Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum)…

On average, I typically see less than one Gila Monster per year, most likely due to their reclusive proclivity, reportedly appearing only to breed, feed and bask in the sun.

This season, I’ve already seen two, the second and the one kind enough to pose for our photo gallery, captured on camera in the Turkey Creek Wilderness bordering the Rincon Mountain Range, may have been the largest I’ve seen, approximately 30 – 40cm in length.

Gila Monster
Gila Monster
Gila Monster
Gila Monster

Did you know that a group of lizards is called a “lounge”? If you’re interested in learning more about these amazing reptiles, please visit the following links below…

Reach Your Summit!

I am not at all affiliated with the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, National Geographic or the Smithsonian!


The Definitive Answer to the Age Old Question…

The Definitive Answer to the Age Old Question… Does a Bear Sh*t in the Woods?

The confirmation is a resounding YES! How do we know? Well, to spare you the sordid details and graphic photos, let’s simply say that Dave stepped in it! Avoidance was bear-ly a possibility because of the widespread nature of the umm, evidence. Happy Valley campground in the Rincon Mountain range (, Southern AZ is apparently quite the haven for Black bears, and the manzanita bushes that are in abundance are currently providing a bountiful crop of tasty berries. Bears+berries+Dave’s left foot=proof!

This was far from just a sh*tty backpacking adventure however, and our weekend at Happy Valley campground and ascent of Rincon Peak were magnificent. The trailhead is about 60 miles from our home and as we were leaving Tucson, Dave suddenly swerved sharply, hit the brakes, and pulled over to the shoulder. Just as rapidly, he whipped back out onto the road into the direction from which we just came and was asking me, “Did you see that?” I didn’t have time to reply when he flipped another U-turn and pulled off to the side of the roadway. “It’s a Gila Monster”, he exclaimed as he grabbed the camera and leapt from the car. Urgently I followed, anxious to finally see one of these unique creatures. Though they are well-known, the Gila Monsters are not often seen and even David only sees one a year, on average, which is remarkable given the amount of time that he spends out in the desert. Gorgeous, poisonous, and slow-moving, the reptile was making its way across the pavement. David and I proceeded to plant ourselves in the lane, detouring several cars and a bicyclist until the lizard had time to reach the shoulder safely. It did not seem impressed that we wanted to take photos and kept opening its powerful jaw and waving its black tongue in warning. We kept a respectful distance because we did not want to traumatize it any further, and because they really are dangerous little fellows in spite of the fact that it looked a bit like a hissing newborn kitten.

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Gila Monster

Lizard crossing accomplished, we resumed our journey. Rincon Peak is a rocky protrusion that tops out at 8482 feet and is about an eight mile trek up from the trailhead. We spent our nights at Happy Valley, a campground which lies slightly over halfway. David and I were enthused to be on the inaugural evening of our new Big Agnes, Fly Creek UL2 (UL2) tent. It is noticeably lighter than the Mountain Hardwear EV3 (EV3) tent that we usually carry (okay, Dave carries!), but it is also considerably smaller (cozier) as well since it is constructed for two people instead of three, like the EV3 to which we have grown accustomed. The new structure permits us little room for both our backpacks, my smaller pack found an overnight home inside the UL2 while Dave’s nestled into the available bear-resistant food storage locker along with our food. It would have fit in the spacious vestibule, however, but with the two days of intermittent rain we decided to take full advantage of the dry locker. Overall, the UL2 was a wise purchase, even if it did involve a few moments of Twister as we changed and slid into our sleeping bags. I think we both really hoped and expected that we would get a glimpse of a bear, given all the evidence of their presence, but we did not get the opportunity.

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Happy Valley Campground

The Rincon Peak trail winds through pine forest for the majority of the second half, and the scent of the trees, the pine-needle carpet, the calls of frolicking crows, and the softness of the ground beneath us made indelible impressions on our senses. This trek was a refreshing change as we frequently travel in more open areas, rocky, and without the stands of pine and juniper, crunching on gravel and sand, deprived of the insulation of the forest. Approaching the upper reaches of Rincon Peak, the challenging and precarious trail begins a series of switchbacks and grows incredibly steep, transforming into an exciting ~40% grade testing both our endurance and desire. With sincere determination and willpower David steadfastly climbed, balancing his 45 pound backpack, hiking nimbly towards the summit (I stashed my 25 pound backpack along the way). His physical feat meant that not only did he have an intense perspiring workout, but that we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch and hot, energizing tea on the peak while admiring the 360 degree view from the summit!

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Rincon Peak 3.2 miles ahead

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Pine Forest along Rincon Peak Trail

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~40% slope

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8482′ Rincon Peak

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Rincon Range in the Foreground; Santa Catalinas in the Background

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Looking Southeast from the Summit of Rincon Peak

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David on the Summit of Rincon Peak

The trip back down was cautious due to the extreme slope but the peekaboo views through the pines along the trail gave David a chance to take some wonderful shots of the scenery. Arriving back at camp, we had a scrumptious and nutritious Wild Drake rehydrated meal, followed by our DescenTea™, which we imbibed beside our toasty campfire. The tea worked wonders and we both slept well and awoke rested and refreshed.

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Janice on Her Way Down the Rincon Peak Trail

After drying gear from a short period of overnight rainfall and condensation, we meandered our way back down the scenic Miller Creek trail, reluctant to leave Happy Valley and end our Rincon adventure.

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Our Final Morning at Happy Valley; Drying Gear

We began with a question and we culminate with one. Where will we go to reach our summit next weekend?

Reach Your Summit!

First-Aid Kit Contents and Precautionary Measures One Should Consider Before Heading Out on the Trail…

First-Aid kit contents and Precautionary measures one should consider before heading out on the trail…

My lovely girlfriend informed me, to begin the discussion, she always carries an antihistamine as part of her first-aid kit because she’s allergic to bees and whatever else she may be allergic to. As a result, I may need to do this as well. Africanized bees, here in the South West, are particularly dangerous. They’ve flown over head in the thousands and I’ve escaped without injury many times before but others have not been so lucky. There only needs to be one single bee to begin the onslaught. Precautionary measures such as cleansing with natural products, clothes too, that do not contain perfumes begins the process of escaping this menace. Other precautionary measures may include having a rain coat handy to slip on quickly if you should be attacked.

Other over-the-counter items may include the usual… ibuprofen (aka vitamin I), aspirin, band-aids of various sizes, gauze, eye drops and eye patch, antibiotic ointment, a bandana that may be used as a tourniquet, a hemostat agent called…®-Sport™.aspx, and some even carry a suture kit… all great items to consider for your kit. Of course, you’ll need to tailor your kit to your particular surroundings, environment, weather conditions, etc.

While thinking of the bees I’ve been thinking of additional dangers that exist in the desert…

Here, in southern, AZ, we have many Black Diamond Rattlesnakes, among other poisonous critters… my plan (more of a rule or decree)… once I’ve stepped over the third it’s time to head back home :)

We also have, in the Sonoran desert, the only venomous lizard found in the United States, the Gila Monster. My best suggestion is to view these beautiful lizards from a distance rather than resorting to the need for first-aid in an unfortunate encounter. You may find more information regarding Gila Monsters…

Once, and only once, have I run into a Black Bear, within maybe 30′, and thankfully, the Bear ran the opposite direction of me. I have never seen an animal move so quickly. Within seconds she was literally a quarter mile away. As a result I sometimes, not always, carry Bear spray.

My Bear encounter…

Black Bear
Black Bear

I have also, many, many times, hiked into large herds of peccaries and they have always run the opposite direction. However, I spoke to someone several years ago whom, fortunately escaped without harm, was surrounded, and with her hiking poles, fought back keeping them at bay for over a half hour. Must have been peccary infants, which by the way are the cutest little things, about. In any case, now, when I run into them I always hop up onto the nearest, tallest rock I could find until they’ve dispersed.


These young Bucks followed me, quite close, along a stream bed in the Rincon mountain range after leaving camp, walking along with me, for at least a half mile. They could present a danger if one is not too careful…

Arizona Coues Deer
Arizona Coues (pronounced “cows”) Deer

Yes, they were that close for over a half mile. Spectacular hiking companions!…

Arizona Coues Deer
Arizona Coues Deer
Arizona Coues Deer
Arizona Coues Deer

Catalina (yes, I’ve named her), the Mountain Lion, my most prized wildlife encounter…

Mountain Lion (that is the shadow of my head in the foreground).

This prepubescent Horned Toad lizard presented the most danger…

Horned Toad Lizard
Horned Toad Lizard

“That’s it, as soon as you put me down I’m going to…”

He’ll eventually look like this…

Horned Toad Lizard
Horned Toad Lizard

And, Mort, the keeper of the mountain…


Thus, there are many potential dangers (I like to think of them as friendly, fortuitous encounters) in the wilds and we need to take heed or call to their attention. Wildlife is no exception. Precautionary measures may include antihistamines and Bear spray among others, backing up slowly from a Mountain Lion is a good idea, that may be an asset as part of your first-aid/precautionary kit.

If you carry additional items that have not been discussed, please feel free to share your ideas… all are welcome and encouraged.

Reach Your Summit!

All photos copyright, WildDrake, and may be used only with permission.