Category Archives: Utah

Uta stansburiana (Side-blotched Lizard), 09 June 2011

Uta stansburiana

This is the final post in our little Lizard Run of December 2012 on Dust Tracks. After this post, we’ll head back to Georgia and play a bit with local fauna and also probably also the birds of the southeast (likely with some Alaskan birds thrown in for kicks).

So, what do we have here? I’m pretty sure these are Side-blotched lizards, Uta stansburiana. They were photographed in The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park on 09 June 2011. During my 2011 trip from Alaska to Florida, I spent longer periods of time in certain areas, hiking about and exploring. Southern Utah was one of these regions and Canyonlands was the one park I spent the most time at (coupled with neighboring Arches National Park). At Needles, I spent a good length of time hiking through the jagged landscape in search of such lizards.


Now, as with most of my western lizard spottings, I’m not necessarily 100% positive of my identifications. The individual featured below, as an example, may or may not be Uta stansburiana, though I am fairly confident the first/top individual is. I simply don’t have very much experience or deep knowledge of these western lizard species and identifying them can be rather difficult. Males of this species are quite different than females and, to make it all more complicated, there are apparently three dominant color morphs within the males alone. In other words: you need some experience to easily differentiate and identify these species by sight alone. You need to get your hands on them and record measurements, scale counts, and so on, unless you’ve got enough experience to make the subtle distinctions by sight alone. In my case, I was simply hiking, watching, and photographing — and, as a Florida kid moving back southeast from Alaska, I certainly didn’t have any such previous experience in southern Utah. It was all new to me.

Uta stansburiana

There are more than a few places I’d like to “get back to” in my life, but Canyonlands ranks very, very high on that list. I spent two days in the area and feel like I barely caught a glimpse of the region’s offerings. One could spend a week in the Needles District alone and not come close to understanding the ecological complexity of that one section of Canyonlands. That’s essentially how I felt during my two day visit, in real time. I knew I was only getting a taste of the area. Just a glimpse. And of all the lizards I encountered during those two days, the turquoise-spotted male side-blotched lizards were among the highlights. They were truly something special. Tiny organic accents in a vast, alien, and sublimely beautiful landscape.


Next on Dust Tracks: Georgia, baby!

album-audramaehauntSoundtracking: Audra Mae’s EP, Haunt (SideOneDummy Records, 20 October 2009). Originally from Oklahoma, Audra Mae has a smoky, beautiful, and –pardon the unintended pun– haunting voice. Her Haunt EP is remarkably fantastic. “The River,” my favorite track on the EP, tells the story of a young woman drowning in religious judgment and sexual guilt. She decides to flee her parents’ judgment by drowning herself in a local river — a baptism of suicide and an escape from her community’s wrathful judgment. It’s a devastating track, as they all are in their own ways.

Sceloporus tristichus (Plateau Lizard), 10 June 2011

Sceloporus undulatus tristichus

This is an identification that should be taken with a grain of assault, or grain of salt, or whatever that old saying is. Heh. As best I can tell, I think this might be a Plateau lizard, Sceloporus tristichus. I’ve also seen this classified as a subspecies of S. undulatus, the fence lizard. I’m tagging it as Sceloporus tristichus, but I wouldn’t set my watch and warrant on it — not without confirmation from another more In-The-Know!

Regardless of the identification, this was a damn fine lizard. I spotted the little armored transport of awesomeness chilling out in a spot of shade near Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park. I was able to get quite close for some photos, but never managed to get my hands on the wee tank. After I snapped a few macro shots of the face, the lizard scampered across the red rock and dirt and quickly disappeared. As they seem to often do.

So, what do you think? Plateau lizard? Or something else entirely? Do tell, do tell!!! If you’re interested in the identification hunt, here’s a similar lizard from the same area. Back in August 2011, reader Shotgunner voted for female tristichus on that one.

Sceloporus undulatus tristichus

~ janson

Aspidoscelis velox (Plateau Striped Whiptail), 09 June 2011

Aspidoscelis velox

I’m a bit delayed, but here’s the second post for today. It’s another member of Family Teiidae, the whiptails! Rah! This is, I believe, a plateau striped whiptail, Aspidoscelis velox, photographed near Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah on 09 June 2011. I saw the little rascal near highway 211, a short distance from the formal national park grounds. I had just enough time to snap this uber-sloppy photo before the whiptail high-tailed it outta there and disappeared into the brush.

I was struck by how similar this species was to the six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus). Awhile back I went through national park registries of known lizard species and the plateau striped whiptail was the closest match I found. With that being said, I am *not* confident of this identification until somebody confirms it! It’s my best guess, but it is –in the end– just a guess.

Now, if you think the whiptails could be confusing (and I do), tomorrow’s going to be really fun. Tomorrow we’re dipping into the lovely well of Sceloporus!

~ janson

Aspidoscelis tigris (Western Whiptail), 10 June 2011

Aspidoscelis tigris

Today I’m itching to get back to some of the Utah lizards I encountered in June of 2011. For the most part, I was a complete newbie –aka “noob,” for you younger folken– to these species when I rolled through Utah and Arizona en route from Alaska to Florida. Though snake activity was rather low during that trip (just one desert patch-nosed snake), the lizards were out and they were out in force.

Most of those lizards were entirely new to me. Clamoring about central and southern Utah, as well as a great deal of Arizona, I was constantly finding myself observing nameless lizards, lizards I simply didn’t know — something I simply wasn’t used to in the field when it comes to lizards. So, with that in mind, please note that these identifications should be considered tentative at best. I’m still not entirely confident of them, as I’ve had very little experience with these lizards and I’ve never shared these fields with one more In-The-Know than myself.

This rather content, basking lizard is, I believe, a Western whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris. It was photographed just south of Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park. There were a good number of these around Canyonlands National Park, but not so much at nearby Arches National Park. They reminded me of very large six-lined racerunners in their behavior: quick to bask and even quicker to flee. If my identification is correct, this makes sense because Western whiptails and Six-lined racerunners are parthenogically situated in Family Teiidae: the whiptails and racerunners. They’re cousin species, so to speak, genetically.

Later today (and tomorrow): More cool-ass, shadily-identified Utah lizards!

~ janson

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah; 11 June 2011

Bryce Canyon National Park was one of many, many memorable stops during my 2011 solo-drive from Alaska to Florida (see an index of AK2FL posts here). I finally came to Bryce Canyon on Day 12 of the trip (mile 4604), after having already spent a few days in Utah around Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks. Indeed, by the time I left Bryce Canyon on 11 June and made my way into Arizona later that evening, I was pretty well-convinced that southern Utah is far, far beyond ridiculously awesome. The place is divinely epic in its scope, scale, and grandeur.

I didn’t actually spend too much time at Bryce Canyon and mostly patrolled the park’s higher elevations for brief little excursions and photo angles. I’d just spent several days hiking Canyonlands and Arches quite heavily and was in a bit of sensory overload. I’m not sure quite what I expected from Bryce, but it sure made an impression. It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to — and next time I’ll leave the pavement behind. The views from atop of the canyon ridges are extraordinary, of course — but can you imagine how cool it must look from down below…? Looking up at those gorgeous hoodoo spires?

~ janson

AK2FL One Year Later: Utah

Canyonlands National Park, Utah. 09 June 2011.

Five photographs from Utah one-year-after the cross-continent summer trip of 2011. These photographs were originally processed with Apple’s Aperture application and have been heavily edited with Snapseed on the iPad for this post. Original live-blog posts from summer 2011 can be accessed here

UTAH: Miles 3579 – 4706 (1127 miles total in Utah). This trip marked my first visit to Utah. Hopefully it won’t be my last. There’s no way to adequately describe the density of awesomeness in southern Utah. Much of the southern portion of the state is, in fact, protected park land. Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef… they just go on and on and on. I spent four days romping through Utah –with gorgeous, brilliant, shimmering sunshine– and saw a lot. But I didn’t see nearly enough. I could easily spend a week in Canyonlands alone and still not get a full sense of what that one park has to offer. It’s that amazing. If you ever have the chance to go to Utah, just do it. Don’t think, just do it. It’ll take your breath away, I promise you.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. 10 June 2011.


Highway 24, Utah. 10 June 2011.


Bryce Canyon National Park. 11 June 2011.


Arches National Park, Utah. 08 June 2011.

Wednesday 08 June 2011 (Day 09): 

Thursday 09 June 2011 (Day 10): 

Friday 10 June 2011 (Day 11):

Saturday 11 June 2011 (Day 12): 

Project Noah!

Indeed, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time playing around with these emerging “citizen science” websites. A couple posts back, I talked a bit about, a fantastic  website for cataloging and sharing flora and fauna observations. Turns out there’s another kid on the block: The two sites are similar, but still quite different. I like them both. A lot.

Project Noah is, at this time, more of a share-your-photos type of website than iNaturalist. In terms of data, reliability, and use value from a analytical point of view, iNaturalist wins the competition hands down. Its peer review function and architectural design of handling identifications with consistency and reliability cannot be matched. On the other hand, in terms of simply browsing images of animals in specific geographic areas, Project Noah wins for now.

Project Noah, on its surface, is a more-polished and attractive design from a general-user perspective. Images are geotagged just as they are on, so browsing regions can be quite fun. The problems arise when you consider *when* observations were originally made and the accuracy/consistency of taxonomic and general classifications. On iNaturalist, these data points are streamlined into a unified system. In Project Noah, the submitter simply types the information in (and there’s no guarantee of accuracy). If you want to learn about these animals, iNaturalist is the place to go, but if you just want to appreciate photographs of animals and plants, Project Noah works beautifully.

So, I’m adding both websites to the circuitry of Dust Tracks. I’m going to use iNaturalist from a more analytical, data-driven perspective (especially in building my life list and researching local observations of Nerodia and Anolis species, among others) and I’ll use Project Noah for the more fanciful, pathos-driven appreciation of wildlife (see my account here).

I’ll still be blogging on Dust Tracks, of course — and syncing this blog with these two websites. You’ll now find links to my two accounts in the top “black-bar” menu and links to the two general websites in the right column. I’ve also included short-cut links to taxonomic life lists in the main species menu to the right.

Odds are activity will be moderately light on Dust Tracks throughout the holidays. It’s Christmas time, of course, and there’s much family business afoot! Outside of the ho-ho-ho, I’ll also be focused somewhat on building up my two new accounts and networking and building missions/projects. More on that later.

In the meantime, I wish you and yours the best of holiday cheer! And seriously: check out these two websites! They’re each impressive in their own ways!

This photograph is from Arches National Park, Utah, 09 June 2011.

~ janson jones

Arches National Park, 08 June 2011

As previously noted, I’m in the midst of building my iNaturalist life list. This will likely take a few years to complete. Heh. I’ve got a lot of material to cover…

Right now I’m working on the lizards I encountered last summer during the drive from Alaska to Florida — specifically in Utah and Arizona. I’ve posted about a number of these lizards here on Dust Tracks, but my identifications were/are quite loose and unreliable. I’m using iNaturalist to solicit some feedback from both the automated, visual recognition app at iNaturalist (and its accompanying data sets) and from testimonies/responses by the ever-growing community of iNaturalist enthusiasts.

As I learn more and refine questionable Utah/Arizona identifications, I’ll add updated notes to previously posted entries on Dust Tracks (and cleaning up / modifying species tags).

The first such amendment to an identification was for this post, of a tiny lizard photographed at Arches National Park, published on Dust Tracks in August 2011.  After posting the observation at iNaturalist, I received one response and a bit of support from the Identotron. After further reviewing the options and information (from iNat and elsewhere), I’m now moderately sure the lizard was an ornate tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus. Though it still could be a Sceloporus, I’m now quite confident it wasn’t either a Uta or a Crotaphytus. So, we’re narrowed down a bit on that instance. More context in the original post, of course.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ll be doing over the next week or two, digging back into these identifications and such, via iNaturalist. See what I can peg down further, correct, or confirm, and then update and correct previous reportings on Dust Tracks.

Sounds like fun, right? Well, IT IS!

In the meantime, I’ll post little status updates here, accompanied by some landscape shots from Utah and Arizona I’ve been meaning to get to. Now: rock on!

- janson

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District (10 June 2011)

Ah yes, and now we come to Island in the Sky, the northern region of Canyonlands National Park. The main access in this part of the park is a massive, giant mesa elevated 1,000 feet above the lower climes. The views from atop the “island” are quite remarkable. Nearly every direction you turn, you’ll find yourself glancing out upon a vast and sprawling horizon peppered by valleys within valleys, canyons within canyons, and textures within textures.

Island in the Sky is where you’ll find the famous Candlestick Tower (pictured at the top of this post). The island top and Candlestick are predominantly composed of wingate sandstone dating back to the early Jurassic (about 200 million years ago). This sandstone is an early part of the Glen Canyon Group, along with the red navajo sandstone that comprises the actual mesa top (

Not far from the vantage of Candlestick, you’ll find yourself looking down at what seems to be a vast canyon valley — only to then find yet another massive canyon cut into that basin. Pictured to the right, perhaps you’ll see the white rim sandstone of Buck Canyon dating back to the Cutler Group in the late Permian, shortly prior to 245 million years ago.

Indeed, by simply shifting the direction of gaze and reorienting yourself atop the island in the sky, your eyes sweep through sandstone deposits dating before and during the rise of the dinosaurs, from the close of the Permian, through the whole of the Triassic, and deep into the Jurassic periods.

Island in the Sky is all about time travel.

It can also be about disorientation and confusion. Take for example Upheaval Dome (photographed on the right). The rim of the “dome” crater is three miles across and jammed not just with sedimentary rock (like sandstone), but instead metamorphic and salt-heavy rock. The surface rock around and inside the dome/crater dates from the Permian through the Jurassic. It’s the strangest dome/slash/crater you’ll ever see. Is it a dome? Or a crater? Can it be both? Was it caused by volcanic activity? A meteorite impact? An upthrust of salt-rich rock? Ah, there is still much debate. Much confusion. Much yet to learn. And much delight.

Upheaval Dome is wicked awesome. (Check out this Utah Geological Survey page for more info:

Island in the Sky. It’s an incredible area.

Alright, I’m off for the weekend, but will be back come Monday. Got some more road trip stuff to post, along with some recent wildlife shots. Rah!

Original 2011 LiveBlog posts from Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky:

~ janson

Canyonlands National Park: The Needles District (09 June 2011)

On Day 10 of my tour from Alaska to Florida, I explored the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Canyonlands is, to put it mildly, massive. The three most-visited areas of the park are the Needles, the Maze, and the Island in the Sky districts. I spent much of one day at Needles and the next at Island in the Sky, also visiting nearby Arches National Park between and around romps. Each day delivered more sensory data than I could possibly manage in a lifetime. I mean, seriously… This area is beyond awesome. For as short a time as I was there, I certainly did manage to see a lot — but nowhere close to what the region has to offer. I was a rock merely skipping on the surface of Canyonlands.

At Needles, I hiked two trails in one half-day: the Cave Spring Trail and the Confluence Overlook Trail. Cave Spring was a short romp — one that primarily served to orient me to the region’s impressively dense lizard population. The latter trail, on the other hand, was epic. There’s nothing simple or short about the Confluence Overlook Trail. The full trail runs eleven miles to the merging point of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Along the way you pass through open desert swaths segregated by deep and rugged canyons. This is a trail with a lot of ascent and descent. Up, over, down. Up, over, down. Wash, rinse, repeat.  I didn’t hike the full eleven mile run, but instead focused on photographing the first five miles or so of the trail, giving myself time to get back to Arches later that afternoon. To do this trail right, you need to dedicate a full day to the run. There’s so much to see, it’s damn near absurd.

Southern Utah truly did blow my mind. I haven’t spent much time in desert/arid ecosystems in my life. What struck me most about this terrain with the intricate complexity I’d find in the geological patterns carved out in the sandstone over time. I could hardly walk fifty feet before wanting to stop and study/photograph something specific. A pebble here, a sandstone formation there. A plant growing out of the red dirt, a dry waterhole carved into nearly-white sandstone… Sure, the cedar mesa sandstone spire formations to the west of the trail beckon on the horizon, but every square inch of this land carries with it a legacy and a story. Of course, this is true of anywhere you go…. but it felt more evident –more obvious– at Canyonlands.

I certainly did put a hurtin’ on my Nikon on this trail. And on myself. I was somewhat re-humbled to the Lower 48, to the sun and the heat. Though I had a decent amount of water, I didn’t wear my hat. Not smart for a bald Floridian who’s been living in Alaska for four years. Despite the lack-of-hat bonehead action, I didn’t burn significantly; I’d already worked up a moderate (and I do mean moderate) base tan prior to arriving at Canyonlands. Still, it was a bit more sun than I was prepared for. Add to that the relative warmth (upper 80s Fahrenheit) and all the climbing/descent and it was a challenging little hike — for both myself and my Nikon.

Thinking back, I wish I’d composed video footage on this trip. For all the wildlife/ecology video I’ve shot in my life (most of which is sitting in a hard drive, waiting to be used), I made a conscious decision to not do any video recording on this trip. I didn’t want to be overly burdened by composing shots; the Nikon still-shots were already going to eat up a lot of my time and energy, not to mention the liveblogging. That was probably a wise decision, but still… I wish I’d shot at least five minutes of decent footage at each of these stops. I prefer photography over video, but man oh man… This place was awesome.

Oh well. I guess I’ll have to make a return-trip at some point to rectify this wrong. Right?

Next up? Island in the Sky, baby!

Original 2011 LiveBlog posts from Canyonlands National Park:

~ janson

Arches National Park, Utah; 08 June 2011

Arches National Park: an almighty, overwhelming, epic, and towering can of geologic whoop-ass. That’s my official, high-brow response to the park four months after my first visit.

You know, as I work my way back through these summer 2011 photographs, I’m (again) experiencing a strange vertigo of space and time. On the one hand, I can’t believe four months (nearly five) have already passed since that drive began. On the other hand, it feels like this trip took place years ago. So much has happened since that transitional phase of moving from Alaska to south Georgia. This journey from north to south, from west to east, was itself a hyperactive transition in my life. A third space of experience.

So what’s my impression of Arches National Park four months later? Well, I pretty much summed it up in that first line. It truly is an almighty, overwhelming, epic and towering can of geologic whoop-ass. I’ve never experienced such strange and striking geologic choreography in my life — and that’s what it feels like in a sense: a geologic slow dance through time and space. Active. Alive. Evolving.

I honestly don’t know when I’ll make it back to Arches, but I do look forward to returning there at some point with my daughter. I want her to experience those dramatic and bold products of sandstone, erosion, and time: the arches, the fins, the spires… I want her to mind-trip through time, letting her imagination run wild, and try to imagine how natural forces carved and created the unique panorama before her — and to understand that the dance is never truly done. Even today, Arches continues to change as time rolls ever-onward, carrying us all from today to tomorrow. Change is undeniable and there’s nothing like Arches National Park to give you a little perspective on that change, as well as the uniqueness of any given moment — each moment itself a transition from then to next.

Original 2011 LiveBlog posts from Arches National Park:

~ janson

US-191 in Utah, 08 June 2011

After clearing Idaho and the persistent overcast skies of the week prior, I finally found clear skies in Utah on Day 09 of the drive from Alaska to Florida. I can’t describe how awesome it was to finally break into the blue. I’d mercifully had a few stretches of immaculate weather on the drive to date, but I was ready to simply bathe in the sunlight. I wanted a sunburn. I wanted sweat-drenched shirts. I wanted to drown in the light. I wanted to feel the heat of the mid-afternoon sun baking my bald head. Finally, I found relief in Utah.

These photographs were taken along US-191 in central Utah, southeast of Salt Lake City and Price. I was en route to Arches National Park.

If you ever make your way to this part of the country, I can’t stress enough the awesomeness of the drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, homebase of Arches National Park. You begin south of Salt Lake on US Highway 6. US-6 eventually joins up with US-191 on its way southeast to Moab. As you make your way southeast, the rock base will shift from red to yellow to white and back to a deep, dark red. All the while, brilliant fields of ridiculously bold grasses and flowers grow beneath the neonic blue sky. You can damn near pull over anywhere and just go a’walkin. Well, that’s not particularly true — stretches of the drive tightly weave through canyons and such… but you get the idea.

In a way, this drive reminded me of the typical theme park modus operandi: start with an initial impression, pull back, build the tension, build the anticipation, and then bash the user with the divine splendor of climax. As beautiful as this area was –and it was beautiful–, I had no idea what lay just before me in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Original 2011 LiveBlog Posts from this area in Utah:

~ janson

Uta stansburiana at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Finally, a lizard I can actually identify!

Above is a male side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, photographed on 10 June 2011 at Canyonlands National Park in the Island in the Sky district. The small turquoise spots are somewhat a give-away for the male of this species. Females are a bit tougher to identify, but once you’ve seen a few males they’re easy enough to recognize. At the bottom of this post is a photo of what I believe to be a female side-blotched lizard photographed the day prior, 09 June, in the Needles area of Canyonlands.

I keep thinking back to the two days and two nights I spent around Canyonlands and Arches National Park… I’d wanted to get to this part of the country for a long, long time and it most certainly did not disappoint. If anything, my only complaint is that I saw too much in too short a time. It was quite literally sensory overload.

Not a terrible problem to suffer, right? I’m not complaining.

I’ve got dozens more Utah-lizard photographs in the wings, but I’m going to wrap-up this micro-series here and see if I can make some progress identifying what I saw before I proceed further. Further, the semester is about to begin and I want to do some serious VSU photography next week during the first week of the semester. The Immediacy-of-Now beckons! I love this time of year, when classes start. So much energy, so much excitement. As grateful as I am to have experienced Canyonlands and all the other incredible places I traveled to this summer, I’m most grateful to be right here and right now.

~ janson

Flashback: The 2011 Drive from Alaska to Florida

Going through and posting the Utah lizard photographs these past few days made me realize a few things. First, I know next to nothing about the lizards of Utah and Arizona. Second, I’m sitting on a ridiculous amount of photographs taken this summer — the vast majority of which have not been shared on this blog or elsewhere. And third, I still needed to update and finish the Summer 2011 series index page.

After a day of copying, pasting, and writing, I’ve now completed the big index page introduction post for the Summer 2011 Drive from Alaska to Florida series. It’s located here:


This page features a chronological listing of all liveblog posts I produced during that glorious romp across the North America continent this past June. Posts are marked with mileage readings and by location. I also updated the introduction/review of the trip from the original post to tidy the whole package together.

What struck me most today –as I went through each of these posts, copying their URLs for the index page– was how few photographs I actually posted in relation to how many I actually shot and kept during the trip. I’d dare to say that for each “stop” (post) I probably ended up with at least ten-to-twenty photos I really liked, and yet I usually only posted one or two per posting. Makes sense because I was liveblogging and processing photos takes time… But still, it surprised me. I really didn’t post that much. In other words I’ve got a lot of material waiting in the wings for later posts and musings.

Kinda cool.

The three images featured on this post are all from Canyonlands National Park on 09 June 2011. Specifically, they’re from the Needles area of Canyonlands. I probably have about fifty or sixty “keepers” from this one half-day hike alone. I’m still trying to grasp just how beautiful this land was… and how overwhelming it felt. Looking back through those liveblog/travelogue posts, the photos don’t serve the aura justice.

So, it’ll be fun to come back to this trip from time to time.

If you’re new to the blog and want to check out what I’m talking about, just head here and have at it. It was an incredible journey, no doubt. And it’s one I believe I’ll have quite a lot of fun revisiting from time to time.

Next? More Janson-Doesn’t-Know-Much-About-Arid-Lizards posts. But not too many more. Then it’ll be time for classes to begin and I’ll give you an introduction to my new work home: Valdosta State University.

~ janson

Sceloporus at Canyonlands, I think

We come to Lizard #3 in our Arid-Lizards-I-Can’t-Positively-Identify micro-series. This is an adult lizard photographed at Canyonlands National park on 09 June 2011. More specifically this was in the Needles region of Canyonlands a little after nine in the morning.

Looking at the lizard, I’m fairly sure this is a member of genus Sceloporus. I know Sceloporus undulatus, the Eastern fence lizard, quite well from my time in the southeast. This lizard was quite similar in build and in behavior. But which species is it?

That national park system lists the following Sceloporus species in the Southeast Utah Group, where Canyonlands is located:

  • Sceloporus magister, Desert spiny lizard
  • Sceloporus tristichus, Plateau lizard.
  • Sceloporus graciosus, Sagebrush lizard.

It also looks like this part of Utah is right on the line between Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) and Eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) ranges. So, it’s probably one of those five. Which of those five? I have no idea. (Darn those transitional zones!)

It’s also possible that this could be an ornate tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus. Maybe? [Sigh]

At some point –when I have a bit more free time and energy– I need to just sit down and systematically go through these photographs and really try to peg out the minute, tiny differences between these individual lizards with formal documentation. My problem is that I work much better when I have more frames of reference by way of experience — and frames of reference I do not have when it comes to arid lizards of southern Utah and Arizona. My time in that part of the country was short indeed.

So in the meantime I’ll continue to stack up these photos on the blog in hopes that somebody somewhere will stumble across them and throw me a lifeline. Heh. At the very least, the lizards are lovely enough — regardless of the species identification.

UPDATE ON 20 DECEMBER 2011: Alright, I’m now of the opinion that this is a Northern plateau lizard, Sceloporus undulatus elongatus, a subspecies of the Eastern fence lizard. It could possibly be a southern plateau lizard, Sceloporus undulatus tristichus. These trinomial classifications vary a bit from the scientific names I pulled from the National Park system back in August.

Apparently both of these subspecies exist in this general range. Looking at my full range of photos, I have some that definitely look more like the southern plateau lizard; this individual, however, looks more like the Northern (to me, at least). As shotgunner commented back in August, it could be a female S. undulatus tristichus. As is often the case with subspecies, there’s some overlap, so I’m tagging this as both the Northern and the Southern plateau lizard. If you have any questions, comments, or corrections, please let me know!

~ janson

A Little Lizard at Arches National Park, Utah (2011)

(NOTE: An update from December 2011 follows!)

Our second lizard for the mini-series is an absolute mystery to me. I haven’t been able to identify or classify this one, though I believe it may be a member of either Family Phrynosomatidae (composed mostly of arid-adapted lizards and also including the Sceloporus fence and scrub lizards so common in Florida) or possibly Family Crotaphytidae (the collared lizards). The individual photographed here was quite young. It was a tiny little lizard. In general, it’s easier for me to identify full-grown adults than juveniles — especially when I have little to no frame of reference in field observations in a particular environment such as this one. Again: I’m not a desert dude. Heh.

Photographed late in the afternoon on 08 June 2011 at Arches National Park in southern Utah, this little lizard was hanging out on a rocky surface near the base of a scrub bush cluster not far from Balanced Rock. It was relatively low ground compared to the surrounding area.

I later checked out the formal U.S. checklist for lizards confirmed present in Arches National Park, itself a part of the Northern Colorado Plateau Network (link):

  • Western whiptail, Cnemidophorus tigris (Family Teiidae)
  • Long-nosed leopard lizard, Gambelia wislizenii (Family Crotaphytidae)
  • Greater short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Common sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Plateau lizard, Sceloporus tristichus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana (Family Phrynosomatidae)

And here’s the list of “Probably Present” and “Unconfirmed” lizard species in Arches:

  • Plateau spotted whiptail, Cnemidophorus innotatus (Family Teiidae)
  • Plateau striped whiptail, Cnemidophorus velox (Family Teiidae)
  • Eastern collared lizard, Crotaphytus collaris (Family Crotaphytidae)

Of these species, I can easily discount Genus Cnemidophorus, Gambelia, and Phrynosoma. It’s definitely not a whiptail, a leopard lizard, or a horned lizard!  And that leaves us with the following:

  • Common sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Plateau lizard, Sceloporus tristichus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana (Family Phrynosomatidae)
  • Eastern collared lizard, Crotaphytus collaris (Family Crotaphytidae)

Unfortunately the two photographs featured here are the best that I’ve got. The little bugger was not surprisingly fast in the late afternoon heat and not abundantly cooperative with me or my camera. At least I managed to get these two shots, both macro, just before the lizard bolted up the rock slab and into a jagged series of nooks at the base of a scrub bush cluster.

I find myself wanting to remove Crotaphytus collars from the list because adult collared lizards don’t look anything like this individual (especially the males); however, this was an incredibly young lizard and I’m not sure what juvenile collared lizards look like — especially the females. I also saw a good number of side-blotched lizards elsewhere during the trip and this little dude did not look like any of those adults… which doesn’t mean too much because this dude or dudette was so very young. Sigh.

And that’s where I’ll leave it. What say you? Any ideas, Reptile Experts of the Interwebs?

UPDATE ON 20 DECEMBER 2011: Long after publishing this post, I joined the iNaturalist community in December of 2011. I posted identification requests for this species (here). Though I’ve only had one response to date, it’s a pretty solid response and one I tend to agree with. This is possibly the ornate tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus. I can almost positively rule out both Uta and Crotaphytus at this point. It could still be a Sceloporus, but Urosaurus is winning as of now. As always, if you have any ideas, let me know!

~ janson

Aspidoscelis tigris at Canyonlands National Park (2011)

As Summer 2011 officially wraps up (classes begin a week from today), I think it’s time to revisit the animals I encountered during the journey from Alaska to Florida this past June. I’d like to start with a handful of lizards I encountered in Utah and Arizona.

Though I’ve lived in Oklahoma for a decent run of my life, I’m not a desert/arid guy. Oklahoma’s all about prairies — not the arid, dry climes of the old west. This past summer was my first full-on introduction into desert flora and fauna. Sure, I’d visited Arizona a few times prior, but I’d never been to Utah and I’d never gone to really hunt out the reptiles of the region. Because of this, most of the lizards and snakes I encountered were entirely new to me. And because of that, my identifications aren’t 100% guaranteed to be accurate. I’m hoping some folks may stumble across these posts and either confirm or correct my base observations. I’m particularly interested in sub-species classifications, if and when applicable.

So, having said that, let’s kick it off, shall we?

Our first new-species is the Western whiptail, Cnemidophorus tigris, photographed in the Needles region of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah on 09 June 2011. Also more-recently classified as Aspidoscelis tigris, the western whiptail is (from what I’ve read) fairly common throughout this region. They were certainly common in Canyonlands, especially around shrub-laden environments… It seems I couldn’t get very far before coming across another individual scampering here or there. I found them to be quick, alert, and extremely agile little lizards.

I didn’t really try to catch any of the lizards I saw in Utah and Arizona and instead focused on simply observing them doing their thing. I get the feeling that these particular lizards, the whiptails, would’ve given me a run for my money if I had tried to catch them. They were fast, fast, fast. Me? I’m slow, slow, slow. Especially after lumbering through four years in Alaska. Indeed, I think these lizards were slightly more acclimated to the dry heat than I was. Heh.

Most of the individuals I saw averaged about eight inches in length, from the snout to the end of the tail. Apparently they grow upwards to about a foot in length. They were extremely active during the day when I saw them and were very, very busy eating. I saw more than a few of these lizards munching on various insects across the Needles area of Canyonlands.

Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing any whiptails at Arches National Park — which is literally just down the road a stretch — though I did see more of them at the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands.

On the personal side, how exhilarating it was to see these lizards doing their thing… It may sound gimpy to some of you, but after four years of living in Alaska, it felt so damn good to be grounded again (even while in transit to the southeast) — back in a land populated by reptiles.

~ janson

Downshifting, Fuzzy, Haze and Such

01:23 pm, EDT. This is the first post I’ve written on an actual computer –not an iPad– in quite some time. I can hardly remember how to use the standard WordPress interface. And I keep wanting to type in html tags to emphasize text… heh.

We’ve been back in Florida for a few days, wrapped up in Mac-time goodness. Our new computers came in and we’ve been busy setting them up. It’s taken me quite a bit of time to get the MacBook just the way I want it because there’s so much damn media in my library. Photographs, music, video footage… All kinds of jazz. It takes time to transfer and sync everything up, to get everything in line. But I’m getting there.

In two days we leave central Florida for Key West. The next ACT of Summer 2011 is set to begin! I won’t even be done processing the photos from the North America drive… God have mercy on Aperture and my Mac. It’s going to be busy for quite some time.

Meanwhile, I’m working on photos and setting this bad boy up. Going through and processing the full photo catalogue from last month’s drive is strange and daunting at best. It’s a bit confusing, actually. I find that I’m referring back to the earlier blog posts to make sure I’m getting locations right (I geotag every single photograph I take). I’m startled by some of the photos — and it almost feels like I’m looking at somebody else’s images. Too much input!

If there’s a dominant theme or lesson-to-be-learned from Summer 2011, it’s this: at a certain point experience will start to pile up like debris. It’s almost like I can’t cognitively process everything fast enough. These memories (and photos) just keep stacking up upon one another. It’s going to take some time to iron everything out and build an internal narrative out of it all. Most strange.

The photo above, incidentally, was a lousy shot I took with the Nikon at Arches National Park last month. I played around with it a bit on the iPad last month and did a rather heavy and manipulative edit. This stuff is fun.

Back in the here and now, I continue to get things back in order — and also prepare for… KEY WEST! It’s going to be great getting back down there

~ janson

The June 2011 Drive from Alaska to Florida

20110624-103522.jpgIn June of 2011, I drove solo from Anchorage, Alaska to Mt. Dora, Florida, taking the long way and cutting south through Utah and Arizona before finally heading east. I drove 7221 miles in 15 days in my beloved 1998 Jeep Cherokee. Lady Cherokee, bless her heart, performed beautifully — though the 100+ degree temperatures beginning in Oklahoma eventually began to unravel her four-year acclimation to the chilly Alaskan climate. With disintegrating lining and an exhausted water pump and belt, she eventually stalled and died fourteen miles from the finish line: my parents’ home in Mt. Dora.

My wife and daughter had flown directly to Mt. Dora, leaving me with two and a half weeks to explore North America as I made my way southeast. I camped in a tent or out of the Jeep all but two nights along the way and ventured into innumerable parks and preserves. Among these hiking/photo stops were (to name a few): Denali National Park, Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Red Rock Canyon State Park, and the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. By the time I reached Oklahoma, the trip accelerated as I found myself closer to home and with an obviously heat-stroked vehicle.

Despite frequent difficulties with attaining decent 3G coverage, I photographed and live-blogged the entire trip with my Nikon D90 and iPad 2. Forcing myself to stop and write about what I was experiencing in real time provided me with a kind of internal rhythm by which I could better soak in these experiences. Indeed, it was ultimately more experience than my tiny hominid mind could handle and now, looking back, I’m grateful to have these on-location notes and testimonials for reference. Otherwise it would all be an incredible blur.

In general, I strove to not box myself in with a rigid timeline or concrete plan — other than to arrive home no later than Sunday the 19th on Father’s Day. Still, my modernistic ways kept pushing me to calculate and to box myself into itineraries. In hindsight, breaking free of my own self-mandated scheduling proved more difficult than the drive itself. It took great effort to break myself from “The Plan” from time to time, to follow an unknown road or to veer slightly off course.

In the end I consider the trip an astounding success and an absolute gift of experience. While others dream of exploring other continents, I find myself constantly in awe of my own home continent. North America is vast, dynamic, and extremely diverse in the beauties it affords. For everything I have seen of this continent in my life, I know there is still so much more to discover and to experience. I did some damage to my bucket list on this trip and fulfilled several life goals in travel, but I still feel like I’ve only begun — says the man in his late thirties.

Below you will find a chronological listing of liveblog posts written during this trip, with shortcut links to each and every post. Also mote that all posts on this blog are categorically tagged by state or province. These tags can be accessed via the main “black bar” menu at the top of this page under “Locations.”

Special props and gratitude to all those who read and commented along the way, either directly on the blog or via email. You helped make the trip feel much less lonely — and there were indeed some very lonely nights.

If you have any questions about this trip or any of the photos or information provided within, p,ease feel free to contact me via the blog or my email (jansonjones -at- me -dot- com). Also note that the photographs featured during the trip itself (beginning 31 May 2011) were taken with a Nikon D90 in RAW format and processed solely on the iPad 2. I did not have any laptop available during this time. I was strictly mobile in the true sense of the term.

UPDATE: Images in these posts have since been upgraded (in May and June of 2012). During the trip, I had no computer. Just the Nikon D90 and my iPad 2. All images were originally imported directly to and processed with the iPad 2. I was somewhat limited in what I could upload and usually only posted one or two images per post. Since then, I’ve fully processed the photos and revised these posts with the higher grade images in full.


Pre-Trip Posts:

Tuesday 31 May 2011 (Day 01):


Wednesday 01 June 2011 (Day 02):


Thursday 02 June 2011 (Day 03):


Friday 03 June 2011 (Day 04):


Saturday 04 June 2011 (Day 05):

Sunday 05 June 2011 (Day 06):


Monday 06 June 2011 (Day 07):


Tuesday 07 June 2011 (Day 08):


Wednesday 08 June 2011 (Day 09):


Thursday 09 June 2011 (Day 10):


Friday 10 June 2011 (Day 11):


Saturday 11 June 2011 (Day 12):


Sunday 12 June 2011 (Day 13):


Monday 13 June 2011 (Day 14):


Tuesday 14 June 2011 (Day 15):


Wednesday 15 June 2011 (Day 16):


Post-Trip Posts:

Alternatively, you can also view a thumbnailed archive list of all posts listed above here:

~ janson.

NOTE: This post was substantially revised and completed on 11 August 2011.

Day 12, Mile 4677: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah

11 June 2011 @ 3:01 pm MDT (4677 miles). A brief alternate stop on the alternate-alternate plan brought me here, to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

“The Sevier Fault, which runs directly under your feet, created Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Running from Grand Canyon to Central Utah, the Sevier pulled apart rock, split and widened this canyon, thrust Moquith Mountain up, dropped the cliffs behind you down, and pulverized rock into sand.”

That’s the short story of what’s going on here at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah, just over the border from Arizona. It is almost like looking at a beach. Maybe Cape Cod with the massive, rolling dunes chock full of binding plant growth. Only, instead of the Atlantic, you have Moquith Mountain and the other ranges off in the distance.

Stranger still is the darkness of the sand (poorly represented in this photographs). It’s like the micro-desert beach I experienced earlier today. A strange, orange kind of sand. (I guess this is something like “coral pink”?)

A great little side trip. I didn’t stay long, just crawled around the dune for awhile and felt the warm sand run through my toes like the spice melange on Arrakis. Heavenly.

- janson

Day 12, Mile 4616: Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest, Utah

11 June 2011 @ 1:07 pm MDT (4616 miles). Driving West on Utah State Road 12, I re-entered the Dixie National Forest. This national forest is huge and judging by a quick scan on GoogleMaps, is composed of three major sections (the third is yet to come). Within this area of the Dixie National Forest, you come to the Red Canyon — a tight and compact little glob of thick red canyon rock. To one side of the road, the red rocks. To the other, a stream.

I had to pull over and explore…

I trekked the stream a bit, looking for snakes under debris (no luck). Then I came to a couple of highway tunnels carved straight through the rock. There I found an information sign regarding the Cassidy Trail (which passes through here). Butch Cassidy, it turns out, supposedly used an elusive trail cutting through Red Canyon. I can see why. It’s easy to disappear a corner here — and it’s also easy to find some shade. Crevices, turns, little ducts in the rock. Man, this place is dynamic.

A great find on my way…

- janson

Day 12, Mile 4604: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

11 June 2011 @ 12:10 pm MDT (4604 miles). Today I played Tin-Can Tourist in Bryce Canyon National Park. By “Tin-Can” I mean I pretty much just drove the park and got out at the overlook set-ups. The crowds were extraordinarily intense (this park is busy!) and I just wanted to get a lay of the land. No doubt there are some excellent looking trails here, but they’re trails that demand time and energy — both of which I don’t feel like spending here today. In particular, the Under the Rim Trail looks excellent, just below the Pink Cliffs (that’s more a mental reminder for myself than anything).

So, I didn’t really know anything about Bryce Canyon and now I do. Think: Grand Canyon, but with a lot more color. Sure, Grand Canyon’s still got the more-dramatic elevation drops. It is bigger.

But Bryce has got the color. It’s also a region dominated by hoodoos, the strange fingers of stone pointing upward.

Pretty amazing stuff.

Today I was only able to shoot some photos from Rainbow Point, Black Birch Canyon, Aqua Canyon, Natural Bridge (which isn’t a bridge, but is an arch), and Sunset Point. Of all of these locales, only Sunset Point is actually at Bryce Canyon.

The other four locations are in the less-crowded southern end of the park, overlooking a number of canyons.

Again: pretty amazing stuff, right?

Sure, Bryce Canyon is the most striking from what I saw today, but the southern end of the park has much more appeal to me, given the sparser crowds.

Of course, if I were to give myself time and spend the energy… I suspect 90% of the visitors at Bryce Canyon do exactly what I just did: play Tin-Can Tourist. Heh.

Anyhow, I’m off and am heading south. I do believe I’m going to bypass Zion National Park (as much as I’d love to see it one day). Vermillion Cliffs is south of here, in Arizona, and I’m itching to start getting into some better snake territory. Especially tonight. I want to break out the headlamp and try to find some of my old serpentine friends! That means I’ll need some energy… Hence my relative laziness in the afternoon sun.


- janson

Day 12, Mile 4480: Utah SR 12 through Dixie National Forest and Boulder Mountain

11 June 2011 @ 7:42 am MDT (4480 miles). I remember reading a comment from Karen a few dozen posts back telling me that the drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon is spectacular. Well, Karen, you’re right. You’re damn right. It is. It is spectacular. Spectacular is what it is. And I’m not even half way there.

In this part, north of the town of Boulder, the highway winds south through the Dixie National Forest through the Boulder Mountain area. The mountains are gently sloped and coated in aspens — just now starting to spring to life, it seems. Deer (mostly mule deer I believe) graze in the open, airy forest. I’ve seen fourteen so far since leaving camp not but thirty minutes ago.

Soon, you hit the summit of Boulder Mountain, 9600 feet above sea level, and then you start to make your way back down. The view of the canyon’s far below from the Steep Creek area is fantastic.

If Highway 12 keeps acting like this, I’m never going to get to Bryce Canyon!

- janson

Day 11, Mile 4470: Pleasant Creek in the Dixie National Forest

10 June 2011 @ 5:41 pm MDT (4470 miles). I am settled in for the night at the Pleasant Creek campground in the Dixie National Forest. This puts me in a good range for Anasazi State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park tomorrow.

So, what’s the Dixie National Forest like? Well, because I’ve been surrounded by sandstone, canyons, arches, and spires for the past two days, it’s really, really amazing. This part of the Dixie National Forest is situated in the Boulder Mountains. This part of the mountain is composed of sloping, coniferous forest. Pine trees surround me. The ground is matted with pine needles and there’s plenty of space to walk around (without thorns, brush, cacti, or massive, gaping holes into the abyss). Sitting here typing this, I can hear Pleasant Creek tumbling down the forested slope. And yes, it is indeed pleasant.

I’ve got several hours of daylight remaining and am going to spend some more time walking the forest. Then, a good dinner (soup and rice!) and some fresh Kaladi Coffee. Finally a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s a big day.

Hopefully I’ll also find 3G tomorrow. I passed by one spot where I had a weak signal and thought I’d come across a better one before stopping. Oops. I’ll catch up tomorrow on the way south.

- janson

Day 11, Mile 4444: Capitol Reef National Park

10 June 2011 @ 3:56 pm MDT (4444 miles). Wow, Capitol Reef National Park is pretty damn cool. I really had no idea of what to expect — and I’m only getting a taste of it today. I’m moving on closer to Bryce Canyon now, trying to find an available camping spot. From here on out, I think I’m going to be bound to state or county camping spots. The Nationals seem to be pretty well booked. But, let’s talk Capitol Reef.

Here’s what I’ve learned (but need to research more about later:

Capitol Reef’s dominant geologic features are a result of what’s called the Waterpocket Fold. Related to the same system of pressure that helped form the Arches and Canyonlands regions on the Colorado Plateau, the Waterpocked Fold is somewhat like a “giant buckle in the Earth’s crust” (the NPS guide states). The dominant road through Capitol Reef stretches through a tight and narrow gap between two of these folds. All around are spires, domes, canyons, and dramatically high walls of stone pock-marked with coral-like holes. It is a fascinating area.

The Fremont River runs parallel to the main road for awhile. Along this river and in this gap of the fold, indigenous humans once lived. There are more petroglyphs here. Later, apparently the area was pioneered by Mormons, I believe in the site called Fruita. It’s an amazing little wash of color and life, this Fruita. It’s like an incredibly tiny town engulfed by gorgeous orchards and flourishing trees. The Fremont River brings much moisture to this little pocket of heaven. And above the micro-settlement, gargantuan walls of vertical stone.

Pretty amazing, right?

Given how little I knew about this place when I woke up this morning, I’m pretty thrilled to have seen it — if but just for a few hours.

For now I must motor onward and head south. Camping is not available here. Must find a spot and rest!

Tomorrow, Bryce Canyon National Park!

- janson