|Dynastes granti, male|
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster had been spread to the area of the beetle camp that they were planning to attend, and they had to cancel their trip. So their mother contacted me through Eric Eaton, and I got to organize a 'Dynastes granti Quest' in Arizona for them.
Last Sunday, I picked up the two boys and their mother at the Arizona Desert Museum where they had attended the Rattlesnake and Gila Monster presentation. The whole little group was delightful. So full of enthusiasm and energy!
Dynastes beetles occur in the mountains around Tucson, but they are not very common. Since I had to be sure to find at least a couple for each boy, we headed north to the Colorado Plateau. A long drive that showed off some of Arizona's best landscape types.
Still close to Tucson, we crossed some beautiful desert, studded with chollas and saguaros, but I noticed that this wasn't quite the typical desert the kids had expected: It was much too lush and green.
Driving north on Highway 77 we were soon gained elevation, passing an old copper mine, then following the San Pedro River to its confluence with the Gila River - all great habitat for Dynastes with lots of ash, cottonwood, sycamore and oak, but rather inaccessible.
So we went further north through Globe and crossed the dramatic Salt River Canyon, where everyone who wasn't too deeply asleep got to stare down into the gorge. Storm clouds were piling up and it had began to drizzle. I was getting little worried...
|Salt River Canyon|
In a meadow across the street, under an illuminated casino sign, the kids found grasshoppers and lots of beetle wings and heads. I noticed Javelina scat full of exoskeleton pieces. Two Apache ladies stopped to tell us that a mountain lion had been seen there for several nights.
|Javelina and Mountain Lion. Included for my New York visitors who didn't get to see either|
Soon Mom found the first big female Dynastes granti hiding in the ashtray of the gas station. Did I call our hunting ground prosaic? Two boys plus one beetle equals a fight.
Luckily lots of Rhinoceros Beetles started to literally fall out of the sky right around sunset. The bigger Dynastes took their time, but eventually we got them too, plus a few Chrysina gloriosa and a White-lined June Beetle who kept hissing at us. When the gas station closed at 10 pm, we had 10 females Dynastes and a nice major male. We got another female at the little church in Carizzo.
|Some of our beetles are well received at the Arizona Desert Museum by keeper Catherine Bartlett|
Another long drive took us back to my house in Picture Rocks (NW Tucson) where our beetles were transferred from the camping cooler to the safer refrigerator.
After that, we were on the road again. This may seem like an awful lot of driving and we did get to hear the proverbial 'Are we there yet' a couple of times, but with temps hovering above 100 F airconditioned cars are a real haven. Also, we were all turning as night-active as the beetles by now.
Our next destination: the cute, if overly decorated, KuBo B and B in Madera Canyon. It turned out that we were actually staying in an older cabins accross the street. We really enjoyed it there: the little patio directly overlooks Madera Creek which was running.
What a great place for New York kids to explore! The boys, 5 and 7 years old, impressed me with their sure-footedness and athleticism. The kids' mother was absolutely great with her perfect mixture of letting them go (jump the creek, climb the steep banks, throw huge rocks), and still always being right there to the rescue if necessary. The hours at the creek were definitely a high point of the trip.
At night we had my mercury vapor / black light set-up right in front of the cabin. Just before we arrived, two big storms had cooled the air in Madera Canyon so much that for hours not many moths or beetles appeared. So we spent time in the cabin, snacked on the provided bananas and apples, and studied Eric Eaton's 'Field Guide to Insects of North America '...
|Watching a huge at-faced Orb Weaver Spider|
|Chrysina beyeri photo by Laurent Lecerf|
Tuesday morning after packing we hit the gift shop of the Santa Rita Lodge. Lots of nature books went home with the kids. We learned that all summer long a bear had used a well at 'our cabin' as a place to find water before the creek started running a couple of weeks ago (that's very late, because we are still in a drought, even after our latest monsoon storms).
In the grassland of lower Madera Canyon, we found Horse Lubbers, Giant Mesquite Bugs, Big Long-horn Beetles on Baccharis, mating buprestids, Flannel Moth caterpillars on Mimosas, and hundreds of puddeling butterflies. Even though the 5 year old was nearly falling asleep on his feet, we had a hard time tearing ourselves away for the ride home. Well, home for me, for my new friends just another stop on the way to the airport and the flight back to New York.
|Safely in New York enjoying Japanese beetle food|
Here's one of the emails I received on Thursday:
They already ask me to stay longer in Arizona next year.