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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
I took a dragonfly walk, using the long lens, and went up to
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.
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.
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.
I took body temperatures of early morning basking
males. Not surprisingly, they were
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.
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