Valley Of Fire celebrates life in the desert in “Bio-Blitz”
By Craig Higgins
Curious children and adults enjoyed a close encounter with colorful reptiles last Saturday at Valley of Fire State Park. Celebrating Earth Day, the park’s second annual Bio-Blitz event included animal and plant displays; geocaches; and wildlife surveys in which patrons were encouraged to snap photos of animal life scurrying amid copious washes, mysterious petroglyphs and sandstone block reliefs.
Perhaps the most engaging event was the “Animal Meet and Greet”, an opportunity for park visitors to interact with examples of native wildlife.
Prior to the encounter, wildlife expert Jess of the Nevada Dept. of Wildlife (NDOW) discussed the history of Bio-Blitz and NDOW’s goals in hosting it. With the investigation, she hoped the general public could obtain and send in evidence “about what lives here”.
“Getting more data into the system is crucial to the state’s efforts to preserve the Valley of Fire desert ecosystem,” she said.
Under crystal blue skies, the Atlatl Rock picnic area provided a picturesque backdrop for an “animal encounter” also led by Jess. Skillfully assisted by several NDOW members and Nevada State Park Rangers, the animal specialist conducted a brief seminar on two non-venomous reptiles: the Sonoran Mountain Queen Snake and the Gopher Snake.
Jess unpacked a treasure trove of information about each animal, including its mimicry abilities (the gopher snake is a lookalike of a rattlesnake without a rattlesnake), its feeding habits (both beasts eat almost anything that moves) and its habitat.
When the event started, about twenty people gathered to meet the creatures. Sporting red, black and white striped patterns down its torso, Button the king snake provided a striking example of the species. Children and adults alike expressed their wonder as they stroked Button as he snuck along his master’s arms.
Bigger and thicker, his muscles coiling under brown and white diamond scales, Slinky the gopher snake seemed placid and more outgoing. Jess mentioned that both were bred in captivity. She reminded the crowd not to try to pet a wild snake scurrying through the rugged undergrowth or emerging from the nearby sandstones.
An hour later, the park’s visitor center held a display of plants and flowers native to the area. DeVon, an expert on the subject and a member of the Nevada Native Plant Society, clicked through a summary of myriad examples of cacti bearing flowers. There was also some unusual flora like thorny devil’s weed, a plant that out of the water looks like a dried octopus shell.
With the attention to detail of an expert, the presenter associated each specimen with its unique habitat, mentioning that depending on the amount of annual rainfall, certain species will flood the waters of the park in seas of pinks and yellows.
For more information about Valley of Fire State Park and its regular public events, visit http://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire.