by Rick LoBello
One of El Paso’s best kept secrets has been in the works and evolving completely on its own for thousands of years. Not long after the last ice age during the Pleistocene, the climate changed dramatically in this part of North America and the ensuing aridity made way for a desert landscape. Today, biologists call this unique eco-region the Chihuahuan Desert, an area of North America covering the surface of our planet for nearly 400,000 square miles. You and your family and friends can discover it and learn more about this important part of our natural heritage by joining me on a two hour short trip to Franklin Mountains State Park. I will lead a car caravan to the park on Saturday morning, November 15 at 7:00am. The group is limited to 20 people and there is a $2 entry fee to enter the park payable at the entrance station. To reserve your spot call or text 915-217-4233 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The group will meet at Starbucks, 5550 N. Desert Blvd in west El Paso at 7am and car caravan to Tom May’s Park in northwest El Paso. For a map and more details visit the Celebration of Our Mountains web link by clicking here.
This very easy walking morning discovery will include three major stops in the park at the parking area of the West Cottonwood trailhead, the new bird blind and at the end of the loop road. Participants will receive checklists to some of the more common plants and animals of the area plus a list of Chihuahuan Desert animals that live at the El Paso Zoo.
At the El Paso Zoo where I work you can see many species of animals native to the Chihuahuan Desert. The Zoo is uniquely divided into three major geographic areas, Asia, Africa and the Americas. To find species from our desert be sure to spend time in the Americas area. Some of these species are extremely rare including the critically endangered black-footed ferret that lives in the El Paso Water Utilities Discovery Education Center near the Zoo entrance and the Mexican wolf. Although these species no longer live in the immediate El Paso area, the Mexican wolf is being restored to the Gila Wilderness area of western New Mexico and Arizona about 3 hours to the west. To the south a similar reintroduction effort is underway to restore the black-footed ferret to the prairie dog towns of the Janos grasslands region of northern Chihuahua, Mexico.
Closer to home some of our Chihuahuan Desert species at the Zoo are found in the wilder areas in and around our city including the Western Harris Hawk, Western Cattle Egret, Swainson’s Hawk and the Common Barn Owl.
Our collared peccaries, also called javelinas, live in the area, but are very rare. This pig-like mammal is relatively new to the Franklin Mountains and may be expanding its range from southern New Mexico and parts of West Texas.
Another large mammal can be seen on the road to the Guadalupe Mountains after you pass Hueco Tanks State Park and head towards Carlsbad Caverns. Along the way watch for Mexican pronghorn, a very similar subspecies to the endangered peninsular pronghorns we have living in the Americas Lands Exhibit.
In the Reptile House you can see several species of reptiles and amphibians from the Chihuahuan Desert including a diamond-backed rattlesnake, grey-banded kingsnake, Mexican milksnake, barred tiger salamander, and Woodhouse’s toad.
A stones throw away from the Reptile House the America’s Aviary is also a great place to see some of our Chihuahuan Desert birds. As you walk through the aviary watch for the Roadrunner, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, and Blue-winged Teal.
I hope to see many of you this Saturday. Dress for the cooler November temperatures and bring plenty of questions.