My fiancée and I recently drove through the American Southwest, stopping at several national parks and other notable spots. Here are some of the biological highlights:
Pronghorns. I couldn’t believe how many pronghorns we saw just driving on the interstate in New Mexico. We spotted several dozen, possibly over fifty. As a population geneticist, I always get excited when I see large numbers of one species in the same place, waiting to be studied. This is not to say that collecting tissue samples from these guys would be easy. They’re the fastest land animal on the continent, adapted to outrun the cheetah which is now extinct in this hemisphere. I guess you could always hope they leave some fur stuck to a bush as they go zooming past.
California condor. Seeing one of these huge rare birds soaring over the Grand Canyon was breathtaking. There are only about 300 of these birds alive, and only about half of these live in the wild. The white marks on the wings are actually tags.
Joshua tree. Mojave National Preserve is full of these Dr. Seuss plants.
Petrified wood. Petrified Forest National Park features enormous jewel-encrusted tree trunks from the Triassic. They’ve also unearthed skeletal fossils of some of the ferocious amphibians and reptiles of the period.
Jackrabbits. We saw these symbols of the America West at the Very Large Array.
Velvet ant. More of a wasp than an ant. We wisely chose not to pick it up.
Lizards. The tally for this trip included a common chuckwalla, fence lizards, western whiptails, striped whiptails, and side-blotched lizards.