The Gila Monster Arrives
I went to the Gila River in Southwest New Mexico on a search for a Gila Monster on Earth Day. Gila Monsters are pretty rare so I figured that I wouldn’t see one but what the heck, I might. I talked to everyone I could find, well, in the bars around Santa Fe and Silver City New Mexico and asked if they knew where a Gila Monster could be found. A biologist working at REI (go figure…) suggested a place outside Silver City, Turkey Creek, where she saw one last year. An amazing piece of luck!
Santa Fe was kinda boring and a bit high-brow for me to hang out looking for a single woman to dance with or drinking the $10 beer, so I took off to Silver City and found a drunk or two to ask about Gila Monsters. I found a drunk in Silver City who said “Sure, I know where you can find a Gila Monster because I’ve seen many of them.”
“Yeh, right,” I said.
“No, seriously, you go down to the Gila River and walk into the Gila Wilderness and along the river you will see Gila Monsters laying on the rocks beside the river, practically littering the river banks.”
That sounded like a tall tale, like the guy had changed the story from one with bikinis on the beach at Santa Monica to one that fit the thing I wanted to see, but you know, whatever, I had nothin’ better to do. However, the wilderness was up the Gila River from the point that he put his finger on, not downstream, where I was headed.
Another person said she hadn’t seen one and suggested going to search in Arizona. Another guy thought that they should be in New Mexico, probably around the Gila Wilderness but he was more interested in making a pathetic pool table shot and made one that flew off the table. (I told him that in my bar, in Idaho, that move wouldda cost him five bucks.) Arizona is a big place so I just thanked him, took his free beer, and headed out to the Gila River after sleeping in my car on the edge of a vast arroyo. It was a crap shoot to head out for the river, but I got a cup of coffee and drove through a uhm, slight hangover.
I walked along the river and combed the rocky banks for the elusive Gila Monster, feeling like I was on a goddamm snipe hunt. Then I crossed a water diversion and went up an arroyo that was full of big boulders and channels that water had built. It looked, well, kind of monsterish with enormous rocks cast about. About half an hour upstream I looked before me and there was a Gila Monster lollygagging accross the gravel bar. I almost stepped on it! I was incredulous and very excited to see this foot-and-a-half, poisonous lizzard that my father had told me about 35 years ago, crawling right before me! That’s a Gila Monster: it’s body was about as svelte as a sausage, its color was orange-and-pepto-bismo pink with stark black bands across its bee-bee studded body. Its tail was thick and its thick, black tongue slipped in and out of its wide mouth to sense the world like a rattlesnakes. The Gila Monster seemed a prehistoric character out of a comic book or a portrait from the artists in Santa Fe on Canyon Road, it just didn’t seem real.
I watched it for two hours during which he or she ate a birds egg under a bush that I’d scared it to. It swallowed the whole egg after chewing on it for a couple bites and found it impossible to break. What the hell, go for it Lizzie. I figured that my bothering it had resulted in its getting the egg, so I figured that we each had a good experience. My quest weekend was cut short by finding the prize of the quest, the lizzard that I would never have dreamed to find. But the weekend had its other high points: pronghorn antelope along the road, a rattlesnake in my trail, and a stunningly gorgeous mountain kingsnake along a road with red, white, and yellow bands on it. However, the Gila Monster was the best thing that Earth Day could provide me with: a seemingly mythic animal that was out on the earth and very much alive. We left in peace, the sweet little monster one way and me the other.