Camping with friends

Sometimes I camp alone and sometimes with friends.

Here’s a friend and I watching a fantastic storm move towards us. In the hills southeast of Prescott, Arizona.

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Desert Mariposa lily

These may be the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen.

Check out those lavender stamens. Could they have lavender pollen?

They were in the heavily grazed desert just west of the I-17 and the Agua Fria National Monument.

Ajo to Organ Pipe

I spent quite a bit of time this winter camping in the general area between Ajo and Organ Pipe National Monument. I really enjoyed being there. I left for higher elevations in anticipation of a heat wave. But once I left and camped in other parts of Arizona I realized again what a special area Ajo is. My first camp after leaving Ajo was up northwest of Phoenix on BLM land near Congress, AZ. I was shocked by the poor condition of the desert there. There was a lot of people trash. Invasive plants like cheatgrass and filaree dominated the plant community and cows were everywhere. My next camp was Burro Creek BLM campground further northwest. In the campground cheatgrass and Sisymbrium (London rocket, an introduced brassica) far outnumbered the native plants. And even up here on the mountain there is active cattle grazing and lots of cheatgrass and filaree. I’d sure love to see what the desert can be without cattle and burros.

Packrats

This giant pile of sticks, cholla and prickly pear pads is a a packrat nest. The nest is occupied by a female and her offspring. I don’t know where the males live. The chewed up prickly pear pads are a good indication of active packrat activity.

This pad was freshly chewed and still moist. It would be fun to see them eating.

That’s possibly who chewed up my chair.

And my sandals. The chair was patchable but parts of the sandals were completely severed. Well, that’s never happened before.

Andrena prima

I’ve started describing the native bees as wild bees to differentiate them from the non native European honeybees which are really farm animals, even if often feral.

Anyway, native bees are fantastically diverse.

Here is a mining bee. This small bee showed up at a damp place near Ajo, Arizona and started digging furiously.

I only got cell phone pics. I thought I have time to leisurely observe this bee foraging and digging and provisioning her best in the ground. But when I came back the next morning with a better camera there was no sign of her besides some a single hole that might have been hers. I never saw her again.

Precambrian granite

I am camping up in granite mountains in west central Arizona about a thousand feet above the BLM campground I started from.

By chance, I ran into my botanist friends Chris and Bob at the campground and we did some exploring to see what was around and of interest. We did a loop road that took us up here and decided to move camp up here to higher and cooler ground. There were a lot of surprises up here in the foothills of the Arrastra Mountains. Giant (to 30 feet) canotia trees are abundant along with juniper and scrub oak and occasional ceanothus. And nolina. The ground is decomposed granite. Rounded knolls except where there there are boulders still weathering down. A rattlesnake and I surprised each other up in those boulders. The views are expansive to the north and east.

Hedgehog cacti are abundant and have large buds but aren’t yet flowering. We will see if I can last through the heat long enough to see them in bloom.

Hypermetabolous

Sometimes I get lucky. I saw something unusual yesterday. It’s a beetle which is hyperparasitic on bees. They have an unusual lifestyle where the first instar is very different than following instars.

The adults are only visible for a day or so while flying and mating. So I got lucky. This is a male. He will fly to locate females and mate. The females find unopened flower buds and lay eggs inside. When the flower bud opens the eggs hatch to a form called a triungulin or more generally a planidium (roaming form). The planidia stand on their tails waiting for bees to visit the flowers and grab hold of the bees. From there things get more normal. The larval beetle goes with the bee as she prepares a nest cell and lays her own egg. But hah. The larval beetle eats the larval bee and develops into an adult beetle. Life cycle complete. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And my gosh entomologists love words.

Ps it turns out that “triungulin” is specific to the meloid beetles because their first instar larvae do have 3 claws on their feet instead of the normal 2. Planidium sounds like a flatworm but is actually a more general term for a larval instar which needs to be mobile so it can get to the host which will support the rest of its development.

Rattlesnakes

Desert convention says that rattlesnakes become active in the spring once the nights reach 55 degrees. Nights here in Ajo, Arizona have been 50 to 55 degrees for a week or so now.

Yesterday a western diamondback rattlesnake came out from under my van about 5 feet way from where I was standing. The snake was uninterested in me and moved slowly away towards a nearby creosote bush. She stayed there a moment then moved slowly further away to disappear under a second creosote bush about 50 feet from my van.

I was alert and interested, rather than frightened. Everything I have heard and read about rattlesnakes tells me that they are not aggressive towards people but rather are looking for safety and a rodent meal.

This snake was moving rather slowly perhaps because the weather is still a bit cool (70s). I was also curious that the snake moved from the shelter of my van to the shelter of creosote bush, seeking shade or shelter rather than the heat of the sun.

I noted that the snake made a distinct track across the sand that had been dimpled by recent rain and back tracked the snake from the van for about 30 feet before losing the trail.

The snake made a faint dry sandpaper sound moving through the low vegetation.

I got some great photos.