Have A Baja Moment! East Cape Sees Signs of Summer
Seasonal changes in the tropical desert may not be as overt as those in more temperate regions, but to the observant they give measure to the passage of time. Recently, on the drive to town along the bumpy Palo Escopeta Road, I noticed subtle changes to the scenery. Trees had dropped the leaves they’d grown thanks to last years’ rain, coloring the landscape grey where before it was verdant. In contrast, the branches of the tree known locally as Palo Escopeta held out thick bunches of tiny greenish white flowers, backed by new bright green leaves. I noticed the air coming through the window was warmer and the sun striking my arm was strong.
Spring came to the East Cape late this year, the weather remaining unseasonably cool throughout April. Now that it’s May, daily highs have shot up and the sea has begun to warm. Two weeks ago water temperatures were cold enough that I still needed to wear a full wetsuit. Now I’m over-warm in my “shorty” suit by mid-morning. But water temps sometimes plummet in July, making wetsuit choice a poor indicator of the arrival of warm weather in Baja. One of the best, however, is the reappearance of our cold-blooded cousins, the reptiles. After hibernating underground over winter, the S-shaped trails of snakes winding their way across the road have become an increasingly common sight, and sometimes their creator is there to be seen as well, basking in the sun or moving at a speed dependent on ambient temperatures and species preference. Several rattlesnakes, Coachwhip snakes and a brilliant green snake I have yet to identify crossed my path in the last week alone.
Around these parts, however, the most obvious harbinger of warmer weather has to be the appearance of a multitude of Western Side-Blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana elegans). The most common lizard in Baja California Sur, they like nothing more than to hang out on the dirt roads challenging one another in a fit of territorial push ups and neck expanding displays. Their small size means they warm up faster than other reptiles, making them the first to appear each morning. They run back and forth across the road, pausing to challenge one another, and as I journey to town or the beach, it’s no small task to avoid running over the odd one that zigs instead of zags as I pass by.
When they detect a threat (for example, the roar of my car’s engine and the rubber of my tires bearing down on them), these lizards take off at impressive speed, lifting the front of their bodies off the ground so that they run on their back legs only, giving them a comical, humanoid appearance. Despite the awkward windmill-style in which their hind legs rotate, they manage to gain sufficient speed running up the embankment on the opposite side of the road that they often catapult themselves head-over-tail in an impressive acrobatic display. The landings are not always smooth, but the technique is effective in keeping them from becoming road kill.
Reptiles, water temperatures, and sun intensity all point to Summer being around the corner, but I know summer is really on its way when I get my first tropical storm report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricane season officially begins May 15th.
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