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    Praying Mantis (Superstitions)

    -
    2001/09/23
    -  +
    .First Posted: December 23, 2002.

     
    Where has the time gone? I left home just after 3pm, and here I was starting at the trail at 7:16pm. It was dark. The sun was long gone. This would be a real night hike. I never started this late.... hmmm.. But it had to be done. I had to hike today.

    The Superstition Mountains begin 30 miles east from Phoenix. There, a long and winding "Apache Trail" leads through a land of cactus, tall rock and powerful sun. In the first 10 miles the road winds upwards, through blind curves and mountains in the distance. Then the road leads downwards, and alongside Canyon Lake - the jewel of Supersitions. 5 miles later, Apache Trail becomes a dirt road. This is where 4x4 adventures begin. This is where passenger cars pull over in view of dust-stirring Jeeps from behind. This is where hubcaps are lost, and shocks tested. And dust covers all. This is where city folk keep their a/c on high, windows closed and complain about the heat. The desert rats keep the windows open, and the gas pedal down. The road winds upwards, then downwards into the canyon. Rock-wall to the right, canyon to the left, the road sometimes narrows and right of way has to be exercised. But at night......at night, the cars are few, the foot is down, and slides are frequent.

    In the heart of Supersitions, just before Apache Lake (the other jewel) lies a hiking trail with beautiful desert views and a slightly upwards trail. Mountain peaks can be seen in the distance, and cactus and shrubs are everywhere. At night, the scenery changes. There are dark spots, very dark spots, and dark moving shapes of varied sizes. The three animals of concern in no particular order are the snike (the rattler), scorpion (the little nasty guy) and puma (called mountain lion by the Southwest folk). The snikes are what concerns my adventurous soul most during the night. Unless I saw a puma there during the day....but that's a story for another day. (Coming Someday).

    7:16pm, 3600ft elevation. The hike begins. The first few minutes are the worst at night, all the dark spots are possible locations of the snike. Lucky night tonight, no encounters. Yet... I stopped to write something down (some cool Quotes for my website) and decided to sit. In the middle of the trail, the best place. I was scanning every few minutes for scorpions approaching from the bushes. "Expect the worst, hope for the best." Words to live by. Something landed on my arm. The Praying Mantis! Cool!!!!! I only ever saw one in a cartoon before. I got a very good look at him - stick body, 4 legs, 2 praying hands. It must be him. Something made noise in the distance. Is it just wind? My flashlight picked up something... ahh, shiny spots.. moving.. eyes! I felt a grain of fear, the kind an element of surprise brings - that someone, something, was watching me. Something big... it's eyes were way up high. too high for puma.... then they disappeared, but i heard it run. Big animal (they all sound bigger at night). Probably a deer.

    Back on the trail, T-shirt off for good this time (ohhhhh, i love the desert), I saw a bright spot on the ground 30 feet away. "Eye!". But why not two? Is it an eye? I slowed down.. The creature flew away. A bird, or bat? Too small for a vulture. Minutes later, I saw it again. In the middle of the trail. I was able to get closer...just a bird. Somewhat later I spotted something black on the ground - two big juicy black bugs, the smaller one on top of the other. hmm... They both seemed alive. (and yes, both drawings are mine...)

    Finally the summit. Not the highest peak in the area, not even a real summit... but a spot I have visited many times before. And I always returned from it in pitch dark. I stood on a rock I named the "sitting rock", spread my arms and felt the wind. It came in waves, picking up and fading, but always there. This is the climax of the hike, the summit, the wind, the clear head, the peace. This is what I come for. The fuel for my week to come.

    The walk down was uneventful - pleasant, but without surprises. It wasn't the unknown any more, i felt a "I have been here...just a short time ago" feeling. I only stopped to drink from my 3 quart water supply. I brought half of it back, it wasn't a tough day.

    Back in the Jeep, i was cruising downhill in second gear sliding and braking into the turns. You just can't do that during the day. But if it has been dark for hours, there is no traffic. Plus the headlights would give away oncoming traffic. Sliding and braking - but always in control. It wasn't long before i was back on the main road -- main dirt road that is. Now, I was watching the road ahead in hope of seeing again...... and there she was! Tarantula .The unmistakingly huge black spider. Doing 40mph in the dirt caused me to slide past her and having to turn around. I positioned the car to shine lights on her... then hopped outside to examine my catch. I got within 20 inches with my camera.

    I drove away with my camera ready for more action. Just in case. As I left the far backcountry and was approaching paved civilization, i decided to put the camera away properly. Not 30 yards later did i find another creature of the night. Snike! All-roight, mite !!! But, i just put my camera away... Out it went. I only saw a rattler once before, on top of Squaw Peak (story Coming Soon), but this one was more massive, thicker, bigger. He was about 3 feet long, and remained totally motionless as i neared him with my camera. I got my camera within 3 feet from him, diagonally. That was the limit of my camera, and my common sense. Crazy is ok, but stupidity is expensive. Eventually he moved, sliding through the dirt and making waves. The best shot is with animals approching you, but he was avoiding me, and changed direction when he realized i was in front of him. I took about 4 pictures before he decided to flee in a hurry. During his escape he made the rattling sound from his 2 inch long rattler. 3 feet might well be the size of the biggest rattlers... unlike their Colorado cousins, Arizonans have to deal with desert conditions....

    That was the end of my backcountry excitement for the day. Back on I-60 heading towards Phoenix, within 10 miles of home, the road construction caused lane merging from three into one. Speed limit 45mph. I noticed the flashing lights of a cop's car far far behind me. He was in the fast lane before the construction. My first thought was that he was about to pull someone over. "Lucky. Could've been me." Construction ended within a mile, and I took position in the middle lane. I saw the flashing cop approaching, he was behind me... then he blew past me in the fast lane. Haulin ass!! "Should I, shouldn't I?" I did. I followed him. I was curious how fast he was going, and what are the odds of him pulling me over..... if i just leave enough room between us. I got up to 75mph, then 85mph. The police dude just unleashed the V-8 power of his police machine and he was dropping me. Gee, I must be up to 100mph now. He was still dropping me. COoooooool. My spedometer scale stops at 85mph, but i was over 100mph. He took an exit in a hurry. I didn't follow. Another day.......

    I arrived home at 12:30am, body tired, but brain awake, eager. Eager to write my first story ever. Not the best, but the first. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
    #Pursue Passion#
    .First Posted: December 23, 2002.

     

    Notes:
    see also my Arizona pictures

    Afterthoughts:
    I wanted to return the following night to the desert... bring something better than a napkin to draw a Praying Mantis --- he looked so cool in person... and he is too small for me to photograph him.. (too small and darkness).
    As it turned out i went back 8 days later. Colder weather - ie T-shirt needed :-). Big juicy bugs yes, but no Praying Mantis.... it must have been too cool for snikes too... Oh, and instead of starting at 7pm, this time i started (no, not by choice) at 9pm :-).

    Interesting Links:
  • www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~abrams/mantis.html - for details on the Praying Mantis (start on second paragraph)... "It is surprising how slowly and fluidly the mantis can move"
  • www.sspencer.k12.in.us/faculty/le/pkeith/mantis.htm - "Mantis' do not bite humans ... carnivores ... strong jaws... eat crickets, small frogs, lizards, even small birds"

     
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