Plain and Desert, April 2000
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(Click any photo throughout to see a larger version)
In April 2000, our friends Don and Kris joined my wife Monica and me on a long weekend trip out to the Mojave Desert for our annual quest to see a desert tortoise in the wild. We had yet to be successful at this sadly difficult goal, but this year all signs were looking good as we climbed into the rented Toyota 4Runner and headed south and east from our home on the California central coast.

We decided to take a route that would take us through the Carrizo Plain Natural Area, a remote and nearly untouched area that may soon be a national monument. The Carrizo Plain is one of the last refuges of the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and we searched a reported leopard lizard hangout for an hour or two. But it was a little too cold for much lizard activity and nary a blunt-noser was to be found.

The gopher snake pictured here was stretched out on the dirt road basking in the late afternoon as we drove back out to the main road from our failed leopard-lizard search. This snake's skin was particularly shiny and clean, probably due to a recent skin-shedding. It was also pretty chubby, probably due to recent consumption of one of the numerous ground squirrels in the area. We were soon to discover that it was not the only rodent-chomping serpent around.

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