For the AZ 2017 trip in August, I decided to make the crew a bit larger than previous years and thankfully for me I had many willing participants. After many days of preparation for the fourth annual trip to Arizona, the crew and I were finally ready to depart on a new adventure to the southern part of the state. I planned to visit some new locations for this year’s trip, including the Chiricahua National Monument and Cave Creek Canyon. Everyone had their target insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, and bees, but for me I stuck to trying to collect a diverse amount of insects to continue to broaden my Arizona collection. So once everything and everyone was packed into all the vehicles, we were able to finally depart and be on our way to southern Arizona!
Stone Pillars and a Breath of Fresh Air
After an exhausting long drive to our campsite we had finally made it and were able to set up camp quickly, in the dark of course. Once everything was setup everyone headed to bed in order to be well rested for the full day of adventures to come. We woke up bright and early to an amazing sunrise and the cool rock formations of the Chiricahua Mountains. The tall trees and tall mountain walls surrounding us was a warm welcome to this new and amazing national monument. After breakfast I pulled the crew together and gave an outline of what they might expect to find in the area I was taking them. Cave Creek Canyon was the destination for the day and everyone was eager to finally get into the field.
As we made our way to Cave Creek Canyon, located on the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains, we passed through some amazing terrain. The landscape was greener than I’ve ever seen it, with countless plants blooming and an incredible amount of insects flying about. The western side of the mountain range was much more green than the eastern side, but the almost limitless amount of creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) on the eastern side made up for it, especially since practically every bush was blooming. As we arrived into the canyon, we were greeted by an incoming thunderstorm. Despite the weather we decided to take the chance and stay to survey the area. Luckily the insects activity was very high and the thunderstorm was very quick-moving, only dropping rain very briefly, allowing us to also stop by the Southwestern Research Station.
While at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) we found an incredible diversity of wildlife and coincidentally got to meet other insect enthusiasts taking the Lepidoptera course and waiting to take the ant course. A few members of the group were able to find a young horned lizard, as well as some fungi and a fair amount of fungus beetles (Erotylidae). The vegetation surrounding the creek was thick and yielded some interesting finds, such as spittle bugs (Cercopidae), buckmoths (Hemileuca sp.), and even seep willow (Baccharis sp.). After exploring the area for about an hour or so, the thunderstorms began to creep into the area once again, forcing us to quickly make the decision to head back to camp. On our way out however, we encountered a few surprises that made the end of this day even more enjoyable.
Light Shows and Dirt Roads
While driving down the dirt road leading us back to the freeway, I pulled over to inspect the creosote bushes for insects I thought I had seen while driving past. What I found was a scoliid (Flower wasp) but I ended up missing the insect with my jar, making it fly away. However, when I turned to look at the bush again I was shocked to find these very bright and very metallic blister beetles (Meloidae). This was the first time I had ever seen this species and once everyone had collected at least one we were on our way back to camp once again. The thunderstorm that felt as if it were chasing us, finally caught up to the group once we made it back to Wilcox, AZ. As we ventured back down the winding road to our campsite, we were met with an incredible show of lightning that seemed to light up the entire sky every time it flashed in the distance. The crew and I eventually made it back to camp in one piece and went to bed to prepare for the next full day worth of exploring.
The next day I decided to take everyone somewhere much closer than the last location, and Pinery Canyon was fairly close by. The dirt road into the canyon was much more rough and rugged than the previous one the day before but that didn’t stop us from continuing onward. Eventually we found a few nice dry washes that the group ended up deciding to stop next to. In and around these washes were many patches of asters and other blooming plants. The insect activity in these clusters of flowers was surprisingly bountiful, with beetles, butterflies, flies, wasps, and bees all coming together in these small areas. Buprestids crowded the tops of these flowers, while the butterflies and flies hovered around for places to land in order to take nectar. The wasps and bees were more flighty and didn’t land as often as the other insects but the diversity of what was appearing in front of us on these flowers seemed never-ending. It felt as if every time we collected something and looked back on the flowers, a new insect would appear that wasn’t seen before.
After we had thoroughly Pinery Canyon, we headed back to camp to rest up for the long night ahead. As the day came to a close, we woke up from our naps, ate dinner, and readied ourselves for the blacklighting that was going take place. I had checked the weather that afternoon and thankfully the sky was going to be clear and the air was going to be relatively humid. Once all our night-time gear was packed into the vehicles, we headed over to the canyon and found a good place to set up the sheets and lights. We set everything up very quickly and fired up the generators, set out the tables, and readied our jars for the insects to come. The lights brightened the hillside and the insects followed shortly after. Small moths and beetles began to appear and after about forty minutes the large moths and beetles began to show up, with surprise visits from species I had not seen at the lights during past years.
After about an hour or so the sheet began to fill up with small and medium-sized moths, as well as a few large sphingids. More beetles also began to appear as the night went on, such geotrupids, hide beetles, and large carabids. I was super excited after seeing all of these amazing insects and had to take a break next to the table we setup between the blacklight and MV light. As I was looking over the insects I had collected at the sheets, I heard a loud thud sound to the right of me. At first I thought it was an Ox beetle (Strategus sp.) since they are common at the lights, but soon after approaching the beetle I realized it was something even more exciting! The beetle turned out to be a large Dynastes granti, also known as the Western Hercules beetle. I had never seen this species before in all the years I’ve been to the southern part of the state, so this was an incredible find for me and the rest of the crew.
After everyone was able to collect everything they felt they needed to add to their personal collections, it had come time to pack everything up and call it a night. The sky was incredibly clear and the stars covered the sky once we turned the lights off, making for a great conclusion to our full day and night of collecting. There were many great finds and we were able to witness a fair amount of diversity in this new area. After arriving back at camp we all crawled into our tents and went to bed so that we would be well rested for the adventures that the next day had in store.
Patagonia and the Road to Madera Canyon
After enjoying a few days and nights in the Chiricahua Mountains the crew and I were ready to embark onto the second phase of our Arizona adventure. Madera Canyon was our end destination that day but not before taking a slight detour to visit Patagonia Lake State Park. Everyone was excited to take a dip in the lake and cool off after the last few days in the field. Thankfully, the lake also had showers available, allowing us to be clean for the next few days before heading back home. We explored the area a bit but once the thunderstorms rolled in, we decided it was time to get our things together and head to our final location.
I decided to take everyone on the scenic route to Madera Canyon, through Box Canyon on Box Canyon Rd. I had taken this route in previous years and it has always been very plant rich, full of blooming flowers and colorful cacti. I hadn’t been able to collect in this canyon during previous trips to the area, but this trip was going to change that. As we headed down Box Canyon road to Madera Canyon road we came across a waterfall. The waterfall was only a mere trickle at this point but it was still cool to see nonetheless. We pulled over, took a couple of photos, found some insects, and then finished the final stretch to the campground.
After a long day of traveling we had finally made it to Bogg Springs Campground in Madera Canyon. The area was just a tad bit drier than I was hoping for but that didn’t stop the insects and other wildlife from making their appearances. Once we set up camp and finished dinner, I decided to put up the black light and see what would come to the sheet from around the camp ground. To my surprise there were more insects that came to the sheet than I expected. A plethora of medium to small moths showed up and some of which I had never seen before in the canyon. A ton of new beetles ended up making appearances, as well as a few katydids and mantids. Since everyone was pretty tired from the day of traveling, we didn’t stay up too late and went to bed relatively early.
More to Explore in the Santa Ritas
On the final days of this grand adventure in Arizona, I took the crew to multiple locations in and around Madera Canyon. Proctor picnic area has always been a favorite of mine while visiting the canyon and it turned out to be a hit with everyone on the trip both new and returning. In this location there were many flowering shrubs such as velvet pod mimosa and honey mesquite, which allowed for us to find many different insects both large and small. This area also has some hidden water holes and a nice waterfall which ultimately opens up into a very pristine riparian habitat. The proctor area as a whole always has an amazing amount of insect diversity, whether its cloudless sulfur butterflies whizzing by or giant mesquite bugs crowding seed pods on mesquite trees, the amount of insect present here never fails to impress.
In the morning after breakfast, I laid out a plan to visit the upper canyon and then from there head back to camp, eat lunch and then stop by proctor once again. Unfortunately, the upper canyon was already a little too dry for many things to be flying but we explored the area anyway. We didn’t find much except a few of the common insects such as, cloudless sulfurs (Phoebis sennae), pleasing fungus beetles (Gibbifer californicus), and dull firetip skippers (Pyrrhopyge araxes). Due to the low amount of insects we found, I decided to take the crew to the proctor area. Once there, we found a plethora of different species including large wood-boring beetles (Buprestidae), long-horn beetles (Cerambycidae), Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus), flower wasps (Scoliidae), and assassin bugs (Reduviidae).
After we finished up at Proctor, we headed back to camp to eat and gear up for the blacklighting session later in the evening. Dusk arrived and we headed over to the Proctor area again to set up the blacklight and MV light. We set up near Proctor Road and hoped the blowing breeze would die down early on so that the sheets wouldn’t end up becoming sails. Thankfully, as the night progressed the wind died down a bit and we were able to enjoy a fruitful night of collecting at the lights. There were many species that I saw make a return appearance such as Manduca rustica, Manduca muscosa, Sphingicampa hubbardi, Chrysina gloriosa, Pachysphinx occidentalis, and Manduca florestan. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any species I hadn’t seen yet but I had a feeling that time would come later on during a different night.
We stayed out a little; later this night but the amount of insects that came to the sheets plateaued close to 11:30pm. After turning in for the night we all decided to re-visit the proctor area again the next day because there was still more to explore that we hadn’t seen yet. The next day I woke up early and took a walk to see the early morning insects/birds around the campsite. It was a nice break from the non-stop insect chasing moments we had been having until now. When I returned, we ate breakfast and then headed over to the proctor area and stayed there for the majority of the day. We visited the riparian area and stood underneath the waterfall after climbing down a very steep path. We found a huge amount of diversity of plants and insects and everyone was very excited to explore this area. The waterfall and water holes were a nice break from the heat of the day.
After a full day of exploring and collecting, we finally headed back to camp and everyone had decided to take naps before the long night of blacklighting ahead. Once dinner was finished we geared up and readied ourselves to venture up the canyon to set up our lights. Just as I had predicted, there were other entomologists in the canyon with their lights as well, all of which were friendly and engaged in conversation with all of us. We had a low turn out as far as insects go, minus another large western Hercules beetle (Dynastes granti), but had more insect enthusiasts show up to our sheet than I had expected. They invited us to their lights while in conversation and we gladly accepted to view what their blacklight sheets looked like. Bill and Larry were two older gentlemen who we met and they were very knowledgeable hobbyists and were very into collecting Lepidoptera, but also collected many well-known Coleoptera found in the canyon. This night was a very memorable part of the trip and is an example as to why I enjoy visiting the region so much. No matter where you go, there will most likely be someone else there who collects insects like me and my team of bug nerds.
Box Canyon and a Bittersweet Ending to an Awesome Adventure
On our last day, I took the crew to the Santa Rita lodge in Madera Canyon to buy some souvenirs and to take one last look at what the canyon’s biodiversity had to offer. While most of the crew were inside shopping, others sat down on the benches near an area where the lodge sets up a number of different feeding stations for birds. This was the first time I had done this and was blown away by the number of bird species I had not previously seen before. The hummingbirds were incredible and the other larger birds were just as spectacular to see feeding with one another. This wonderful detour made me further appreciate the incredible amount of diversity this canyon has to offer its guests.
The detour to the lodge was a huge hit with the crew and we were all excited for the next part of the day we would be spending in Box Canyon. The road to the canyon had since been redone from the beating it took because of the intense rain the month before, which made our drive over very smooth. After arriving to the canyon, we were taken back by the oasis like habitat that was present just beneath the bridge at the base of the canyon. The diversity this place displayed for all of us was amazing. From southern Dogface butterflies to splendid royal moth caterpillars, this canyon had one cool insect after another. Having this area be the last place we explored for the trip made this whole adventure complete.
Overall, this year’s trip to southern Arizona had many memorable moments and some amazing finds, both of insects and of other wildlife. I was very glad to have everyone on the trip who decided to attend this year. It was my first time doing this with such a large group but it turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. I may not be going with a crew that large again for a while, but I learned so much from this experience that the next time I end up going with a big group I will be better prepared. This year was wetter than average at the beginning of the trip but dryer than normal towards the end, so I was very intrigued by the wide range of weather we had all experienced. I am looking forward to what next year will have in store for me and whoever decides to join me. Until next year southern Arizona!