Buckeye Herps Blog

A photographic journal of the reptiles and amphibians of Ohio, Michigan and other places interesting wildlife call home.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arizona 2011: Phoenix and Sedona

It had been five years since my last "strictly herping" trip to Arizona.  I had been able to visit a few more times each year, but I was starting to get the itch to get back and get serious.  Brian, Carl and I decided this summer would make a good time to go, hopefully in tune with the monsoon season.  I was kinda in between jobs and had a little over a month off.  I planned to try and spend a little over a week in the state to visit some places I had not been able to see before.  Brian was getting ready to start graduate school so he was free, and Carl had just finished up the spring quarter teaching session.  We were all primed and ready to go!

My biggest goal for the trip was an Arizona Black Rattlesnake Crotalus cerberus.  I have wanted to see one for a few years now and was pumped to really make a go at it.  Brian had set his sights on a couple of the small frogs in the Craugastor and Smilisca genera.  I think Carl was really hoping to see a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake Lampropeltis pyromelana and some of the smaller low desert snakes (Gyalopion and Phyllorhynchus).  We had our goals, booked our flights/car, purchased licenses and planned on a few lodging options (crashing at Molly's parent's house while in Phoenix and camping while in the southeast and the north).  We were off...

I arrived in Phoenix a few good hours before Brian.  Carl was to join us the next morning.  I got a ride to the house, did some unpacking, and started roadcruising.  It was a slow night for me despite seemingly good temperatures.  I made a number of good passes on the road without any animals and was starting to "zone out".  I was coming down a dirt road and noticed a snake at the last minute.  It was likely a medium sized colubrid (glossy or gopher?), but I had to straddle the animal and when I jumped out of the car there was just a giant cloud of dust that my high powered flashlight couldn't permeate.  I never got another look at it.  It was late now, so I started heading into town to pick up Brian at the airport around 11pm.

I got Brian and we had some decisions to make.  We could call it a night now, in order to get up super early at 5am to hike before the temps heated up. Or we could head out and roadcruise in the low desert now that the morning would be shot until after Carl arrived around 9am.  Brian was chomping at the bit to see stuff so we opted for instant gratification.  Within a little bit we had our first herp of the night, and Brian started his long string of lifers.  It was on...

Mohave Rattlesnake Crotalus scutulatus

Next up was a western diamond-backed rattlesnake Crotalus atrox I spotted hugging the roadside.

Another view.

Sidewinders Crotalus cerastes were pretty common this night.  I hadn't been able to see one in about 5 or 6 years so it was cool to see them again.  I never get over how fast and unique their locomotion is.

Our first and only colubrid of the night was a gopher snake Pituophis catenifer.

A little after 3am, the temps were still in the mid90s, but we were fast falling asleep.  We saw one more mohave rattlesnake on the way out.

We pulled in to the house around 5, exhausted. We had 3 or 4 hours to sleep before getting up to pick Carl up from the airport and start again so we passed out quickly.

Carl's flight was on time, so we collected him quickly and headed out for a midmorning hike.  We roasted in the heat, and didn't see too much.  I was the only one to remember to bring a mirror for shining cracks, and it came through on this hike as I shined a midsized C. atrox deep down a hole under a boulder.

We also saw tiger whiptails, side-blotched lizards, chuckwallas  and tree lizards.  Missed out one some desert iguanas that I really wanted to see.

That afternoon we rested a bit and stocked up on supplies before setting out for the late afternoon and evening.  A nice hike through a wash turned up nothing at dusk, and we decided to roadcruise the road I had not had much luck on the night before.  Just after turning down the road, we spotted a "scorpion" looking animal scurry across the road - must be a banded gecko.

Western Banded Gecko Coleonyx variegatus

A few minutes later I found myself staring blankly at this odd looking orange animal crossing the road.  I was slow to realize and react, luckily Carl yelling "Gila!" snapped me out of it.

Gila Monster Heloderma suspectum
Brian still thought the banded gecko was better...
A couple more passes yielded a young California Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula and another C. atrox.

Quickly in the lead for most numerous serpent.
The next morning we woke up fairly early to head north.  We spent some time hiking around sunrise and had decent luck.


North of Sedona was a breath of fresh air, literally.  The temperatures were cool and refreshing, water was flowing and we were able to sleep under the stars without any worries.  Within 5 minutes of hiking a creek Cark spotted  a tan/brown gartersnake that was sunning on rocks that quickly slipped away.  Carl and I glimpsed it and although we think it was likely our target, the Narrow-headed garter snake Thamnophis rufipunctatus, we are not confident enough to make the call.  We hiked the creek for 4 or 5 more hours that night and another 5 hours the next morning without seeing another snake.  Super bummer...

 Plateau Fence Lizard Sceloperus tristichus

On the hike out the next morning I spotted a whiptail running across the trail.

Plateau Striped Whiptail Aspedoscelis velox

The was the slowest 24 hours of the trip, despite wonderful scenery, temperatures and company.  We headed back to Phoenix to pick up the rental car and prepare for the journey south and the second leg of the trip.  We were speedy with transfers, grocery shopping and food stops.  We continued the drive south and pulled into our road cruising destination for the night about 30 minutes before dusk.  We were ready to get after it again...

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.


  1. Good times. Major effort was invested in the wash hike and the creek hikes with surprisingly little to show for it. The Gila was definitely the highlight from this post. -Carl B.

  2. Please please please! What road were you on in the first part?! I want to cruise and search tomorow! Il be in Phoenix and don't know a good road to check out!

  3. I meant the road that you saw the gecko and gila . Love your story