The Discovery of the Puerco Mountains
Roger Repp's Puerco Mountains Report
I thought I'd better include this part of my Puerco Mountains Report, because, really, it's the first part. I wrote this in November 2004, and sent it out to the Tucson Herp Society email list. It describes the day I popped the cherry of the Puerco Mountains.
(From the song, "Got to Get you Into My Life," by the Beatles)
"I was alone, I took a ride,
I didn't know what I would find there.
Another road where maybe I could see
another kind of mind there."
"O-ooo, then I suddenly see you...."
It was a little outlier hill. It stood alone, rising roughly 60 meters above the lush desert floor. It was a rocky little eminence, out in the middle of nowhere. It had no business being where it was at. One would have to be looking hard for such a thing to even notice it.
On this day, August 8, 1992, I was looking hard for such things.
The little hill was observed as part of an intensive effort to locate new herping spots within striking distance of Tucson. During this hot monsoonal afternoon, my vehicle was careening along roads that were on the edges of known turf. Alert eyes were looking for side roads that branched off the roads well-traveled.
A rather substantial, heretofore un-penetrated gravel road was viewed snaking its way through the remote desert, toward the little hill. I'd driven by this road a hundred times, and never even THOUGHT of noticing it. This road even had a street sign, declaring it to be "Iron Mine Road." Given the driver's mind set, the decision to hook a right on this road was a no brainer.
After the turn, the hill was at around 2:00 on the horizon, and about a half mile distant. My little jeep went down a gentle incline, crossed a sandy "mini-wash," and up a gentle incline. Down another incline, into another sandy mini-wash, and a glance to the right caused the brakes to be applied.
A large adult desert tortoise was viewed soaking in a nearby puddle.
Its head was completely out of its shell, and it seemed to be gazing my direction. The puddle was impressive in size, perhaps 20 meters across, and the tortoise was about mid-carapace deep, toward the edge closest to the road. Upon my emergence from the vehicle, and subsequent approach, it was noted that the tortoise did not flinch.
This, no doubt, is because dead tortoises don't flinch.
The first herpetological discovery in this area remains amongst the top ten strangest things I've ever seen. It was a male tortoise, his head periscoped upward, the eyes wide open, and gleaming with enough sign of life that I had to tap his shell to make sure that he was dead. He was a prime of life animal-expired for no apparent reason.
What the hell happened to him? This was the best of times! Our area was getting bombarded with rain. The puddle itself might serve to demonstrate this phenomenon. Did he wallow into the puddle to get a drink, and have the water go down the wrong pipe? Did he then drown in whatever passes for tortoise phlegm?
There's a reason for going on and on about this. Five days previous, another tortoise was found dead in standing water. Two back-to-back dead tortoises, that appeared to die of the good life. The gentle landlubbers probably drown easily--and ought not to be frequenting puddles.
As I had no further use for this particular dead tortoise, he was left as found. His corpse did not stand still long. Within a week of my first visit to this area, another storm washed his ass somewhere downstream. And now, we are entirely done talking about him, and move on to other fascinating things that transpired on this day.
Upon saying goodbye to the dead tortoise, (whose ass later got washed downstream, and who we are STILL no longer talking about), it was time to find my way to the hill. (For the two of you still with me, there was a hill mentioned WAY back toward the beginning of this email.
I think it first appeared just after the Beatles song.)
I'm happy to report that I did eventually get to the hill. The road that I was traveling on didn't take me there. But a road that forked off the road that I was traveling did. This fork, like many before it, got me where I needed to be. The fork even had a parking spot-- right next to the hill. As mother Repp never raised a child so foolish as to not park in an available parking spot close to where I needed to park--I parked there. This being done, there was little else to do but emerge from the vehicle, and look at the hill.
I then took my cue from the last sentence in the previous paragraph, emerged from the vehicle, and looked at the hill. This was easy to do, because it (the hill) was, as aforementioned, close to my parking spot.
Are you guys following me?
Good! Because now comes the disappointment. I didn't set foot on the hill. It was WAY too hot to go clamoring about on some little pissant desert hill.
It was also WAY too hot for that 16-inch-long leopard lizard to come twitching out of the undergrowth. The spotted little behemoth sniffed at my feet a bit while pausing in my shade. I could easily have bent over and snatched it off the ground, were I so inclined. Instead, I just gazed lovingly down at it in wide wonderment, amazed and pleased that such a wary species such as this would choose to be so bold. Even as it buggered off, it did so with leisure, allowing me to follow quietly behind it for some distance. It was then that I learned that cooperative leopard lizards on the prowl are interesting for a grand total of about two minutes.
The year 1992 was one of the top herping years that this hacker has ever had. In addition to record numbers of snakes encountered, it was also a year of zeroing in on what I personally believe to be the best local herping spots.
As I waved goodbye to the dead tortoise (who we are no longer talking
about) at the end of my excursion, I had no way of knowing how closely my life would be intertwined with the place that is now called Iron Mine Hill.
When it comes to settling into new territory, a journey of 10,000 beers must begin with a six pack. The many beers, er uh, visits that followed revealed that this little hill is a VERY big place. We will speak more of it in the near future.
This here is Roger Repp, signing off from Southern Arizona, where the turtles are strong, the snakes are handsome, and the lizards are WAY above average.