Click here for information on the 2020 City Nature Challenge.
To capture nature observations for the 2020 CNC, I chose to hike the Kim Nichols Trail in the Indio Hills of Desert Hot Springs. This is one of the newest trails in the valley and I thought its location on a sand dune might provide some interesting sights. Since daytime temperatures were again going to be in excess of 95°, I decided to be on the trail before 8:00am.
Just as I was starting the hike, I spotted a coyote about 100 yards away. Luckily I had the camera ready and captured this picture. It's not of great quality but it's still a decent shot good for the lens I was using and the early morning sun.
This trail is located in the Indio Hills and includes sand dune environments.
Even though there were ATV and mountain bike tracks in the area, it was still an enjoyable place to hike.
The beginning of the trail was covered in wildflowers including desert dandelions and cat's eyes.
Desert chicory and cholla cactus
A Western Whiptail lizard out before desert heats up too much.
Brownplum wirelettuce and desert sand verbena
As the trail climbed a hill, I thought I spotted a small lizard in the rocks. It took a while to find it because it blended in so well with the color of the surrounding sand; it was a Desert Horned Lizard. This lizard was 2-3 inches in length. I sound like a nature nerd but I was psyched when I found this lizard on the trail.
I think these lizards looks like small dinosaurs with the spiky tails and large pointed scales protruding from the back of their heads. This picture I found online really highlights their dinosaur-like qualities.
Although it was getting hotter, it was still a beautiful day to be in the Indio Hills.
Desert gold also known as desert sunflower
Another great find on this hike was the Coachella Valley Fringed-toed Lizard. It isn't the best picture but I was happy to have seen one of this hike. This lizard is well adapted to its desert habitat. It has a wedged-shaped nose which enables it to burrow through loose, fine sand. Elongated scales cover the ears to keep out blowing sand, and specialized nostrils allow it to breathe below the sand without inhaling sand particles. Today, the fringe-toed lizard habitat has been reduced to about 50 square miles, but only about 19 square miles of this land continues to receive the naturally occurring 'blowsand' that is essential to the long-term survival of the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed lizard as threatened, under the Endangered Species Act, in 1980. It is also listed as an endangered species by the State of California.
California Evening Primrose
Although not as colorful as the wildflowers, there were several varieties of grass growing in the dunes.
Then I hit the jackpot, a Sidewinder Rattlesnake carcass. From the looks of it, this snake hadn't been dead long. In the United States, there are only four snakes with venom capable of killing an adult human, although death is unlikely - coral snake, copperhead, cottonmouth water moccasin, and the rattlesnake. Sidewinder rattlesnakes have the least effective venom of any rattlesnake, but there is still the threat of permanent injury from a bite. Sidewinders get their name from the 'S' shape they use while traveling. Other species of snake are capable of this type of locomotion, but the sidewinder uses it almost exclusively.
Systemic symptoms of envenomation (injection of venom by a bite) include nausea, dizziness, chills, coagulopathy (blood disorders) and shock. A case report of a man who had been bitten on the first joint of the index finger of the right hand, with only a single fang penetrating described the bite as no more painful than a pin prick. A doctor was seen within about 25 minutes, and 10 cc of antivenin were administered. Within 2.5 hours, his entire arm was swollen and the pain was severe, 'as if the arm were soaked in a bucket of boiling oil.'
I ran into a second carcass a short distance away. Seeing these snakes helped to drive home the need to be smart and cautious when hiking in the desert environment. When I returned home I read a few articles on what to do if you encounter a rattlesnake. Next time, if we are unlucky to run into a live version, I'll be better prepared.
From a local travel adventure website: What to Do if You Come Across a Rattlesnake
Leave a snake alone. The bad stuff happens when people don’t. Let it pass. Give it a good fifteen feet. Coiled, rattling, and head raised? Give it even more. If you accidentally step on one and get bitten: keep cool. (Uh, OK?) But seriously, don’t run; getting your heart rate up makes the venom seep faster. Skip the snakebite kits and tourniquets; that’s outdated advice. Just call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 ASAP. In Arizona or California—where most bites occur—plug this number into your phone.
And do your best to avoid them in the first place. A sunny, 90°F day is snake weather. No flip-flops, wear boots. Jeans, even. (A study actually proved denim’s effectiveness against venom injection.) Don’t use earbuds (you want to hear the rattle). On a mountain bike, be extra cautious. Rattlesnakes are designed to hear the pounding of bison hooves, not the quiet roll of a tire tread. Peek under a log before sitting on it. Shake out your sleeping bag. And if you’ve got to peel off the trail to pee, toss a few pebbles first.
But don't take their word for it, research the topic and be a smart educated safe hiker.
White bursage and creosote are considered the two most common shrubs in deserts of the west and southwest. It's interesting to see these two green plants dotting the brown desert hillside.
It was a successful morning with lots of observation and different species documented. In total, I submitted 40 observations in 4 hours while covering 5.6 miles of the Kim Nichols trail. Time to head home and cool off.
FYI. Today we gave ourselves our first home COVID haircut. Actually more a buzzcut than haircut. Not bad for our first attempt.