Last week I went on a great adventure: the highly anticipated camp week for the Path of the Jaguar internship. As a so-called East Coast “city slicker” with hardly any camping experience, I was nervous and excited. But I was pleasantly surprised to find how much fun I had.
Our week began with some spring seeking west of the Patagonias. We spent most of our days contributing to the Spring Seeker project by finding and documenting sources of water. It was quite an experience climbing (or sliding) down drainages and then working our way back up again. We certainly got our steps in! But it was worth the trek to see all the cool things we stumbled across.
During trips I like to keep a list of the interesting wildlife I see both as a reference and a keepsake. On the first day alone, I had a list of over 10 species! Snakes (western diamondbacks and coachwhips), amphibians (Sonoran desert toads), birds (varied bunting and vermillion flycatcher), and insects all made the list. Searching for and being near water helped, since these sources can be rare in the desert and are so important for wildlife.
At the end of the day we headed to our campsite for some rest, but the adventure didn’t stop there. After pitching our tents and having a lovely dinner, we witnessed an Arizona blonde tarantula strolling through our campsite! It was my first time seeing a tarantula in the wild and incredibly exciting. And during the late night and early morning, a storm full of lightning and thunder came rolling through. Monsoon season is truly something crazy to experience, especially through a tent.
After the stormy night, we had another day of spring seeking ahead of us. That morning contained one of the most interesting parts of the week; we stumbled upon a fresh deer carcass at the bottom of a ravine — likely a mountain lion kill. It was interesting to learn what clues pointed to evidence of a mountain lion vs. coyote, and exciting to see the traces of such an elusive animal. Seeing that, it truly felt like I was in the wild.
But that evening I would be able to return to civilization as we headed to the little town of Patagonia for some bird watching and dinner. We visited Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and I loved seeing all the hummingbirds flit around. I’d never seen them so up close and couldn’t believe how small they were.
My favorite part of that day, however, had to be that night after we returned to the campsite and found a clear, star-studded sky above us. I had never seen so many twinkling stars! I lay on the hood of one of the cars and star-gazed into the night, listening to the calls of elf owls and grasshopper mice in the distance. I managed to spot a total of four shooting stars, which is pretty good for someone who’d never seen one until that night.
The rest of the week passed by in a blur of springs, wildlife cameras, and storms. One of the highlights was that we switched out our camping for glamping! We spent our last two nights in a beautiful cabin, decked out with a large kitchen, mountain view, and, best of all, toilets and hot showers. Being able to shower in such a beautiful place after three days without running water felt life-changing, and sleeping on a bed felt like heaven.
Another highlight was coming across some springs that were surrounded by deep pools of monsoon rainwater and a trickling stream. We wanted to go swimming, but the rain wouldn’t leave us alone — pretty ironic that the few chances to swim in Arizona were getting thwarted by rain! But the lightning shows were spectacular.
By the end of the week, I had such a variety of experiences under my belt that I never thought I’d have. I was able to learn so much about the Sky Islands and the amazing flora and fauna that live there. I saw shooting stars, snakes, tarantulas, beautiful birds, and areas of such vibrant green that it almost felt like home. I held frogs and deer bones and fuzzy moths. I found that I was capable of so much more than I thought and felt even more impassioned to do conservation. I am incredibly grateful to Sky Island Alliance for giving me the opportunity to see these wonders, and grateful to my fellow interns who made this trip so fun.
Photos by Taylor Lo.