Tag Archives: Arizona

The Gila Monsters of Arizona (Could They Eat You?)

At first glance, you wouldn’t think Mesa, Arizona, would be home to anything interesting. It’s a desolate desert, made up of dirt and spikes. The only plants here are incredibly painful to touch, such as the tall, famous saguaro cactus, and the evil tree-like substance called cholla.

Teddy Bear Cholla, the most evil variety.
Teddy Bear Cholla, the most evil variety.

After looking over this barren land more carefully, however, you’re bound to notice a couple kinds of wildlife. There are a few birds that roost on cactus spines, and a squirrel here and there. You can hear coyotes calling in the evening. But the really incredible creature that inhabits this strange place is the Gila Monster. Pronounced HEE-luh, this strange beast is named for the Gila River, a stretch of water that snakes 600 miles across Arizona. They’re one of only two species of venomous lizards that have currently been discovered, the Mexican Beaded Lizard being the other.

The totally bare landscape.
The totally bare landscape.

Possibly you’ve heard stories of Gila Monsters growing to giant sizes on desert islands, and eating any unfortunate sailors that take refuge there. I had. And though, as far as I know, it hasn’t been verified that they can kill and consume humans, I still believe it’s possible. For one thing, their two feet of length, though fairly small for a “monster,” is quite giant for a lizard, and is certainly big enough to induce extreme fear, freezing some people up. If it catches you, you’ll be lucky to make it. Why? For one thing, they don’t let go.

The gila monster Mom saw.
The gila monster Mom saw.

Gila Monsters will latch their teeth onto a human and keep them there, and not without good reason, looking from their point of view! If you could live for a year on only three to four meals, as Gila Monsters can, wouldn’t it be great to store up a whole human’s worth of meat? That could sustain a Gila Monster for all of its 20-30 years!

Another reason Gila Monsters can be deadly is their venom. It’s hardly poisonous to humans, but for smaller creatures it does a great deal. As a Gila Monster latches its teeth onto its victim, it settles in for the kill. As they chew, they work more and more poison into the body.

Now a bit about appearance. The Gila Monster has round scales, very uncommon in modern lizards, that cover its leathery skin. Its coloration is mostly black, with orange patterned bands across its back. Baby Gilas are pretty cute, actually, but still very painful.
The tongue of the Gila Monster reminds me of the back end of a fish. Strange? Maybe.

I’ve told all the scary facts now, though! The end of this post is to motivate you, and encourage you to set another foot in the desert. Firstly, it’s incredibly unlikely that a Gila Monster will find you in the first place. They spend most of their lives in burrows underground, napping. Like most animals of that sort, they’re exceedingly lazy, sluggish, and slow. They’re rare to even see: We know some people in Mesa who have only seen one in eight years.

Mom saw one recently, but she didn’t leave the car to document the experience. She got a shot from the safety of that driving metal box. That’s probably your safest bet. So if you see a Gila Monster, take a picture and then continue on your way. Just stay out of his.



A Crazy Christmas Celebration

Cottonwood, Arizona is a tiny town. You would think, from driving through it, that it was totally empty of anything interesting. And you’d be right. Almost.

Now, maybe if you were there at Christmas time you would look for something to do. Just in case there was anything. And then, you would find the Celebration of Christmas by efProductions. It’s kind of… Wowing.

The whole thing started off with a vigorous round of the “12 Days of Christmas,” and then fell into a Dickens-ish sort of musical. After a few minutes an angel was introduced.  She had come to earth to spark happiness into the lives of the people.

The show continued along quite normally (except for the horse-drawn sleigh riding through the isles), until there was a dream sequence. And you probably know what happens when there’s a dream sequence. Things get interesting. A giant light up train was pulled through the gaps between seating rows, and then there was a disco ball being hit with laser lights up at the ceiling. Confetti shot into the faces of the people in the middle rows, and toy army men slid down a rope descending from the ceiling. There were ballerinas and dancing and music and I can’t even remember everything that happened. But then they brought in the animals. Alpacas, a horse, a zebra, a donkey,  lambs, until I wouldn’t be surprised if a kangaroo got loose in the orchestra. Seriously, I knew I wouldn’t be surprised because it actually happened and I wasn’t a bit astonished.
Screenshot 2015-12-14 at 10.07.12 AM

Finally the sleeping person woke up, and it was intermission. I just sat there trying to digest it all. After the break they played out the baby Jesus story. It was actually kind of what you’d expect, until the wise men came. RIDING CAMELS!! Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Only two were riding camels, but they were huge. They were each followed by their own processions, including people who held flaming sticks and twirled them, and people who held up canopies to protect people’s heads from the burning sun (kind of unnecessary, seeing as it was the dead of night in a building in December). Another procession came following their king, who was riding on a peacock feather covered chariot.

There were more songs, and acrobats, and dancing, and things coming out of the ceiling. We went over everything that came out of the ceiling afterwords, and determined that at least nine different things came out. That’s nine different things, not nine individual
things. There were usually at least three of each thing. If you’re ever in Cottonwood at Christmas time in need of a crazy Christmas celebration, I advise you to go. It’ll give you something to talk about for days afterwards.