Ruby, Part 1

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This is the first installment of the journal of my trip to Ruby, Arizona.  Photos will appear elsewhere, and I will provide links once they are posted.

8/14/2009 Friday

I drove from Canton, Missouri to Tucumcari,
NM, about 15 h.  There was a pleasant surprise in Kansas City where a Corvette
club was at a rest stop that I visited. 
I got some decent car photos.  The
usual western Kansas
wind wasn’t blowing too hard, but a big rainstorm over OK & TX resulted in
a nice rainbow.  I stayed at a motel, too
tired to look around for the campground.

 

8/15

I drove from Tucumcari to Ruby, Arizona. 
There were hills & headwinds. 
I drove up to the camp and saw Jon Hastings.  I yelled out the window, “¿Donde estan las
avispas?” (where are the wasps).  I don’t
think he knew it was me at first, as there were many people visiting there on
the weekend.  I met up with Chuck Holliday
shortly afterward.  These are my two
collaborators.  We’ve been working
together for several years, almost 10 for me and Chuck.  We were camping on sand in Chuck’s nice
travel trailer.  There were no
hook-ups.  We used outhouses, drove to
town (Arivaca, 30 min away) for water, and had a generator for occasional 110
electricity.  We could get hot showers
using propane, but often it was easier to just bathe in the lake.  We had refrigeration, but no air conditioning.  So you could say we were only moderately
roughing it.  I went fishing the first
afternoon, but was skunked.  I had been
told there were 10-lb bass in Mineral
Lake, and I came
prepared.  The guys had put out three
hummingbird feeders, and we had hummingbirds galore: Rufous, Broad-billed,
Black-chinned, Anna’s, and I think I saw one Calliope.

 

8/16

In the morning I did data collection—thorax temperatures of mating
wasps.  The results were surprising.  There was a high wasp density, so we had
plenty of animals.  I discovered seven
spotted toads hiding under a piece of plywood on the dune.  We saw them all the time, as they would hop
around at night, then burrow under anything they could find, like our coolers
and tubs.

I put my bike together and set up my hammock in a mesquite
tree.  The hammock ended up getting far
more use.  Jon saw a black-tailed  rattlesnake about a quarter mile away from
camp.  We grabbed cameras and ran after
it, but couldn’t find it. 

I went up to see the bats in the evening. It was very
impressive, as an estimated 150,000 Mexican free-tailed bats streamed out.  We hike up the ridge to get reception to call
out on our cell phones.  It was farther
than I thought, and I ended up not calling as much as I intended. 

Ruby is so far from civilization that the stars are
incredibly clear at night.  Jupiter’s
moons and the Milky Way were particularly striking.  It’s also incredibly quiet there.  There’s no street and little air
traffic.  Much of the time all you hear
are natural sounds.  This condition is
rare in our modern world.

8/17/09

In the morning I did grab & stab (body temperature
measurements) on male wasps.  We were
having some trouble charging the batteries in the trailer with the
generator.  As they were 5 years old, I
suggested they were probably worn out.  Chuck
went to Green Valley (1 hour) for more batteries.

We saw a big tarantula hawk (wasp of the genus Pepsis) on a tree.  I saw and photographed some new dragonflies.  We took a swim, and I jumped off the rope
swing.  As the lake level fell during our
stay, it became unsafe to do so later. 

Sundog brought us jack rabbit stew for dinner.  It was delicious.  Sundog is the caretaker of Ruby and it’s only
full-time resident.  He’s quite a
colorful character that would take some time to describe, and I probably won’t
try.  He lives off the land to a great extent.

 

8/18/09

We did lek censuses of the males every 15 min. from before
sunrise to sunset;taking only small breaks. 
This is a kind of brutal measurement (and my idea!) because we all had
to be out in the sun nearly all day. 
Fortunately, the data turned out well.

We went swimming to cool off.  I took some time to fish in the evening,
catching a 10” bass from mineral lake, and 2 12 inchers from Ruby lake, all on
a green senko worm.  I saw a
yellow-billed cuckoo take a prey item from water.  That was cool, and I think it’s a life bird
for me.  We also saw a Sonoran whipsnake
eat a black-necked garter snake

 

8/19/09

I got some more mating temperatures.  It turned out that the females were coolest, and
the successful male hottest.  I wouldn’t
have predicted this.  Jon and I marked females
for a long time.  At one point, a
military jet flew over very low, and very loud. 
I almost laid on the ground.  I
never did see it. 

Chuck returned to PA for a week, flying out of Tucson.  Jon and I went on a hike up Montana Peak,
the dominant feature of Ruby’s landscape. 
We saw Montezuma quail (another life bird), Coue’s whitetail deer, and
various butterflies.  We also saw plenty
of evidence of the wetbacks using a major smuggler’s route.  (Disclaimer:”wetback” is a pejorative term,
but down there it is a term of convenience used by all, even those clearly not
racist).

 

8/20/09

We did an early basking tree census for males, and spent
time marking females & males. 

Jon and I went to Arivaca for lunch, laundry, email, and groceries.  We had the first wind/sand/rainstorm that
night.  It’s awful.  Fine grit gets on everything.  I did photograph a nice double rainbow
though.

 

8/21

I took a dragonfly walk, using the long lens, and went up to
Eagle Lake. 
There were a gazillion bullfrogs there. 
That’s where Sundog shoots them for food.  Sundog brought me some bat guano, so that I
can show my classes.  It’s great
fertilizer.  I was digging through the
trash and found some old Gatorade bottles I was going to put the guano in.  Jon said, “Joe, those are piss bottles.”  I used deli cups instead.

I took an afternoon nap. 
When I woke up, I was talking to Jon a bit, when I heard, “Excuse me” twice.  I looked at Jon, and it didn’t appear to be
him that said it.  I turned around and
there was a wetback looking through the front window of the trailer.  He asked for some water, which we gave
him.  I employed my Spanish as best I
could.  He kept asking about the
Immigration.  I said, yes, they come here
often.  It took me awhile to figure out
that he wanted to find them.  He was
giving up, and wanted to go back to Mexico.  We talked to Sundog for advice and ended up
posting the guy at the gate, driving up to a pass and calling the Border
Patrol.  They came and got him. 

We saw two mule deer bucks on our way to Arivaca, where we
enjoyed the standing Friday night jam session. 
It runs to mostly folk & oldies. 
It’s different every time, as different people show up.  Mostly it’s guitar players who know a few
chords, but there are a few people who are quite skilled.  Peter Ragan, who went with us on many hikes,
plays the washtub base.  You wouldn’t
imagine what he can do with one string. 
It was raining and we found a Colorado River Toad on the road on the way
back to Ruby.  Sundog picked it up and I
photographed it the next day.

 

8/22/09

I saw a Sonoran mud turtle and spent some time walking the
ghost town.  Jon dug up some wasp burrows,
and I helped fill them when he was done. 

I fished Mineral lake and caught 4 bass, 1 of which was 1.5
lb.  I saw a hawk on a log at the end of
the lake, maneuvered the kayak toward it and kept taking photos every few
yards.  It allowed me to get quite close
as it flew over to the shore and caught a frog. 
Cool. 

I met some of the owners of Ruby, Howard & his son Liam.  They are happy to have people doing research
there, and let us stay for free.  Most
visitors, fishers and campers have to pay a fee. 

 

8/23/09

I took body temperatures of early morning basking
males.  Not surprisingly, they were
relatively cold

I was trying to take temperatures of provisioning females,
and captured only 7 all day.  With the 1st
one I was jumping up & down with joy.

We had some visitors: 2 Fish & Wildlife ladies.  They were herpetologists, and had been out
driving the roads at night looking for snakes and frogs.  They had photographed some very rare
ones.  Two forest service firefighters
came in.  We introduced ourselves and
they told us how to find the trailhead to the fire lookout in the Atascosa Range. 

I ran into Howard & his wife Pat, and we talked fishing. 

Some of the hummingbirds are aggressive at defending the
feeders.  During one combat, a hummer
broke its wing, fell down and died.

We went up to watch the bats emerge again.  They come out in two separate groups, one
before sunset and one after.  We watched
the 1st flight emerge.  They mill
about first, then come boiling out.  I
took lots of pics.  One crashed, then
recovered & flew off.

 

8/24/09

Jon and I hiked up the trail to the Forest Service Fire
Lookout in the Atascosa
Mountains.  We started early, so it was cool,
comfortable, and even a little muddy.  The
Lookout is no longer used, but you can spend the night there.  We saw a small Western Diamondback
Rattlesnake on the way down.  It only had
two segments to its rattle—a youngster.  We
drove east to Pena Blanca, ate lunch, then south to Nogales. 
We went to WalMart for food & fishing gear.  Once back at camp, I restrung both reels with
new line.  I caught two bass about a
foot-long.

August 4 – Scuba man

Tuesday morning Stacey got in at 3 a.m. after the house fire rekindled.  We slept in.  After Stacey went to a meeting downtown, the house rekindled again, like the beast that wouldn’t die.  it was stormy in the morning, but the rain didn’t help put out the fire much.  And our internet was down.  I was forced to find things to do indoors that were not on the computer.  While I was looking for something in the basement, I found that one of the heating ducts had fallen because one of the straps had broken.  I tried reusing the same strap, but it was too short, resulting in a kink in the pipe.  I got a piece of nylon webbing and screwed it into the floor joists in a good spot.  This all kept me occupied for awhile.  I straightened out some of the stuff on the unfinished side of the basement, which I wanted to do anyway.  Stacey and I ran some errands around town, then went to the Kiwanis meeting at noon.  When we got back, the internet was up again.  We both took naps, while Savannah was at the pool.  The sun had come out.  I helped out my neighbor with some plant identifications in her yard.  She has a nice prairie, but it needs some maintenance.   After inspecting my own yard, I saw that my herbicidal efforts had eliminated most of the trumpet creeper.  I will get in one more round this summer.  I saw that the passion vine was in bloom, which prompted me to get out the camera.

This bloom is at least three inches across.  This one’s for you, Rhonda!

Interesting pattern made by the sepals on this flower bud.  Some annual or other.

Bob and Jamie stopped by and gave me the pics they took on the float trip.

Wednesday I had planned to start prepping the truck for the big road trip.  When I walked down to the garage to get it out, I found that they were in the process of repaving the street.  I walked back home and washed up the floor mats from the Echo.  I did some other odd jobs around the place, including another round of attacking the trumpet creepers.  In the evening I drove out to the Berghofers.  John and I went over to the neighbor’s lake, where it is said the 5-pounders lurk.  We took out a little jon boat, powered by a trolling motor.

The Lodge on the lake.  It’s very nice.

 I was catching very few at first.  John was catching a bunch on a blue crank.  Steve was catching some on a grub.  We kept joking about the color blue.  I tried a variety of lures without much additional success.  So I put on a blue spinner, withimmediate results.  I caught a small bass off a point we were fishing.  John hooked a big one and fought it long and hard all the way in. 

The big bass, with the sacred blue crankbait.

John with the 6-lb fatty.

Just a few minutes later I threw my blue spinner over some logs and hooked into a good one.  I didn’t play with it much, preferring to get it in the net ASAP.

Mine was 5 lb 6 oz. 

That’s the 2nd largest bass I’ve ever caught.  And this lake is full of them.  Steve has caught so many, he’s lost count.  I don’t know if I will ever get to fish it again, but I hope so.  We were all pretty happy, but maybe that was the beer.  After dark the fish stopped biting and we went in.


Sunset.
Thursday I did get the truck out.  I vacuumed, washed all floor mats and the bed mat, the whole truck and camper shell, inside and out.  I should have taken a picture.  It may never be this clean again.  My stinkin’ pressure washer died before I got started.  I did all the washing with old fashioned squirt nozzle power and elbow grease.  I vacuumed, and armor-alled and even cleaned some of the carpet.  I replaced the screens in the camper shell.  Too many logs have impacted them over the years.  I’m lucky to have never broken a window.  I loaded my bike in the back.  Starting packing already. 

That night Boots brought a badly wounded vole to the back porch.  It was still looking lively, and I fed it to one of the snakes.  Good job, Boots!  That’s probably the first time that snake has eaten natural prey.

I got a message from my collaborator Chuck, who is already down in Ruby, Arizona. Apparently, someone just caught a 10 lb bass from one of the ponds on the site.  Gaaaa!!!!   I had planned to take one rod and a small amount of tackle, but now I’m gearing up. Later he called and told me there was already a kayak there on the pond.  They must be joking because that’s too good to be true.  It’s all part of an elaborate plan to make sure I show up down there.  Chuck also mentioned that there is a small cave just up the ridge from our campsite that has a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats.  Sounds like fun.

Friday I went to Quincy and ran a dozen errands.  I worked in my office awhile and packed up everything I thought I’d need on the AZ trip.  I have since thought of more stuff.  But I’ll go back. 

Saturday I went down to the boat house and put a new layer of foam padding between the truck and the shell.  That, of course, required removal of the old padding and lots of cleaning.  While I was there, I noticed some wasps flying in and out.  Later I caught a couple of mud daubers and took their nests out.  One had 14 spiders, with a 12-fold range of body mass, packed into one cell.  These all became data for the book chapter I’m working on.  I’d like to get some more. 

Black and yellow mud dauber–in chill coma.

7-legged spider, paralyzed for life by wasp venom.

Stacey had to be in the Ewing parade for the Fire Department, then had to man a booth afterward.  She got quite a sunburn.  Did I mention it was somewhere over 90 degrees?  That night she performed a wedding ceremony.  Meanwhile, Savannah was working at Orsheln’s.  I had to deliver her lunch and various other necessities throughout the day.  Good thing it’s close.

Sunday morning I took a bike ride around Greater Canton.  Actually, I rode Savannah’s bike, as mine is packed.  Hers is lighter and brand new, which is nice.  The frame is a bit small for me, however.  I was coming up Old 61 and I looked down a gravel lane.  A red fox was sitting in the road licking itself.  I pulled over and got my camera out as fast as I could.  I sneaked around the edge of a bush to get the shot, and the fox nearly ran into me.  We were both surprised.  He bounded into a bush before I could even get a shot.  Right after that I was coming to the stop sign on 81 and a pick-up truck passed on the left.  A big black lab, which had been riding unobserved in the bed of said truck, barked right in my ear,  I about jumped out of my skin.  Later I was out by Bill Lloyd’s when I saw a red-tailed hawk carrying a snake.  I couldn’t get a shot of that either, but it was still neat to see.  You can’t capture everything you see with the camera.  There was lots of swamp
milkweed in bloom, and lots of monarchs working it.  It’s perfect timing to make the next generation of butterflies, which will undertake the migration south.  I noticed down by the river that someone had spraypainted “Class of 2010 Rocks” on the railroad flood gate.  That’s Savannah’s class.  I had been examining all the mud puddles for evidence of mud daubers, but didn’t see any until I got downtown.  I found a puddle that at least a dozen were working, forming up mud balls.  I watched and took photos.  Once they find the right spot, it doesn’t take them long at all to collect a mud ball, less than a minute certainly.  They flew toward any of a number of old downtown buildings and sheds, where presumably their nests are.  I came back later in the car and collected 10 to become data.  I found it easiest to catch them once they took off with a mud ball, as it slows them down.  There were still plenty there when I left. 

Sceliphron caementarium, mudding.  I’m starting to like these gals.

Stacey and I went to Quincy.  We had lunch and went to the matinee of G.I. Joe.  It was an action-packed adventure.  Too bad the theater had the volume up so high.  I’m sure that I am more deaf now than ever.  While we were standing in line for our tickets we ran into one of my friends from the camera club.  He told me that another guy in the club had gone to Florida on vacation and had all of his camera gear stolen the first day.  This guy is a gear hound, too, and his losses totaled $10,000.  We ran some errands afterward, and I picked up some more stuff from my office.  That night Savannah went to the nightclub in Quincy with her boyfriend.  Apparently, it wasn’t very fun, and we had warned her of the approaching weather.  They came home early, but drove into the teeth of the thunderstorm.  This was most exciting on the bridge over the Mississippi, where a wind-blown porta-potty threatened to run into her car.

Monday I stayed at home.  I wrote a fair bit.  Our freezer has basically died, and I cleared a path in the basement for delivery of the new one.  This required hanging up the kayak, which will probably not see any more action this season.  The guy showed up and installed the new gutters.  Ah, seamless aluminum.  So our crappy, rusting steel gutters, which were falling off the house, are gone.  We got the new freezer in too.  Very nice.  I told our appliance guy that the combination unit at the rental house was dying.  He said he had some good used front-loaders in his shop.  I sure didn’t want another expense, but he made us a very good deal.

Tuesday morning I called him up.  I looked at the front-loaders and decided to take them.  We put them in our house and put our old ones in the rental house.  We put the washer where the crappy old combination unit was, and installed the dryer in the garage.  The latter required running a 220V line and puting a vent hole in the wall.  It took time, but it all worked in the end.  The front-loaders will save us water and electricity.  Getting rid of the combination unit will eliminate headaches.  It broke down about every year.

In the evening I went out to Lowell’s.  We did three rounds of the lake.  I caught 14 bass on a spinner and a buzzbait.  All but three were over 13 inches, with the largest at 17.  I think this proves our thinning efforts have really paid off.  The average fish size has increased a lot since the days when I used to catch 20 fish, but they were all under 12 inches.  Just before we were done I got a fantastic snarl in one of my reels.  I thought it was a good thing because I caught the biggest fish right after that on the other rod.  When I untangled it at home, however, I found that my reel had broken.  Dang!  I wore out another baitcaster.  Lowell had a new pacemaker installed.  It’s good to see he’s still firing on all cylinders. 

Wednesday morning Savannah and I went in for our dental appointments–cleaning and check up.  A different dentist checked my teeth, and she turned out to be a cousin of one of my recent students.  Another former student works there as a hygienist and a current student is an assistant of some kind.  Small town!  I ran some errands around Quincy and nearly got them all done.  For the fourth time I stopped at the armed services recruitment center and they weren’t open again.  I wondered, “do these guys ever work?”  Then I noticed the little note on the door that their offices had moved to out by WalMart.  Well, screw that.  I’m not driving out there today.  So I sent it in the mail.  We stopped at my office to put a sign on the prairie.  It says, “Prairie.”  We’re getting complaints that it looks like crap.  It does, people just need to be patient.  And shut the heck up.  The secretary told me that she saw a woodchuck out in it too.  It ran away and down a hole by the fawcet, the same hole I’ve fallen into twice.  When we got home Savannah went with her beau to the nearest water park (The Landing).  I did odd bits of things around the house until it was scuba time.  My instructor picked me up and took me out to a quarry between Monticello and Lewistown that I must have passed a million times on the way to Lowell’s.  We geared up, got in, and swam along the rocky wall.  We saw some bluegill and largemouth bass.  At one point I think a small school of bluegills was following us.  At one point we saw a turtle, a slider, I believe.  They’re quite graceful underwater, and this one was pretty.  Sadly, I didn’t have my camera out yet.  When we came up I felt a little dizzy, but that went away after a few minutes. 

Normally, I don’t meet largemouth bass on their home territory.  There were a lot of respectably big ones, but no giants among them.  Still, I wouldn’t mind fishing this place.

I did my compass navigations, which came out better than I thought.  I went right back to my point of origin both on the surface and underwater.  I did the hovering and mask clearing and all the necessary skills.  Most of the time we spent cruising around.  There was a lot of vegetation on the bottom on an old road bed.  Lots of baby bluegills were living in it. 

My scuba face.  The visibility here was very good, maybe 18 feet, much better than at Mermet Springs last may.

We cruised up to some bluegill beds.  There were three big males still maintaining their beds.  They were quite territorial and were challenging Rob’s gauges when he poked it at them.  Very neat.  At that point we were only about four feet deep.  We swam into the shallows and I stood up.  And barfed.  My ears still don’t like to surface for some reason.  I hadn’t eaten in 7 hours, but I dug deep and found the remains of Taco Bell lunch to produce.  I had some fairly intense spinning sensations, but in 5 minutes I was fine.  We got out, took down all our gear, and went back to my house to fill out the dive logs.  Done.  I’m certified!


Big bluegill over his spawning bed, at right.

Thursday I needed to mow the lawn and pack.  I had to reverse the order because of a brief overnight shower.  Amazingly, I got everything in the truck, with room left over for me to sleep in the back.  It didn’t take long.  Savannah gave me a haircut–using the same razor we used to use o
n Darby.  It’s pretty short, but that will be convenient out in the desert.  In the afternoon I went to mow the lawn.  The mower started, then quit.  It was out of gas, which was strange since I had filled it last time, and it normally will do three mowings per tank.  So I get out the gas can, to find it’s empty.  I drive downtown, fill the can, come back, and start filling the mower.  I see gas dripping out of the fuel line.  No wonder it ran out.  I drained the fuel tank and removed the hose.  It has some modest cuts in it, but otherwise seem relatively young and pliant. I suspect squirrel damage.  Little boogers.  I go to Orsheln’s, buy a couple feet of fuel line, return home, replace old line, fill with gas again.  After this delay of game, mowing seemed kind of trivial.  I did the string trimming and cleaned up.  I’m hoping this yard work will last a long time. 

Tomorrow I leave for Ruby, Arizona.  There, my two collaborators and I will carry out various types of ecological studies on the pacific cicada killer, Sphecius convallis.  There are no published studies on the biology of this species.  This site, a ghost town and former mine, is known to have a good population every year.  Chuck and Jon are already there, and say that there are 1000 males already on the aggregation.  We’ll be living off grid in Chuck’s travel trailer.  We’ll run the generator every three or four days for electricity and drive to Arivaca once a week for water, fuel.and internet access.  I’m told we can get cell phone reception on top of a ridge, but then Chuck hasn’t called me from there yet.  I hope to check my voice mail and call out periodically, but we’ll see.  I’m not sure what form this blog will take when I’m there.  It may be reduced to text or even just an outline.  I’ll put out some photo galleries once I’m back.  I hope to have things wrapped up in Ruby at the end of September, and return via California, visiting friends and family along the way.


For those who want to know where I will be, Ruby is at the red star, center near bottom.