cicada approached the caller, which flew away. The
two infected ones got together and, uh, attempted something neither was
capable of, their relative parts having been lost. Their party broke up
We left about 1:30 and headed west through Big Bend Ranch State Park. It
was a windy, mountainous road along the Rio Grand, but the scenery was
spectacular. The desert was extremely green and the scattered clouds made
for great landscapes. We headed northwest through some fairly unpopulated
areas, but again with great scenery. We ended up staying in Van Horn,
Texas, at the KOA. It had wi-fi, from which I send this.
Big Bend Ranch State Park, view occluded by strange primate.
View of Rio Grande. Mexico on the left, USA on the right.
Floating radar unit. Big.
Black-necked stilt: we got legs.