Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana )

A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah
A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah

Commonly known as an antelope, the Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) is an even toed or hoofed mammal found in the plains of the western United States of America. The Pronghorn in america is mislabeled as an antelope, which is an old world or African species of Antelope. The Latin name, Antilocapra americana means “American goat-antelope”

The Pronghorn lives in brush and grass lands and deserts and survive by grazing on the vegetation. They typically live in herds which may number in the hundreds depending on time of year and food sources.

They have excellent eye sight use this valuable resource to keep a distance from predators in the wide open habitats they are found. They are also the fastest animal in the western hemisphere and can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. The result is a reclusive animals that tends to run when it sees any threat, which means these animals can be difficult to get near. Typically, when I see them in the field, it is their white hind quarters travelling at a high rate of speed away from me.

Males typically stand between 51 and 59 inches in height and weigh between 88 and 143 pounds. The female are about the same height, however, more slight at 75 to 106 pounds. Their coloring is quite distinctive and features large white patches on the rumps, belly and heads with black bands on the face and necks. They boast large eyes located towards the tops of their skulls which have a field of view of 320 degrees. This feature allows the animals to maintain distance and allows them to spot predators while resting in the tall grass.

Cougers, Coyotes, Wolfs and Bob Cats are known to prey on the pronghorn. Additionally, they were a valuable food source for many Native American tribes including the Assiniboine, Rapid and Blackfoot Tribes.


Goblin Valley Utah

A Goblin formed from a soft limestone, water and time offer a unique hiking experience. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Goblin Valley is located in Utah is a state park and campground which is adjacent to eroded flood plain. Formed by water, time and a soft sandstone, erosion sculpted the limestone into unique rock formations which some have stated appears to be goblins.  The Goblin Valley itself is a day use hiking area which allows one to get lost in the maze of spires and rock formations.

Valley Queen, Goblin Valley, Utah Photography by James L Rathbun
Valley Queen, Goblin Valley Utah. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Each rock spire ranges in height from 3 feet to about 20 feet tall.  The fragile structures litter the landscape and sadly on occasion have been felled by people who do not have respect for nature.  There are three established self, however the Valley of the Goblins is a open trail flat mud plane after a easy and short trail down from the parking area.

Goblin Valley State Park does offer an established campground of 22 campsites just over a hill from the Valley of the Goblins.  The campground features, paved sites, bathrooms, showers, water and dump stations. The campground is very popular destination due to location next to Goblin Valley and is also a wonderful centralized base camp location for exploring the San Rafael Swell.

A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah
A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah

We stated in Goblin Valley in the off season several years ago. We were greeted with lots of camp sites available, privacy and a minor wind and rain storm. Despite the less then desirable conditions, we enjoyed our stay and will try to make it back again in the future.

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
Coyote (Canis latrans)

A symbol of the American Southwest, the howl of the humble Coyote (Canis latrans) is synonymous with wild places. A member of the canine family and cousin to your pet, the coyote is a carnivore, predator, scavenger and survivor and even have a gord named for them, the coyote melon. The mammal is also known as the “little wolf”, “brush wolf”, “prairie wolf” and “American jackal”.

Although not necessarily nocturnal, they may hunt at night in the presence of humans. Regardless, they are more active in the evenings. They prowl and hunt in small groups. Their cries and howls at night are the reason they are known as the most vocal wild animal North American Animals. Personally, I welcome their vocalizations echoing access the desert night.

Coyote hunt reptiles, birds, small mammals, fish and even the larger bison, deer, elk and sheep. They roam up to ten miles per day on a constant hunt for food. In urban areas, this opportunist animal will eat dog and cat food, and known to attack domestic dogs and cats. In Death Valley National Park this resourceful jackal will eat large quantities of beetles and hawkmoth caterpillars for food. They are extremely resourceful and opportunistic survivors.

The coyote is classified in 19 different subspecies throughout the North America. A typical male will weigh between 18 and 44 pounds, while the female tips the scale a at a more modest 15 to 40 pounds. The fair color ranges from a light grey, tan to dark browns or even black depending upon habitat.

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
A extremely optimistic Coyote enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park waiting for a handout which did not come.

In Native American cultures, folklore depicts the coyote as a trickster. For this Irish American over a certain age, the coyote is call as wiley, known as a super genius and has, upon occasion, ordered an abundance of explosive from the Amce Corporation .


Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)
Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata), also known as Coyote Gourd, is a flowering plant common in the desert southwest and known to produce spherical yellow – green melons. The vine like plant is commonly found is loose, sandy or gravely, dry, well drained soil which is common in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and exclusively in Washington County, Utah. The primary characteristic is the growth of a green melon or gourd which is quite startling when you first see them in the hot desert climates.

Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut - March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist
Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut – March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist

The gourd was first described in 1876 by Sereno Waston who was a Yale graduate with a degree in Biology, The Coyote Melon features a sprawling stiff vine with rough, stiff-haired stems and leaves. Cucurbita palmata produces a large yellow bell shaped flower, while the melon itself is smooth in appearance. The striped yellow – green colored gourd is known to be quite hard, however, also thin when mature. The melons are very bitter and not edible. This hearty planet can survive the harsh desert landscape through its use of a large and hearty tap root. This root system can extend several feet into the dry soil to supply the plant with nutrients and water required for survival.

The Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) is extremely fibrous and although not edible to humans is known to be on the coyotes diet during the fall, hence its name. It is quite common to find the seeds of this plant in coytoe scat during the fall months.

Despite the fibrous melon being inedible by man, the native american tribes were known to consume the ground seeds of this plant. Additionally, they used the dried gourds as rattles in various dances and other ceremonies. They also utilized the plant was as soap for cleaning.


Black Tailed Jackrabbit ( Lepus californicus )

Black Tailed Jackrabbit enjoying the shade of a Joshua Tree
Black Tailed Jackrabbit enjoying the shade of a Joshua Tree.

The Black Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) commonly known as the American Desert Hare makes its home in the western half of the United States including California, Nevada, Arizona and parts of Mexico. One of the largest species of hare, the animal boasts large distinctive ears, powerful rear legs, black tips on its ears and a black tail for which the animal gets its name.

This species of hare commonly reaches sizes of 18 to 24 inches long and may weigh between 4 and 8 pounds. Typically, the females are slightly larger compared to the males. The animal will mate ear round depending upon environment and the young are born with a full compliment of fir and open eyes, which classifies it as a true hare and not a rabbit, despite its common name. The female does not build elaborate nests for birth. A new born hare is and well camouflaged and quite mobile within minutes of birth. The juveniles will stay near the mother for nursing, but are not protected by the mother.

Commonly found in desert scrub, prairies and meadows at elevations up to 10,000 feet, the Black Tailed Jackrabbit is quite adaptive to various environments. Camouflage is their only defense, and they will freeze when a threat is near. Their diet consists of a variety of green vegetation and grasses, however they are known to consume dried or woody plants in the harsh winter months. The hare does not hibernate during the winter months.

The Black Tailed Jackrabbit is a valuable member of the ecosystem. It serves as a prey item of other carnivorous animals including coyotes, foxes, eagles, hawks, owls and various Native American tribes.