Sun coming up over the Organ Mountains
I left New Braunfels at 4am Central Time to begin the arduous trek across the rest of the state of Texas on a single road - Interstate 10. Before the sun came up, the drive was a bit surreal as I moved beyond the San Antonio area. The sky was amazingly clear at points and the only thing one sees while driving across this landscape are the sharp limestone walls on either side of the road and the glow of 18-wheeler lights out in the distance. West Texas is an exceedingly lonely and desolate place, but perfect for thinking or jamming out as the case may be as you keep on truckin' toward your destination. I will say, 80mph speed limits are phenomenal and not seeing anyone for 5-10 minutes at a time is pretty amazing.
I arrived in Las Cruces
around 11am Mountain Time and immediately went to the research site in the Organ Mountains.
Bark scorpion under blacklight
They are named the Organ Mountains because they appear to be a behemoth of a musical pipe organ, something I tend to agree with.
My fiancee (Eryn) was wrapping up placing iButtons, small electronic temperature reading devices that record at a given interval. I'm very happy they were about done because I was a little woozy from altitude and driving so long, so we headed into town and got some food. Las Cruces is actually a pretty nice town, the home of New Mexico State University. It looks like there is plenty of food and shopping and anything else typical Americans need to survive. There is an area called Old Town Mesilla where a lot of old antique and art shops exist alongside some fairly traditional Mexican fare. We ate at La Posta, quite good!
As the sun set, we set out to Eryn's professors's (Drs.
Eryn "rock-climbing" - if only she knew
Matt and Ashley Rowe) site and watched as they set traps to catch grasshopper mice. We were rockin' snake chaps about this time, rattlesnakes tend to be fairly active in the evenings. These guys don't want to mess with you as long as you don't mess with them, it's just the possibility of startling them that is the true culprit behind bites. We didn't want to take that chance.
We moved back to Eryn's site to start looking for scorpions. Now, scorpions glow bright green under a blacklight (cool, huh? See the pictures...) and are pretty easy to spot. We moved around the area and found about 14 of them in about 45 minutes. When we found them, we'd make sure there was nothing else lurking about where the scorpion was (I'll get to this more in a moment) and then grab it by the tail with some forceps.
Amazing sunset in the fields near Soledad Canyon
To mark them, Eryn would apply a highlighter to its top-side, and for research purposes take its temperature and the substrate, i.e. surroundings, temperature. We did this for most of the scorpions we found. However, as we were about to reach towards one, Matt reminded us to check the area with our headlamps first. It was at this point I just about took off running as I was standing about a foot away from the nest of a very nasty and very large black widow spider. Not to mention, the filthy thing took off crawling towards a fly that landed in its nest about this time.
Suitably creeped out, we left shortly thereafter and went back to get some sleep. The next day was going to be a long one.