Growing up, I had an obsession with all things cold-blooded. Perhaps it sprung from a childhood love for dinosaurs? Who knows. I had lots of reptile pets over the years, many of which are native species to the American West. Growing up on the East Coast, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see a Whiptail, Fence Lizard, Chuckwalla, Horned Lizard, or a Gila Monster in the wild. Our Eastern Blue Tailed Skinks, Broad Headed Skinks, and Anoles were the extend of our four-legged, local herpetofauna…
Los Angeles was the first city I lived in where these beloved Horned Lizards skittered about on my local rides but since moving to New Mexico, I’ve been amazed at how well the Greater Short Horned Lizard population is thriving. Every single mountain bike ride becomes a herp scouting outing. Pine, Juniper, Piñon, Yucca, and Chamisa shrublands and forests are thriving with these cold-blooded critters.
In the 90’s the pet trade decimated the local populations, then came the invasive red ants and pesticides. Even today, Forest Service officials catch people poaching these lovely animals – many horned lizard populations are still protected. It’s been a long, hard road to recovery for these unique lizards.
You’d be surprised at how small they can be, oftentimes being able to fit on the surface of a quarter. I’ve come to an abrupt hault on many rides, spotting one basking in the sun-kissed trail (Sorry to anyone following me).
Recently, we lost a few of my favorite MTB rides to a wildfire. The Rancho Viejo Loop is burnt, as well as a new-to-me favorite, Rio En Medio. It’s a trail that commands focus and skill, replacing high-speed flow with slow, controlled riding, careful line selection, and a lot of consequence.
In the featured image for this piece, Kim demonstrates just one of the many rock waterfalls on the trail. It’s a real hoot of a day out. As we were shooting this photo of Kim, she spotted a trail friend, hiding out in the shade. Can you spot it in this photo?
Growing up, I kept these lovely animals – along with others – in glass terrariums, feeding them farmed black ants, raising them from young hatchlings to full-grown adults. Looking back on those times, It makes me sad knowing that many of these animals were farmed illegally, almost pushing the native populations to the brink of extinction. Now, I just smile when I see them on my daily rides and that’s better than any animal living in a cage.