“I Hope One Day They Will Be Protected”

Today I talked with a great group of kids at River Legacy Nature Center in Arlington. The twenty or so children were in a week-long “Hands-On Herpetology” class, having fun and learning about native reptiles and amphibians. I brought a few snakes and we talked about things like how they live as well as being safe when around them.

The trail approaching the River Legacy Living Science Center

One of the snakes I brought is a Texas garter snake. He has a dark background color and three light stripes, big inquisitive eyes and an active, athletic build. We talked about how snakes with stripes generally rely on speed – and a sort of optical illusion – to get away from predators. The thing is that when “Tex” or other striped snakes move, it’s hard to see their motion. If they had spots, it would be easy to see the spots move as the snake’s body slipped away. The stripes, however, seem to stay where they are, until the stripes converge on the narrowing tail and then the snake is gone. The predator may be left empty-handed.

There’s a tendency for people to think of garter snakes as common “garden snakes,” but in the case of Tex it just ain’t so. He’s a member of an uncommon subspecies of garter snake whose fate is not well understood. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department considers the Texas garter snake to be critically imperiled. It appears never to have been actually common, but there were places here and there (particularly within prairie habitat) in which they might be found at times. A recent study noted that despite trying to find these snakes in the field in 2013 and 2014, researchers were not able to find any. Tex is a long-term captive donated to me years ago by a landowner in Hill County so that more people might see and understand Texas garter snakes.

The Texas garter snake (“Tex”) – photo by Meghan Cassidy

My discussion about this was much more brief with the kids, but they got it that this is a snake that may be disappearing. When I mentioned that they are not legally protected, a girl commented, “I hope one day they will be protected.” Me too. I hope one day we will understand the reasons for the snake’s decline in more specific ways that allow us to protect it. And I hope we continue to have children who, when they learn about a species that is in trouble, want to protect it.

We talked about being safe when out in the field where there could be venomous snakes, and I showed the kids a prairie kingsnake and the young bullsnake that was a big hit with kids in Dallas earlier this week. The kids asked good questions and they already knew a number of things from their week at River Legacy. But nothing quite equalled that girl’s comment. It was an offhand remark that revealed her empathy or her capacity to care about a unique, lovely little member of the natural community. It made my day.

More Children in the Woods

Children should walk in the woods, often. They should be able to do so fearlessly, knowing how to explore safely, with wonder and confidence. That doesn’t happen enough for kids growing up in urban areas. Recently, I was asked to talk with a group of kids at TR Hoover Community Development Center in Dallas. Despite living near the Great Trinity Forest, I was told that a concern about the presence of snakes kept many of the kids from exploring the woods. Volunteers from Master Naturalist programs thought I could help the kids understand snakes in a more realistic way. I was eager to try to help with that.

There are lots of possible reasons that urban kids might not visit the woods. There can be the fear that dangers lurk in the woods. Some of that can be realistic, and some not so much. When I asked about their worries, one of the children mentioned wolves. I could reassure her that there would be no wolves, but some of the wildlife might potentially be dangerous. Surprise close encounters with feral hogs, for example, or a copperhead half-hidden in the leaves. Kids need to know about watching where you are going and knowing what to pay attention to.

A young copperhead

If they haven’t developed the skills that can make a walk in the woods full of delightful discoveries and minimal risk, it would not be surprising. In cities and suburbs, children play inside most of the time, and a lot of that time is spent in front of a screen of some kind. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that elementary school-aged kids spend four to six hours a day in front of games, TV, tablets and phones, and the number is even higher for high school kids.

In 2005, Richard Louv published his book Last Child in the Woods, introducing the term “nature-deficit disorder.” It wasn’t a formal disorder, just a convenient shorthand for the way children – and the rest of us – are becoming estranged from nature. In the years following the book’s publication, a lot has been done to try to address that widening gulf between children and nature. I hope to contribute as much as I can to bringing us back together.

I talked with the kids at TR Hoover about what makes a forest and that we need all the “ingredients” in order for it to be a real forest. I said that most of the snakes they would find would be harmless, but that they should not count on that. The rules I suggested that they follow were:

  • Your EYES go first before your hands or feet
  • Don’t touch or pick up an animal when you aren’t sure what it is – no guessing!
  • If you see a venomous snake – walk away

In other words, never put your hands or feet somewhere until you know what is there. And don’t be quick to touch (I worry that a child will become overconfident and assume that they know something is harmless when it is not). And last, when you see what may be a venomous snake in the wild, there’s no need for panic and certainly no need to kill it. Sometimes a person has a well-intentioned but mistaken belief that they will make nature safer for the next visitor by killing a snake. They endanger themselves when they come in close contact and make the snake panicked and defensive. Killing the snake only opens up a place for another snake to fill the gap left by the dead one.

The kids loved the young bull snake I brought with me. She is a gentle example of one of our biggest native Texas snakes, and most of the children wanted to touch her. I would have gladly allowed this except that having thirty kids touch you (and perhaps a few try to grab you) is pretty stressful for a snake. Toward the end, I brought out a Texas garter snake, a subspecies that Texas Parks & Wildlife Department considers endangered in our state. His three pretty stripes and graceful body charmed the kids and the adults in the room.

The young bullsnake

I hope these kids are more comfortable and more prepared to get out there and safely explore the woods. I loved their questions and their energy, and would love to see them out there walking on a trail and discovering all kinds of wonderful things in the woods.

Frogs (And More) Among the Palmettos

My friend Ruthann Panipinto was sure that Palmetto State Park, east of San Antonio in Gonzales County, would be a great place to visit. She really wanted to see if we could find a cottonmouth there, which involved neither bravado nor fear on her part. It was simple curiosity and love for those misunderstood pit-vipers. Ruthann has answered many snake relocation calls from fearful homeowners. She has captured and moved many venomous snakes and freed some that were stuck in glue traps, too. We both would welcome whatever reptiles and amphibians we might see. And so, we decided on March 29 as a good day for a road trip.

And if we didn’t see reptiles and amphibians (herps), Ruthann would be delighted with the plants that would now be flowering there. She remembered from a previous visit that there were lots of red buckeye with deep green compound leaves and upright clusters of red flowers. In addition to buckeyes, a couple of flowers – baby blue eyes and blue-eyed grasses – were blooming among the palmettos.

Blue-eyed grass

We started our walk at 2:30pm and within minutes we heard a gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor) calling. That call is what allowed me to identify it, because the trill of one species (versicolor) is slower and musical, like a bird call. The other gray treefrog species (Cope’s gray treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis) has a faster raspy-sounding trill. If you see a gray treefrog without hearing the call, you won’t know which of those species you are looking at, because their appearance is nearly identical. Either one of them is a lichen-gray frog about 1.5 inches long. To add to the confusion, they can change color so that the gray has a little green in it, or the upper part of the frog may change to completely green.

We heard the frog, but finding it was something else entirely. Ruthann looked in nearby branches – it is a treefrog after all, and we usually find them hugging a branch or the trunk of a mid-story tree. The frog called again and Ruthann resumed her search, but these treefrogs are masters of ventriloquism. It seemed to be close and everywhere at once. Finally she found the frog, a little lump on a branch about eight feet above the ground.

Gray treefrog, hidden in the branches

We moved on, imagining that at nightfall, when frog breeding really ramps up, the choruses of frog calls might be pretty impressive. And within a couple of minutes, Ruthann spotted a green anole. Another critter capable of shifting color and blending in beautifully with the green palmetto fronds. At the moment he was mostly green, with what Ruthann aptly described as a little “blue mascara.” The anole’s eyes are partly covered with a little turret of powder-blue skin that shifts position with the lizard’s line of sight.

Green anole

We saw dozens of green treefrogs hugging the palmetto fronds, trying to get a little rest before night fell. These were not gray treefrogs that had shifted to green, they were a different species, a little less toad-like in form and with the most beautiful lime-green skin. A dark-bordered white stripe begins on the upper jaw and extends down the side of the body. Their beautiful golden Kermit-like eyes have pupils in a horizontally-flattened shape, like those of most frogs and toads.

Green treefrog

There was plenty of bird life above us. Ruthann was hearing parula warblers in the treetops, and we saw a red-shouldered hawk and at least one crested caracara. Wrens, northern cardinals and other birds were calling from within the forest above and the expanse of dwarf palmetto that stretched out around us.

As we walked along one of the trails, a couple of park staff approached on a Gator. They stopped ahead of us, intently focused on something at the edge of the trail, a sure sign of something Ruthann and I would want to see. It was a young cottonmouth, no doubt surprised to be surrounded by admiring humans. We were happy to see that the park guys were very protective of the little snake, and we took a few photos while explaining that we would never harm the cottonmouth. We watched the pretty little reptile turn back and slip under the palmetto fronds.

Juvenile northern cottonmouth

We talked with the park staff for a while about the local ecosystem and wildlife, and they said that they do sometimes see timber (aka “canebrake”) rattlesnakes in the park. That would be a wonderful thing to see, though we did not forget that we were already privileged to see some beautiful and fascinating species.

As the afternoon progressed, our discoveries included a Texas ironclad beetle. It looks like a cream-colored beetle that was splattered with black paint, and its claim to fame is that its exoskeleton is really, really hard, justifying the name “ironclad.” Internet sources such as the Field Station of the University of Wisconsin say that you would not kill it by stepping on it. Please don’t try that out in the field – this is a harmless, attractive beetle that just wants to go on its way munching on lichens as it roams around tree trunks or fallen branches.

Ironclad beetle

After a break, we returned to the trails as evening approached. One small squiggle caught our eyes, motionless on the crushed granite trail. A baby plain-bellied watersnake, born just last year, hoped that we would not notice a squiggly “twig” lying on the ground, even though the twig had scales and a somewhat banded pattern. I took a photo or two of this “twig” and then Ruthann scooped him up, now a fully animated snakeling struggling to get away. Nothing doing! Ruthann had to examine and talk to the scaly bundle of cuteness before releasing him to go on his way.

Along the Palmetto Interpretive Trail there is a water tower built nearly 100 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corp; its pump still pulls water out of the ground to help supply the swampland. A little after 7:00pm we found a luna moth sheltering under the stones at the base of the water tower. I can remember a time or two when I have found luna moths, and each time the beauty and form of this large moth have been irresistible.

Most of the luna moth’s life is spent as a green caterpillar. When it emerges from the pupal stage as a mature moth, it will complete its life in a very short time, so short that it does not even have a functioning mouth to eat. Females release a pheromone to attract males; they take flight in the darkness and some time after midnight they find each other and mate. During flight, the long trailing hindwings are said to interfere with bats’ ability to find them by echolocation.

Luna moth

This might be a difficult night for flying. As sunset approached, the breezes became strong winds, making the tops of the trees sway drunkenly back and forth. Gusts sometimes carried dust and grit through the woodland, and it occurred to me that we might wind up dodging falling branches. The sky became rosy and golden, giving this palmetto swamp a magical sort of glow.

The Palmetto Interpretive Trail at sunset

As the swamp was enveloped in darkness, we put our headlamps on and continued walking. The winds subsided for a time, and then periodically swept through the woods again. When the trees and palmettos quieted, the frogs began calling.

Frog calls represent males advertising themselves to females for breeding. When a female approaches a male, he gets on her back in a piggy-back sort of position known as amplexus. Then, as the female lays eggs, the male fertilizes them. Different frog and toad species have different calls, so that often the call allows us to identify the amphibian, much as bird calls help us identify birds.

Against a background of the accelerating “grick-grick-grick-grick” of cricket frogs, the gray treefrogs began to call. I mentioned that it is hard to locate the frog (though it must be easier for female frogs, since that’s the point of the call). Their voices seemed loud in the close darkness.

Cricket frogs and gray treefrogs

Then the green treefrogs began to call, with overlapping sounds a little like the honking of ducks. Sometimes it was almost as if they took turns, a few minutes for gray treefrogs and then some time for green treefrogs to be heard. Sometimes they overlapped.

Green treefrogs and cricket frogs, with the occasional gray treefrog

I usually describe it as “magical” to stand in the midst of these frog choruses in the darkness. Sometimes it comes near to being overwhelming if you are right in the middle of it, or at least the word “immersive” would apply. If you get the chance, give it a try, and although you may want to search for the frogs, you owe it to yourself to try turning off flashlights and headlamps and simply letting all that frog communication wash over you.

A gray treefrog located during the night chorus

As it turned out, Ruthann was right. Palmetto State Park had been a wonderful place to visit, a beautiful and unique pocket of wetlands next to the San Marcos River. The reptiles and amphibians we saw were species that we can easily see in other places, but if you look and listen as if doing so for the first time, they are amazing. And experiencing them in this palmetto swamp made it even better.

Mindfulness, Mountains & Snakes in the Big Bend

A few weeks ago, it was back to the Big Bend region with Meghan Cassidy for one of the last trips for the book on mindfulness in nature. I’ve made a number of trips there during the past twenty years, and my attachment to and fascination with that region keeps growing. I felt really fortunate to introduce Meghan to the Chihuahuan Desert and the mountains out there.

We stayed in a cabin at Wild Horse Station, just a little bit north of Study Butte near the Christmas Mountains. There are extruded columns of lava and thin soil where scattered desert plants grow. It is a strange and beautiful place, and that cabin on the hillside has a broad porch that looks out toward more hills and mountains to the west. This trip included some times for sitting on that porch, watching rainstorms or sunsets, and writing. I’m very grateful for that porch and for those moments.

A ridge just behind our cabin, at moonrise. Photo by Meghan Cassidy

In the early years, my visits to this region were very focused on finding snakes and other reptiles, although my companions and I always knew this was a place to be savored and soaked in. We rarely took much time to do it, and whatever we gained in total snakes seen, we lost in really getting to know the region. Each year has brought a broader interest in the ecoregion and a willingness to slow down and pay attention to more of it. This trip was a combination of mindful attention to the mountains and desert and some very fine observations of snakes.

Sunset (photo by M.Smith)

Our arrival at the cabin was interesting. Darkness had just fallen when we walked across the porch to find the front door open and, inside the dark cabin, the television was on. We did the ‘police knock’ standing to the side of the open doorway, and when there was no response – human, javelina, or otherwise, we turned on the inside light and began to check the rooms. I glanced to the side to see Meghan holding a knife, and I knew I had a capable partner out here where there is little phone service and self-reliance is important. Everything was fine; I like to think that a coyote – not the human trafficker but Canis latrans, the trickster of Native American legends – had let himself in, watched a show, and left the place open for us.

In the morning there was coffee, the shadows of nearby mountains with rosy light growing overhead, and that wonderful porch overlooking it all. After a beautiful sunrise, we got ready and headed into Big Bend National Park.

Chihuahuan Desert within Big Bend National Park (photo by M.Smith)

We walked around on the hot, gravelly desert floor, around prickly pear, creosote bush, and other characteristic desert plants. Lechuguilla, an indicator plant of the Chihuahuan Desert, grew in patches of upright succulent leaves. Many had remnants of the tall stalk they send up in late summer with clusters of flowers. The leaves are often described as like an upside-down bunch of green bananas, partly because they often curve inward a little. However, no bananas ever dreamed of having two rows of sharp recurved hooks on leaves tapering to a hard, sharp spine that can even puncture a car tire!

Creosote bush and prickly pear (including the purplish variety) in the foreground, with a patch of lechuguilla behind them (photo by M.Smith)

We walked a small dry arroyo as a couple of big black birds flew past. We weren’t experienced enough to call them as Chihuahuan ravens, but from the overall size and chunkier neck, they seemed more likely to be ravens than crows. There were a few places in the arroyo where the sandy soil had piled up and grew a small garden of flowers. Those flowers attracted butterflies. Perhaps they would seem out of place in the desert, particularly if we made the mistake of thinking of the desert as barren. The desert is a harsh place, by our standards, and it requires adaptation to extremes of heat and limited rainfall – but it is full of life.

Queen butterfly in a desert arroyo (photo by M.Smith)

We came back to the cabin during the hottest part of the day, and the shade of the porch and the breeze at the top of our hill made the perfect place for reflecting on our morning and writing about the desert plants, butterflies, and the value of long vistas in which nature has free reign.

The clouds were building in the west, and under dark clouds were blurs of falling rain. The low rumble of thunder rolled in, and as the system marched toward us, bright lightning was visible as the power of the storm reached down to touch the earth. Announcing the storm’s arrival, the outflow winds were strong and I had to stop for a moment and think how many times this little cabin perched on the edge of the hill had withstood storms just like this. I needed that reassurance as raindrops began to slam into the porch and torrents of rain blew by outside our windows. This is how the monsoon season works in the Trans-Pecos: It’s hot and sunny, then clouds build into storms, the thunderstorms dump a lot of rain (and maybe hail) in a short time, and then they move on and it’s done.

The storm approaching (Photo by M.Smith)

When we walked out onto the porch, the cool air was laden with the smell of rain and creosote. The desert here is full of creosote bush, a shrub with very small green leaves with an aromatic resin and waxy coating that helps protect the plant from drying out. If you crush the leaves, the resin has the familiar, vaguely tar-like smell of treated railroad ties or telephone poles. After a heavy rain, the resin is released into the air and the aroma is strong, fresh and wonderful.

At the end of the storm (Photo by M.Smith)

The next day, September 17, was our day to be in the Chisos Mountains. The Chisos is the only mountain range entirely contained within one national park. Driving up into “The Basin” within the mountains, the vegetation changes, reflecting slightly cooler temperatures and a little more rainfall. As you begin the climb into the mountains, you enter a woodland of small oak trees, junipers and pinyon pine. Tall slabs and columns of reddish igneous rock stretch toward the sky.

In The Basin (Photo by M.Smith)

The previous day, driving around the Chisos Mountains Lodge, in The Basin, we had come across a sad, significant find. There was a small snake on the pavement that had been run over some time earlier that morning. There was a dark head with an interrupted white collar behind it, and the body of the snake was a pale tan. This was the first Trans-Pecos black-headed snake that I had come across, and it was a real shame that it was dead. It belongs to a group of snakes with enlarged rear teeth and a salivary toxin to help subdue its prey (but is harmless to humans), and it is the largest species within that genus, Tantilla. It’s still a small snake, often growing no longer than about a foot. It is listed by Texas as a threatened species, but neither that nor its presence in a national park had kept it from being run over.

Trans-Pecos black-headed snake, Tantilla cucullata (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)

Now it was time to climb the Lost Mine Trail up past the Casa Grande peak, to a point where the view opens to the south. The climb is fairly gentle, through mountain woodlands and small grassy openings dotted with beargrass, sotol, and Havard agave. This latter species, also known as “century plant,” sends up a fast-growing stalk at the end of its life with short branches bearing clusters of yellow flowers. The base of the plant is a rosette of thick, stiff, bluish leaves with sharp hooks along the leaf edges and a hard black spine at the leaf tip.

At this elevation it is cooler and there is greater rainfall. In the shade of the mountain there are ferns and beautiful flowers including mountain sage, the red starburst blooms of mountain catchfly, goldenrod, and penstemon. It is easy to stop along the way, on a bench or a boulder, and be still for a while, taking it all in.

Meghan and Michael on the Lost Mine Trail

This trail in these mountains means a great deal to me, and I’ve written before about what it is like to be here in its quiet and beauty. And when we reached the place where we could look far away to the south, I spent a while under a pinyon pine looking at what I think is one of the great places within Big Bend.

On the Lost Mine Trail, looking south (Photo by M.Smith)

That night, our thoughts shifted away from the book and toward the variety of wonderful snakes that can be found in this area. We stayed along Highway 118 north of Study Butte up through the Christmas Mountains and along the desert flats. Our first snake was a black-tailed rattlesnake that, as I walked up to it, seemed to be ‘periscoping’ up to look around. It turned out to be blind in one eye, and was trying its best to figure out what was going on as we approached on its blind side. Like many black-tailed rattlesnakes, it was slow to get frightened or aroused, and it never rattled or threatened us in any way as we used snake hooks to move it away from the road so that it would not be run over.

We were on the lookout for Mojave rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus). Meghan wanted to see up close the distinction between this species and the similar-looking western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). The immediate visual differences have to do with the width of the black-and-white bands on the tail, the pattern on individual scales, the light diagonal marks on the face, and the size of the scales on top of the head. The rings on the tail of the western diamondback are of roughly equal width, while those of the Mojave emphasize white, with black rings spaced more widely. Both snakes have roughly diamond-shaped blotches down the back, but each scale on the Mojave rattlesnake tends to be mostly one color (resulting in a crisp pattern almost like a mosaic), whereas the colors may transition and almost smear on the diamondback’s scales. The two diagonal lines on the western diamondback’s face both end at the mouth. In contrast, the diagonal stripe behind the Mojave’s eye bends and continues back behind the jaw line. Finally, the scales on the top of the western diamondback’s head (between the eyes and toward the snout) are small. A Mojave rattlesnake has larger scales on top of the head.

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)
Mojave rattlesnake, showing larger head scales (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)
Mojave rattlesnake, roughly the last third of the body showing the pattern of the scales and the wide white areas on the tail (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)

The one Mojave rattlesnake that we found had been run over, unfortunately. We positioned the head and tail for photos to illustrate these differences. This is the snake that folks in the Big Bend may be most concerned about, because populations of this species in Texas and elsewhere have venom with high neurotoxic activity. A bite might produce less swelling and bruising but more systemic effects, including respiratory problems. My experience with living Mojave rattlesnakes is that their temperament varies and, like other rattlesnakes, they would prefer to be left alone and are not especially aggressive.

That sort of peaceable behavior was true for every living snake we found that night. Every live western diamondback or black-tail greeted us with inquisitive tongue-flicks or attempts to get away, but none attempted to bite. One snake rattled, but the rest did not even become nervous enough to do that. Meghan is good at using a hook to move a venomous snake, and we both do so gently and without presenting a threatening target to the snake, and this may have contributed to their laid-back behavior. However, Meghan was looking for more examples of hooking defensive (or even irate) rattlesnakes, and she wasn’t getting to see any of that. (She did, at least a little bit, the following evening near Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, where the diamondbacks quickly rattled even if they did not strike at us.)

One of the black-tailed rattlesnakes at night (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)

It was getting late. As we drove back up the hillside to our cabin, there was one more black-tailed rattlesnake for us, a beautiful adult. We decided to ‘bucket’ her for good photos in the morning. Once again, this snake was simply curious about what we were doing, and tolerated Meghan’s hooking her and placing her in the snake bucket with little reaction.

(A couple of side-notes. First, the ‘snake bucket’ is a five-gallon bucket with a screw-on lid with air holes drilled in such a way that a venomous snake could not get close enough from the inside to get a fang through the hole. It is essentially snake-proof, so that we could sleep comfortably with a rattlesnake in the front room of the cabin. Second, part of being a safe, competent herper is constantly maintaining awareness of yourself and your surroundings when interacting with venomous snakes, even those who are being complete sweethearts. Neither Meghan nor I took these snakes’ temperaments for granted, because a moment’s slip-up with a “sweet” rattlesnake – especially in the isolation of the Big Bend at night – can be incredibly serious.)

Morning photo of the black-tailed rattlesnake (Photo by Meghan Cassidy)

The next morning, Meghan took a series of photographs of this black-tailed rattlesnake, and we released her. We were happy to have her as a neighbor during our stay!

The following night, we were able to see a couple of Trans-Pecos ratsnakes, a favorite for both of us. One had been hit, but the second was wonderfully alive and gentle as we got it off the road so that it would not be run over. These slender, harmless snakes are pale yellowish (almost like the inside of a banana, leading Meghan to playfully call it a ‘banana snake’) or straw color with black markings. Two lines down the neck separate into something like blotches connected across the back in an “H” shape. They are nocturnal wanderers with big eyes to gather as much light as possible.

Trans-Pecos ratsnake (Bogertophis subocularis) – Photo by Meghan Cassidy

The final day in the Big Bend included a drive down FM 2627 past Black Gap WMA to the La Linda international crossing into Mexico (the bridge is barricaded, though crossing the Rio Grande at that point looked like it would not be difficult). The landscape and nearby mountains were beautiful, but it was virtually all private property and so we could not walk around and explore.

A church, looking across into Mexico at La Linda (Photo by M.Smith)
Near FM 2627 (Photo by M.Smith)

Back within the park we walked part of the trail leading to Dog Canyon, in the Dead Horse Mountains, and also westward in some sparse grasslands looking toward the Rosillas Mountains. I wrote about this later, about the long shadows toward sunset and the sense of solitude and even isolation there, as the sun was setting.

Long shadows, looking toward the Dead Horse Mountains (Photo by M.Smith)
Sparse grasslands and the Rosillas Mountains (Photo by M.Smith)
Sunset on our last day (Photo by M.Smith)