Kevin V. Hunt
Scouting Historian, Author, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
ARIZONA – Our fauna is unique and different. For those of you who have been following the blogs on Arizona, here it is: A Regional Guide – Part 3 Our Unique Arizona Fauna … By now you are probably all experts on the unique weather and flora of our Arizona region and may be convinced that Arizona is the place for you. Well, now let’s move on to the fauna. (And that means the animals.) And we do have some unique Arizona fauna – funny creatures down here “South of the Border”. Unique Arizona Fauna oh, my!
A creature that is kind of unique to our Arizona region is the Arizona Javelina (pronounced Havelina). These are said by some to be part of the pig family … but they really are not. They are also kind of ugly. Actually is it not “kind of” … they really are! I am sure that you’ll believe me when I say that “They are, in fact, the second cousin (at least twice removed) from the Australian Tasmanian Devil.” They are each about as ugly as the other. These creatures come down even into the foothills at the edge of the cities and can be seen in packs of about 20. They can also be hunted with the proper licenses.
I remember going on Javelina hunts as a kid, but one hunt stands out above the others. On this occasion, we went hunting with the Morton family – who had kids the ages of many of my siblings. So, there were quite a few of us when we got together. In Arizona you can actually hunt when age 10 if you complete the hunter safety course. So, most of us had licenses and tags for the Javelina. We went up in the hills and found a herd of the Javelina. And we filled most of our tags that day. Later at home we lined up about ten animals and we each sat on one for a photo. We ended up getting that photo in the local newspaper.
Over the years we perfected the art of cooking and preparing the Javelina. We quickly learned that with the rather wild taste of Javelina, they were best eaten after being barbecued for an extended period in a pit. So, the process is as follows: Dig a pit in your back yard – or wherever you are going to stage the BBQ. Load it with coals and cook them until hot and white. Skin the animal as you would any hunted animal. Find a nice green board – about 2″ in thickness and about 3′ long. Wire the meat onto the board and wrap it in a bag to protect the meat. Put it in the hole and cover with hot coals. Seal the hole over with dirt. Cook it and cook it until the meat is falling off of the board and until the board is charred to a nice golden brown.
Then you take the meat wrapped board out of the coals. Cut off the wires. Then … are you ready for this …? You throw out the meat and EAT THE BOARD! Har, Har!
Rattlesnakes are always a big threat. You hear about them all of the time and are warned to stay away from them. Honestly, though they may be a problem, I have only seen snakes out in the wild open on only two occasions in all of my years of Arizona hiking. One was at a camporee. And with 500 Scouts there running and chasing and making noise, the snake could not get out of there fast enough. I think that this is usually the case. At the first sound of the wild Scouts, they slither off with their tails between their legs. And the other occasion was on a hike where we went to this cave. It turned out that the whole cave seemed to be full of the rattlers. We saw several curled up in the entrance. We decided to hoof it and let the snakes enjoy the cave to themselves.
Arizona Gila Monster
I don’t know what you’ve heard about these guys, but it is probably true. They are known to have a poisonous bite if you are on the wrong end of them. And they are kind of unique with their purple and brown backs. Thankfully, however, I’ve only had one encounter with one of these guys out in the wild. (I prefer to see them in the Phoenix Zoo!) And the one time that I saw one out there, it was dead and doing kind of a funny back flotation deal in one of those hidden swimming pools I’ve alluded to. I don’t know what we would have done if the creature had got resurrected as we came upon it. We had spent a couple of hours coming down through these cliffs where it was kind of a tight squeeze to get down through and trying to make an upward (or even downward) escape would have been kind of exhilarating – an adrenaline rush maybe.
The smaller “horned toad” (like a miniature of the Gila Monster)
These guys are kind of cool and fun to find. We had great fun finding and collecting them (keeping them for short whiles only) when I was a kid. Now, however, they are a protected species – so are not nearly as much fun to find – since they have to be left where they are found. We went on one Scouting outing and as we got home, we discovered that one Scout had “stolen” a couple of these from up around Payson. So, his parents got to take a little road trip up there (about 100 miles away) to return them to their native environment.
Then there is the scorpion. We have thousands of these and they hide in rocks everywhere. Actually, it would be more correct to say that they hide under the rocks. And that is the truth.
Scorpions – unique Arizona fauna!
But, with our plentiful supply of dirt and rocks – even in the city, they often find their way into our houses. That makes for a fun scenario. I had a boss once who got bit by one and his leg swelled up like an overripe cantaloupe. Not a pretty picture – and was he ever in pain.
The most useful thing about a scorpion – whether large or small – is to encase it inside of a plastic mold – to be added later to leather or cord strings and hardware to make one of our famous Arizona bolo ties. These usually bring on a great story from the wearer of such. And incidentally, the method of catching scorpions is interesting and unique. You probably didn’t know that they are actually florescent. Yes, that is right. You heard me. They glow in the dark. So, to find the critters under the rocks, you go out at night with your black light as you turn over the rocks. Then wa-la, there they are! You go in for the dive. (Try the trick first on your sister in her bedroom after she just gets to sleep. She’ll thank you later!)
A funny story about scorpions … A few years ago I was the Scout leader training chairman for our San Tan Scouting District (of the Grand Canyon Council). And for our overnight experience, I got everyone rounded up at the historic Heard Scout Pueblo (so named for the Pueblo type buildings) located on the north side of South Mountain in South Phoenix.
The Heard Scout Pueblo in Phoenix – Part of Grand Canyon Council, BSA
This is a great Scout camp located in the foothills overlooking the city. The place is in close proximity to our locale – so easy to get there – and I wanted troops to know of this great resource available to them for their outings. Many wood badge courses, Cub day camps, training events and much more are held there.
And as a part of our training experience, I took all of the course participants on a tour of the facility. One of our stops was at the large swimming pool – with its stucco decking all around. It really is a nice place – in spite of my painful memories of the place. So, I got the folks up there on the hill at the pool and we were all inside the fenced area and were all just kind of taking in the view of the flora and fauna and the pool facility itself.
It was then that I saw one guy get this really funny look on his face. I knew that something was churning inside his head. He continued to look around with that funny expression. I was anxious to know what was going on. I said, “Hey, man, what’s goin’ on?” That kind of brought him back to the here and now. He then went on to explain to all of us about his deja vu moment that he had just experienced. He shared with us “the rest of the story”.
I guess years before – when he was a Scout himself, he lived in California. And he joined a council contingency troop to attend a National Scout Jamboree.
And on their way “back east” the whole entourage had made an overnight stop at our Heard Scout Pueblo. Now it is interesting to note that this leader had spent the night on this training course at the Pueblo with the rest of us – but didn’t feel anything. But, as he was there standing on the pool deck the next morning, it hit him. It all came flooding back to him. I guess when he was here with his Jamboree group he was laying there on the warm cement deck in his swim trunks (after a refreshing and wonderful dip in the pool) and was working on his Arizona suntan – and no doubt was really thinking he was cool there on the deck, with his friends – all strutting their best, taking in the Arizona rays and all … And you thought that the Navy had the monopoly on naval destroyers!
It was at that moment, however, that a scorpion entered the scene. He hadn’t seen it – but he had laid on it as he got prostrate on the deck. And not wanting to be squashed, the scorpion soon retaliated. And it bit him on his bare stomach! And I guess that he – as a Scout – ejected off the ground like a rocket sent off from Cape Canaveral. Har, har … what a laugh. At least Arizona made an impression on him!
I hinted about my own negative experience at “The Heard” pool. When I was 13 – almost fourteen, I needed only one more merit badge to get my Eagle Scout award. And this was the dreaded Lifesaving. I had put it off as long as I could – but now it was “do or die” – literally. And I feared that it would be the “latter”. It was down to brass tacks and they were tearing up my mouth. Although I had spent most of my childhood afternoons in the old Rendezvous Park pool (lessons in the morning and free swim in the afternoons – after a sack lunch with my siblings and friends)
Former Rendezvous Pool in Mesa, Arizona
I still was not a confident long-distance swimmer. (You will recall that the lifesaving merit badge requires one to swim a quarter of a mile.) So, I signed up to “take” the merit badge at the Heard.
To say that it was traumatic for me would be an understatement. I was pretty terrified about the whole scenario. By some miracle, I was able to swim the quarter mile – all in the American Crawl. Then it was time to get into the art of lifesaving. And the Scout lifeguard/trainer was of no help. His ploy was to go into the 14′ deep pool and disappear down into the depths. Then, in turn, each of us would have to go in to “rescue” the drowning person. And if we were lucky enough to get him to the surface, then he began a tirade of flopping and thrashing around as us poor suckers tried to get him to the shore.
I know a bit more now than I did then. Knowing as I know now, I would do things differently if I were to do it all over again. I would grab him by the hair with one hand – to hold him steady – and then would rap him on the head with my knuckles – doing it hard enough to knock him out cold. Then I would haul him to shore where I would figure out what to try to resuscitate him back to life.
One of my favorite Arizona creatures is a real enigma.
Our unique Arizona fauna – the famous Jackalope!
History notes that one time a giant herd of antelope made a dash through the state – as they were doing their morning exercises on the loop back to Wyoming. Anyway, it appears that some of the antelope bucks got sidetracked a bit and hit on a bunch of our native jack rabbits. It was kind of a hit and run deal and the bucks were soon on their way and running back to Wyoming for lunch.
And so speedy was their departure that they left only their horns. But the genetic deed was done. We were left with a new species which have now been named the Jackalope. People down here love to get one of these creatures and stuff them into head mounts. And now you can see their mounted heads above mantles in funny places everywhere. They have become a symbol of the Arizona spirit.
The infamous Arizona Snowbird!
And I have saved the best for last. This too, is a real enigma. But, they are by no means an endangered species. There seems to be more of them all of the time! It seems that once they get a start, they keep coming back – and often bring their friends the next time. They come from all parts of the United States and even a bunch come from Canada. They come in flocks, droves and gaggles. They seem to be everywhere. They are in all sizes and shapes – small, medium, large and most live to a ripe old age. So, most of them have gray hair but many have bald tops (like the bald eagle). They all spend the summers up north somewhere and then suddenly they all get the urge to fly south to Arizona at about the same time – usually at the first sign of snow. And hence, their name … these are SNOWBIRDS. And yes, they are a rare bird, indeed. In case you haven’t figured them out, they are actually the old folks – the retirees that flock to our fair environs. And they really do fly south for the winter in great droves.
Well, after being in Arizona for a few years, the place really grows on you. That is the way it is with me. I do still love to get up in the mountains – in Arizona or anyplace else as we go to work at various Scout camps. It is always so great to be with you all up in the beautiful mountains. But then, at the end of the summers, it is always nice to come back to our Arizona!
And so I am always proud as I hear the words of our state song – “I Love You Arizona” by Rex Allen. In fact, I still get a tear or two every time I hear it.
SUNRISE OVER SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS
words and music by Rex Allen, Jr.
I love you, Arizona;
Your mountains, deserts and streams;
The rise of Dos Cabezas*
And the outlaws I see in my dreams;
I love you Arizona,
Superstitions** and all;
The warmth you give at sunrise;
Your sunsets put music in us all.
You’re the magic in me;
You’re the life-blood of me;
I love you Arizona;
Desert dust on the wind;
The sage and cactus are blooming,
And the smell of the rain on your skin.
You’re the magic in me;
You’re the life-blood of me.
Well, there you have it – the true regional guide to Arizona camping, hiking, weather and the flora and fauna. And if you haven’t read all three parts, check out them all.
All you have ever needed to know about Arizona … and perhaps a bit more. Arizona … it’s a pretty amazing place. And here’s your invitation! Come on down and see us. We have plenty of room here! (Come join us at our backyard cabin – just like in the mountains) and we’ll have a grand time together … here in Arizona!
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … In Arizona … and elsewhere Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership” and others at the Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
Facebook: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs Facebook Page