For long Laura and I were doubting where to go during the summer holidays. Laura was keen on going to the westcoast of the USA and seeing much of the salamander diversity. Flights were expensive however but in the end we managed to find rather affordable tickets departing from Frankfurt. We decided to just go for it and fly across the Atlantic for the summer. Of course this season is obviously not the best for herping and while preparing the trip we also found out that there is a terrible drought going on. Vast parts of the prospected area didn't receive much rain for the last two to three (!) years. Herping would be hard...
We were at least hoping the northern part of our journey would be moist enough for our amphibian desiderata which was partially true. Many of the streams and puddles had gone dry and within 30cm of most waterbodies the forest was parched. But within direct vicinity of the streams that did retain some water all the salamanders had gathered and turning rocks delivered several species. But the effect of the drought was visible and especially on higher elevation large patches of brown, withered needles and leaves on the trees could be seen and plants are obviously struggling to survive.
The southern part of the trip focussed mainly on desert dwelling species and here conditions were also harsh. As soon as the sun was up temperatures did the same and rose to a staggering 45°C in the afternoon. At night it didn't really cool off and at midnight we still had 38°C. Every day in the afternoon fierce winds rose and made herping in the sandblown dunes even more unpleasant. Sweat stained eyes, sunburned skin, a throat screaming for water after inhaling three times, and a kilo of sand in our boots and hair... also here we still managed to find many of our target species due to perseverance but it was not easy. The fabuled roadcruising which has been rewarding for many others before us delivered only geckos and two snakes.
All images © Bobby Bok & Laura Tiemann
12th of July 2014
After a few hours of uncertainty we finally flew from Frankfurt to Seattle in the morning. The flight was overbooked so there was some doubt if we could make it, a standard procedure on flights to the US. Flying across the Atlantic always has the fortune to give you a journey back in time so we had a full afternoon of herping ahead. In a city park just outside Seattle. Already at the parking lot we saw Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) and an Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna). Boards between tall grass outside the woods gave us three Northwestern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis ordinoides) and in the shade we could find several Western Redback Salamanders (Plethodon vehiculum) and a single Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile). The afternoon we did some sightseeing in the inner city and spend the night in a motel in Des Moines.
13th of July 2014
After a warm night where someone switched one the heating instead of the AC we drove to Astoria to visit one of the natural history parks. Along the road we saw many DOR raccoons (Procyon lotor). In the old-growth forest we startled a Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) and found a few amphibians such as Western Redback Salamanders and a Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora). In the Ecola State Park we searched for salamanders along the several streams but only found copious amounts of Crayfish, Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) and birds such as Blue Jays and Woodpeckers. We descended the steep slopes of the pacific rainforest and went towards crescent beach were a bonanza of sea-birds was awaiting us. Several gull species, cormorants, pelicans and murres were plunge diving in the waves to catch fish. After ample admiration we drove on to Portland for a dinner at McDonalds and some good hours of sleep in a motel 6.
14th of July 2014
In the early morning we drove along the Columbia River towards a waterfall that holds several salamander species. Unfortunately for us we could only find several Dunn's Salamander and only larvae of Cope's Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon copei). No adults of that species or the Torrent Salamanders we were after. Two American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus) brightened the scene though... We shopped at the Walmart for some necessary camping items and for food to nourish the hungry herpers. The second search site of the day was a city park back in Portland. Bone dry soil and a bright sun weren't the best conditions for our Urodele friends and only a few Dunn's Salamanders (Plethodon dunni) were found. In dense undergrowth of a mosquito infested wood we discovered several Northern Pacific Treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla) and huge Northern Red-legged Frogs. In the afternoon we arrived at Nescowin to visit the Petrified Forest beach. No petrified trees to be found here, only dead trees from a more recent era but a beautiful place all the same. After a delicious fire burger at the Hawk Creek Cafe we found a lovely place to sleep in the Proposal Rock Inn.
15th of July 2014
A long drive south with several stops along the way. In the afternoon we arrived at the Smith River were we had a short picknick at a beach that was teeming with little Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas). In the beautiful Redwoods we searched for salamanders and were remarkably more succesful here than on any other site before. Several Del Norte Salamanders (Plethodon elongatus) and California Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps attenuatus) were found in moist redwood stands and many Pacific Giant Salamander larvae and Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs (Rana boylii) were found in a streambed nearby. While I was fooling around a bit and was jumping on a dead overhanging tree we saw a little salamander crawling out that same tree, probably disturbed by my activities. A Wandering Salamander (Aneides vagrans) made us both very happy! These salamanders are the most arboreal of all North American salamanders so this seemingly unusual place is actually the place to look for them.
Back at the campsite where we parked we found many Western Toads hopping around including some very big individuals. We decided to visit the streambed again after a quick dinner in the car and that was a good decision. Several Plethodontids and Yellow-legged Frogs were active directly next to the streambed and also a second frog species. The Coastal Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei) seems to have a tail but it is actually its copulatory organ. A unique feature amongst anurans which is an adaptation to the fast flowing water - allowing these animals to display internal fertilization. Also several tadpoles of this species were seen in the fast flowing parts of the river. We searched on for more amphibian species, each of us searching a side of the streambed and after a short while I heard a very happy girl say: "I have one!" Laura found a big and beautiful adult Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) sitting outside on the moss. The antennae of a big cave cricket (Rhaphidophoridae) sticking out of its mouth gave away what this stunning creature was doing. A perfect ending to a succesful day of mandering in the redwoods! The night we spend at the Econo Lodge in Crescent City.
16th of July 2014
In the morning we visited the nearby redwoods again and found a single reptile species this time, a little Northwestern Gartersnake was crawling through the poison oak undergrowth. A nice grassy meadow in the redwoods wasn't as rewarding as we were hoping and we only found Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata) and a juvenile Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) besides a large herd of Roosevelt Elk along the road. Next stop was Trinidad beach and eventough it was sunny and hot all day, as soon as we stepped on the beach clouds came in, temperature dropped and we even had some raindrops. A typical event during the trip... A nice dinner with crabcakes and hamburgers in Trinidad town and in the Ocean Grove Lodge we found another great place to spend the night.
17th of July 2014
Several hours on the road brought us inland into the Lassen Volcanic National Park. This National Park is famous for its volcanic activity as its name suggests so we hiked towards Bumpass Hell,
one of the most active volcanic hotspots. Throughout the National Park the drought was even more visible than at the coast. The wooded slopes of Mount Lassen have no undergrowth any longer and
the usual sea of green has a distinct brown mottling. The scenery remained impressive all the same and especially the site of Bumpass Hell - named after the individual who discovered this place
and lost his leg there. We didn't take the usual tourist hike but took a longer and more scenic route leading along steep slopes, mountain lakes and offering great scenery and views of wildife
such as Common Gartersnakes, Yellow-bellied Marmots (Marmota flaviventris) and Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). We had a little dip in the boggy
mountainlake on the way back (Laura not intentionally) and went to the campground to have a burger and set up the tent.
18th of July 2014
We had breakfast in the car while we drove to a nearby trailhead to start a hike towards three well known (but in summer obviously less visited) mountainlakes. Around the first lake we could easily find several Western Toads and Sierran Treefrogs (Pseudacris sierra) while the last lake of the tour had an even bigger surprise for us. Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) was one of our main Orodela target species but searchsites at known locations earlier this trip didn't pay off. While I read in the car about which species we could encounter at Lassen Volcanic NP I saw it fell within the range of this beautiful mander. The drought quickly made us forget about finding one but still the thought lingered. We had a picknick (including hummingbird flying above our heads) and a swim and wanted to hike back to the car. Many toads were hopping around with a thunderstorm approaching and I decided to flip some logs along the shore. Obviously a good choice because three pretty Long-toed Salamander were hiding underneath. Amazing! Then it was time to drive back to the coast again and to the urban jungle of Eureka where meth addict hobos welcomed us at motel 6.
19th of July 2014
The Humboldt Redwoods State Park was on the menu for today. Another breakfast in the car while enjoying the beautiful redwoods and the famous Avenue of the Giants. We were certainly not the only tourists in this park but definitely the only ones with their view projected downwards. Here we found our first Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii), a few Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs and three Aquatic Gartersnakes (Thamnophis atratus). A creek where not many tourists visit was hard to find due to many closed roads but in the end we managed to find the stream and even a section where a few puddles of water were left. Again many Yellow-legged Frogs, a Northern Red-legged Frog, California Slender Salamanders, Pacific Giant Salamander larvae and juvenile, Plethodontids, Rough-Skinned Newts (Taricha granulosa), a juvenile Wandering Salamander and juvenile Black Salamanders (Aneides flavipunctatus).
After a very succesful and above all salamandery morning in the redwoods it was time for some beaches. Glass Beach near Fort Bragg was definitely special but the huge amount of tourists of the worst kind made us flee this place and head of to Bowling Ball Beach where we were the only visitors. The bowling ball shaped rocks were sadly not all visible but with such a beautiful place all to ourselves we weren't too sad. In Gualala we tried to find a campsite but they were all fully booked. We had a delicious pizza at Upper Crust Pizzeria and the friendly owner kindly allowed us to spend the night at his parking lot. Such a kind gesture and very welcome - we slept great!
20th of July 2014
After a great night and breakfast at the parking lot of the pizzeria we drove on to the Woodside Campground. At a nearby stream we found a big and beautiful California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) along with three California Slender Salamanders. We continued to drive south in the direction of Point Reyes National Park. Along the road we did some scenery stops and saw many seals and pelicans resting at the beaches. At Point Reyes we arrived when the sun just came thorugh the dense cloud cover and were obviously right on time for reptile activity. We could easily spot a few Northern Alligator Lizards (Elgaria coerulea), several Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans) and no less than five Rubber Boas (Charina bottae). From Point Reyes Lighthouse we could see our first Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and many Common Murres (Uria aalge) nesting on the cliffs. Around sunset we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and entered San Fransisco. The night we spend at the Pontiac Hotel which was very cheap, comfortable and close to the city center.
21st of July 2014
Today was devoted to sightseeing in the city and resting a bit after a couple of busy days. After breakfast we walked into the city centre and when we walked around the corner of Market Street we walked into Laura and Sascha, two students of mine. What a coincidence and we should have made a picture! Er well, after a small talk our route continued and we walked on to Union Square, Lombard Street, view on Alcatraz Prison, Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 with many Sea Lions and even more people. From Alamo Square we had a beautiful view on the city and the famous Painted Ladies and from Marshall beach we had a great view on the Golden Gate Bridge.
A beautiful city but just too crowded at this time of year to be enjoyable. At the McDonalds we had a romantic dinner with sunset and we drove on to the cosy tents of the Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero.
22nd of July 2014
A wise man once told us you should eat until it hurts and that is exactly what we did this morning with toasted bread, omelettes, pancakes of 1cm thick and fresh orange juice. Ready to go herping again! Our first destination was Año Nuevo State Park, home to the largest mainland breeding colony of Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris). We saw many males resting on the beach while they are molting. Also present were huge amounts of California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus), Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and Pacific Harbour Seals (Phoca vitulina) on Año Nuevo island. The sun came though a bit too quick and it became too hot for reptiles to be out and about. We did see several species but all were to quick for a picture or impossible to catch. Sightings included California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii), Western Fence Lizards, Racers (Coluber constrictor), Western Terrestrial Gartersnakes and a single San Fransisco Garter Snake. Not really what we were hoping for as a result. Just above Santa Cruz we visited a redwood stand and searched along a creek that holds water throughout the year. Again many salamanders could be found including no less than five (!) California Giant Salamanders, California Slender Salamanders, Black Salamander juveniles and a single Ensatina. Also a few Southern Alligator Lizards were out and about. Sadly we found out Laura lost one of her favourite tools, the reflector! We drove back to Año Nuevo State Park, searched where she must have lost it but found nothing but Sierran Treefrogs and a parking violation ticket on our windscreen... We found comfort food at McDonalds and a place to sleep in the Thunderbird Motel in Monterey.
23rd of July 2014
Whale watching today! We climbed on the Princess Monterey (that is a boat GJ!) and set course to open ocean. In the harbour of Monterey we could already observe several Sea Lions, Seals and Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris). We were lucky with the current conditions as the water is rarely as clear as it is now and there are many shoals of sardines. Two groups of Humpback Whales were hunting these little fish. We could see them blow bubbles underwater to try and trap their prey. Sea Lions and Brown Pelicans benefit from these hunting techniques and could be seen hunting as well. The whales were the main dish however and to see these magnificent animals so close (even underneath the boat) was a great experience!
After observing so much marine wildlife it was time for herping again. A known place for Santa Lucia Mountain Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps luciae) was bone dry and nothing but dust was to be found there. Luckily Laura marked a second site which looked good. Eventough nearly as dry as the first, there was a little stream still holding some water and two individuals could be found here. Next stop; beaches! Of course as soon as we stepped out of the car the sun vanished and it was not so enjoyable anymore but still we took our time and relaxed a bit in China Cove, enjoyed the thousands of Cormorants at Bird Island and photographed the many well posing Western Fence Lizards along the trail. Then time to herp a bit at Andrew Molera State Park where we only saw a family of California Quail (Callipepla californica) and a couple of Virginia Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Not really what we were expecting here... Slightly disappointed we headed towards the Riverside campground and worked hard to net get sprayed on by one of the resident Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) while setting up the tent.
24th of July 2014
First back to the Andrew Molera State Park where we soon gave up searching because of the heat and the drought. Not a nice place to herp in summer. We drove on over the famous Highway 1 and did some stops along the way and at the McWay Falls we could see several California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) soaring overhead, amazing to see these big and beautiful birds in the wild! At a restaurant with view over the Pacific Ocean we saw more Condors soaring over and a pod of Humpback Whales hunting offshore. At Sanddollar Beach we finally had sun and a nice beach at the same time, so we decided to celebrate this magical moment with sunbathing, swimming and "kelping". In the afternoon we drove on to San Simeon to watch the Elephant Seals and after that to Morro Bay where we searched the dunes for Horned Lizards. Not much reptile activity besides Western Fence Lizards and a Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer). In Morro Bay we decided to skip fastfood for once and had a horrible lasagna meal at a fancy Italian restaurant but with a view on the Morro Rock. In the late evening we searched for Three-horned Chameleons (Trioceros jacksonii) which were introduced here by accident in the 80's. If the population still persists - no one knows. I had contact with many people (both residents and academics) about these special creatures but recent sightings lack. Laura and I also gave it a try and despite intensive searching at the site of introduction and in the direct vicinity we gave up. Nothing to be found and I doubt if the chameleons are still there...
25th of July 2014
In the morning we had an appointment with Griffin Capehart and his field tech Jeff who study the Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus). Griff's study investigates the effects of hydration on variables like reproduction success. Very interesting to meet Griffin, hear about his study/see the work he is doing and most of all, see the objects of his study in the wild. It is amazing to see that these big and beautiful creatures live in such a dynamic ecosystem as the coastal sanddunes. And also to see how calm and placid they are, just basking amidst the vegetation. While we walked along a small sand trail over the dunes I saw a small creature coming out of the sand (obviously disturbed by us herpers walking over him) and running for cover in the extensive Ice Plant fields. A juvenile Coastal Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii), our second target species for this area and incredibly hard to find. A great morning! We had lunch on the parking lot and headed for a second Horned Lizard place in the hope to find an adult, but with the sun out it was too hot for any lizard to be seen. A long drive followed, and in the late evening we arrived at the Quaking Aspen Campground in Sequoia National Forest and headed for a chilly evening in the tent.
26th of July 2014
Today a big hike was awaiting us and after a breakfast on the campground we were on our way. While this place is known to hold a population of Sierra Nevada Ensatina the conditions were highly unfavourable and moist places were a rare commodity. Only a single hummingbird, chipmunks and a few fast-as-lightning Sagebrush Lizards (Sceloporus graciosus) to keep us busy. At a second known location it was the same story so time to give up here and drive on to Sequoia National Park. From the road we saw a beautiful waterfall in a deep canyon and made a spontaneous stop for scenery pictures and of course a swim. To say it was lovely would be an understatement, to have a swim in such a beautiful place on such a warm day is just heaven! Even a new species to the list was found here, a juvenile Sierra Gartersnake (Thamnophis couchii) was swimming above one of the many waterfalls. In Springfield we had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant and arrived well after darkness at the Lodgepole campground that luckily still had a camping spot available for us.
27th of July 2014
Another day in paradise. While we merely wanted to do the planned hike for today because of the scenery it did hold a few nice surprises for us in the end. We went up the steep slopes in the early morning, hiked 10km towards Pear Lake and stopped along the way at Heather, Emerald and Aster Lakes. Of course we knew we were still in the range for Sierra Nevada Salamander so we flipped lots of logs in suitable places. The higher we climbed up the more pristine the scenery got, from rather lush green forests with an occasional stream to desolated moon landscapes dominated by Foxtail Pines (Pinus balfouriana). Many rodents were encountered along the path such as Yellow-bellied Marmots, Grey Squirls, Chipmunks and even two American Pikas (Ochotona princeps). Also lots of birds around and we encountered a female Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) with two chicks while the males were sadly only heard and not seen. At Pear Lake I had a swim in the rather chilly water and on the way down we had another swim at Heather Lake annoying a Dutch couple thinking they had the place to themselves... We also saw a white wale there but only the Dutch couple made a video of it...
And then all the way down again. While flipping some logs I heard a large animal in the bushes and secretly checked what it was. My heart started to beat a bit faster as I saw a huge paw between the coniferous trees and a big American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) was climbing down a tree to start foraging in the undergrowth. The huge animal was everything but interested in us and from a distance of 15 meters we could take several pictures before he buggered off. What a great experience! We hiked on and 10min. later we encountered a lovely stream where Laura flipped another good looking log and found what we didn't expected to find anymore: a heartstoppingly, breathtakingly, never-thought-to-be-possible beautiful Sierra Nevada Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis)! What a find!
Only General Sherman and the Giant Forest was on the menu during the last hour of sunlight and then time to drive on south again to Bakersfield where we slept in the Knights Inn.
28th of July 2014
A drive to LA brought us on the outskirts of Hollywood where we visited a little park with several ponds. Several introduced species were easily encountered such as American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta) and Florida Softshell (Apalone ferox) alongside the native and omnipresent Western Fence Lizard. Also a cheeky Ann's Hummingbird allowed close approach. Through LA we continued our route and went to a canyon on the outskirts of the city. Here we could find Southern Alligator Lizard, Western Fence Lizard, Western Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris), Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa), several Black-bellied Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps nigriventris) and a small family of Canyon Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus). We encountered several hikers who told us they saw a rattlesnake here but unfortunately we weren't as lucky... In the afternoon we headed towards the desert of Palm Springs where we stayed in the Knights Inn which we had all to ourselves. A romantic dinner at the gas station after which we went for nocturnal searching in the desert. Every afternoon strong winds rose and made searching difficult but we could quickly encounter a Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei) and several camelspiders (Solifugidae). A second search stop along granite boulders was not so successful and we only found several Tarantulas (Theraphosidae).
29th of July 2014
A really early morning today as we wanted to visit the Indian Canyons in endurable temperatures, but sadly our efforts were not rewarded and we only encountered a closed gate. Apparantly the canyons are only open during the weekends in summer due to a lack of tourists... A plan B was quickly forged and we drove on to the Coachella Valley Preserve. Along the road we could see a beautiful Baja California Collared Lizard (Crotaphytes vestigium) which was shy as hell and several Greater Roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus). In the preserve we hiked towards the McCallum pond and encountered several lizard species along the way: Western Whiptail, Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister), Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) and Common Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana). Also several birds were active in the early morning: Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) and a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). After exploring this beautiful little preserve and marvelling at its inhabitants we went back to the motel for a dip in the pool, lunch and a siesta.
Shortly before sunset we searched for Desert Iguanas but none were out with sandstorms raging on. We went for a McDonalds and luckily when we started searching in darkness the
wind was gone. It wasn't for long untill I spotted the first Western Shovel-nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis) and quickly after Laura found the first Sidewinder (Crotalus
cerastes). A second Shovel-nosed Snake and even three more Sidewinders were easily found. What a night! Just outside Palm Springs we found some good looking rock formations and decided to
try and find Granite Night Lizard. This species was sadly not to be found but we did find our first Desert Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus). At well past midnight we went for a well
deserved rest after a succesfull first full day in the desert.
30th of July 2014
We slept in a bit and were right on time to catch the first Aerial Tramway up in the San Jacinto Mountains at 10am. Within 10min. you are at 2700m absl and in a completely different habitat. Several interesting species can be found here and especially Large Blotched Salamander, Mountain Kingsnake and Southern Rubber Boa were of interest to us. Sadly we encountered a dried out wilderness with nothing but Sagebrush Lizards despite intensive searching. A special experience to go up with the Tramway but not something I would do again in the future, a rather monotonous landscape on top and other mountains offered way better views and landscapes. In the late afternoon we went down with the tramway, tried to find Collared Lizards without succes and tried again for Granite Night Lizard. This time we drove around searching for suitable habitat just after sunset and found a great looking place. Sadly a "no trespassing" sign made searching there a bit tricky. We decided to ring the bell at the nearest property and asked the owner if we are allowed to search there. Young Alex opened the door and was very impressed that we came from Europe to search for lizards at the land behind his house and told us it was no problem. We headed for dinner at a nearby Burger King and went back when it was dark. We rang the bell again to verify if it was really no problem and also Alex's grandma thought it was okay to go there. After maybe 10min. of searching we were lucky and I spotted the first Granite Night Lizard (Xantusia henshawi) and Laura quickly found a second one. Finally succes and what a beautiful little creatures!
31st of July 2014
After a good night sleep at the High Desert Motel we drove in the Yoshua Tree National Park and as soon as we went through the gate we were awed by the beautiful desert scenery here. The Barker Dam trail led us through a variety of desert scenery including a dried up lake behind the Barker Dam itself. Turning some rubble gave us a first Red-spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus) and while photographing the little toad a Greater Roadrunner came by to have a look and several Tarantula Hawks (Pepsis grossa) flew over. Three lizard species were found including Western Whiptail, Common Side-blotched Lizard and a few Desert Night Lizards (Xantusia vigilis) underneath dead Yoshua Trees. A Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) was seen running away and a family of Western Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica) was keeping us company during lunch. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have seen on the trip but it was time to move on. In the meantime the temperature rose steadily to above 45°C but a hike towards the 49 palms oasis was waiting. A steep climb and a gradual descent lead us into the canyon. Luckily the palms provided some shade because after that hike we were broken. We searched a bit in the canyon and saw Desert Spiny Lizard, Common Side-blotched Lizard, a hummingbird and several Tarantula Hawks. In the afternoon we relaxed a bit at the motel pool with a swim and a cold drink which was very welcome. Roadcruising around Barstow that evening was slightly disappointing and at a known good spot we only saw a Desert Banded Gecko and our first Chuckwalla (Sauromales ater) sleeping in a rock crack. At the second site we encountered three people photographing a Shovel-nosed Snake along the road and we teamed up with Phil, Jacob and Chris. Together we searched at a third spot for Rosy Boa and Speckled Rattlesnake but only a few Tarantulas showed up. A pity but it was nice to meet you guys! At the Economy Inn in Barstow we almost drove over a sleeping homeless person at the parking lot and decided it was time to sleep.
1st of August 2014
Phil gave us the tip to go to the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave Desert and thats what we did this morning. A good decision as we found several Mojave Fringe-toed Lizards (Uma scoparia) and a very cooperative Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis). When it became too warm for lizards to be out we drove on to Las Vegas, did some sightseeing but were quickly fed up with all the stupid tourists and drove on to the Valley of Fire State Park. Again a whole new level of heat! We picked out a camping spot at the campsite (which we had almost all to ourselves) and hiked towards the Fire Wave. What a stunning scenery and such bizarre colouration these rocks have! Something Las Vegas could never top, that is for sure. At this surreal place we encountered several lizards such as Common side-blotched Lizard and a Chuckwalla. At the White Domes we had dinner while the sun sank down behind the horizon. After sunset not much reptile activity and roadcruising was not productive at all. It was still hot and a storm set in as every afternoon. Of all the desert animals you could think of, that would be brave enough to face such a storm, we only found a Jackrabbit, a Western Banded Gecko and a few Red-spotted Toads (!).
2nd of August 2014
After a cheerful breakfast at the campground together with at least seven Chipmunks () we drove towards the visitor centre where they have several live animals on display such as Chuckwalla, Desert Iguana, Kingsnake, Red-spotted Toad, Tarantula and Desert Hairy Scorpion. We hiked the Mouse Tank Trail and admired the many petroglyphs. Several lizard species were active here such as Common Side-blotched Lizard, Western Whiptail and Chuckwalla. The White Domes Trail was even nicer and even had more lizard species. Besides the earlier mentioned species we also observed Desert Iguana and Zebra-tailed Lizard here. The desert became too hot to be enjoyable so we drove towards Lake Mead and searched for a place to swim. Several springs on the outskirts of the lake were no good places for a swim (potentially lethal parasite) but the lake itself was a delight. At Sugars Sportsbar we had a lovely meal and after sunset it was time for a last night of roadcruising. Again it was hot and windy but this time we had a few drops of rain as the first monsoon rains started to arrive. As many as 25 Western Banded Geckos were sitting on the tarmac along with a Long-nosed Snake and a single Sidewinder. At the few freshwater places we found several amphibians such as Red-spotted Toads, Woodhouse's Toads (Anaxyrus woodhousi) and a single Relict Leopard Frog (Lithobates onca). This last species was thought to be extinct untill it was recently rediscovered in several springs along Lake Mead. An interesting find! Other animals on the road: Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys spec.), Jackrabbit, Camel Spiders and a Desert hairy Scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis).
3rd of August 2014
Sleeping in a bit was very welcome after a long night of herping and while visiting the Hoovers Dam the rain really started to pour down. A pity we had to leave, imagine how many animals would become active with these rains... We drove back to Las Vegas and flew from there back to Frankfurt, took a long distance bus to Munich and after a small taxi ride we were back in our own bed.
What a trip, we drove 6300km across the western states, saw a huge variety in landscapes and drove literally from pines to palms, we managed to observe an abundance of wildlife varying from tiny Slender Salamanders and Chipmunks to Humpback Whales and Condors, slept in the redwoods, under starry skies in the desert and in shabby motels, survived for three weeks on mostly fast food... yes we had a blast!
Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum ssp. sigillatum)
Cope's Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon copei)
California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus)
Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus)
Wandering Salamander (Aneides vagrans)
Black Salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus)
Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii ssp. picta, xanthoptica & platensis)
Dunn's Salamander (Plethodon dunni)
Del Norte Salamander (Plethodon elongatus)
Western Redback Salamander (Plethodon vehiculum)
California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)
Santa Lucia Mountains Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps luciae)
Black-bellied Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps nigriventris)
Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)
Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa)
Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas ssp. halophilus)
Red-spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus)
Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousi)
Coastal Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei)
Northern Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla)
Sierran Treefrog (Pseudacris sierra)
Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora)
California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii)
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii)
Relict Leopard Frog (Lithobates onca)
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) introduced species
Western Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus)
Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)
Common Chuckwalla (Sauromales ater)
Baja California Collared Lizard (Crotaphytes vestigium)
Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)
Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma scoparia)
Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus ssp. gracilis & vandenburgianus)
Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis ssp. bocourti, longipes & occidentalis)
Common Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)
Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii)
Granite Night Lizard (Xantusia henshawi)
Desert Night Lizard (Xantusia vigilis)
Western Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris ssp. stejnegeri & tigris)
Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea)
Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata ssp. multicarinata & webbii)
Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae)
Western Shovel-nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis)
Racer (Coluber constrictor ssp. mormon)
Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum ssp. piceus) DOR
Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)
Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
Aquatic Gartersnake (Thamnophis atratus ssp. hydrophilus)
Sierra Gartersnake (Thamnophis couchii)
Western Terrestrial gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans ssp. terrestris)
Northwestern Gartersnake (Thamnophis ordinoides)
Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis ssp. fitchi)
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)
Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes ssp. cerastes & laterorepens)
Florida Softshell (Apalone ferox) introduced species
Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans) introduced species
Many thanks to: Griffin Capehart, Maarten Gilbert, Rémon ter Harmsel, Matthijs Hollanders, Gary Nafis, Todd Pierson, Jeroen Speybroeck, Emily Taylor.