White Mountains, AZ - Part 2

Mark Walker MWalker at gensym.com
Tue Aug 27 20:59:14 EDT 2002

Well, after my most pleasant viewing of the lep collection of Stephen
Dolansky, I made my way south towards Alpine, Arizona.  The area just south
of Eager, Arizona was incredibly green from recent rainfall (the same
rainfall that kept me wet a few weeks ago), and everything was in full
bloom.  This was an encouraging sight.
At Alpine, I headed west towards Big Lake and into the heart of the White
Mountains.  I grew a bit concerned after searching a few of the abundant and
blossoming meadows, as not a single butterfly was seen anywhere.  The only
lep on the wing was a stunning black and white Gnophaela moth, but no sign
of anything else.  Could it be that the drought had eclipsed the late summer
Nymphalid flights?  I found this hard to believe.
Suddenly, at a lone thistle blossom, I saw a nectaring male Speyeria
nokomis, freshly emerged, and looking quite spectacular.  This was yet
another good sign, indeed.  The National Forest roads through this region
are very friendly, and there was little need for my Subaru's All Wheel
Drive.  There are plenty of campgrounds to choose from in this area, also,
making the region a great get-away destination for those inclined to sleep
on the ground.
I stopped for a look around at Three Forks, where an expansive meadow lies
at the converging of three streams.  The meadow was overgrown with thistle,
as well as a sea of other flowering plants waving in the light wind.  I
immediately began seeing Speyeria mormonia luske - counted in the hundreds -
chasing about and favoring various smaller flower blossoms for nectar.  The
females of this species were abundant, and quite fresh.  I could see the
occasional male Speyeria nokomis flying about, looking over the forest of
thistle for any sign of a potential lady companion.  None were to be found,
I'm afraid - the season not quite far enough along for their presence.  This
made the males exceptionally difficult to capture, as they rarely stopped to
sip.  They fly so rapidly that it is virtually impossible to take chase.
Especially since the meadow is characterized by many meandering streams and
marshy areas.  Both my feet became quite saturated after only a few minutes.
Another butterfly that was relatively common here was the very ruddy Lycaena
ferrisi (Ferris' Copper).  I dunno - it looks just like rubidus to me, but
then I haven't examined them side by side.
By noon the area had exploded into a Speyeria party, and I laughed at my
earlier concern that I might not encounter any butterflies at all.  I stayed
in the meadow until about 1:30, at which time I began my long haul back to
Oceanside, California.  My three hours at Three Forks was well worth the
upcoming drive.  I waved goodbye to my fellow party goers, and trudged back
to the car.
On my way home I stopped in Phoenix for petrol, and ended up picking up a
70-year old hitchhiker wearing a Texaco uniform.  This was Lee, and Lee was
heading home to Palm Springs, California, after working for three straight
weeks in Sun City.  It seems he had tried to get home the weekend before,
but ended up waiting for 12 hours on a lonely Phoenix onramp - only to head
back to the Texaco station to endure another week of working and sleeping in
a nearby abandoned vehicle.  We chatted extensively during our four hour
drive together, and I found out that Lee had intended on retiring by now -
and would have, if not for his invalid wife who had become instantly and
mysteriously paralyzed from the neck down some 7 ½ years ago.  It seems that
the Auto Mechanic profession that Lee had chosen never provided any health
insurance, and so Lee was forced to spend his retirement money (> $250,000)
on his wife's medical bills.  Meanwhile, Lee can find no service stations
anywhere in California that are willing to hire a 70-year old mechanic.  The
closest he could find work was 20 miles north of Phoenix.  Three weeks prior
to our ride together, Lee's only vehicle busted a head gasket as he coasted
down from the General Patton Museum down to Indio, California.
Nevertheless, Lee remains optimistic that his luck will soon change.  He's
been fighting for survival for all these years, so no reason to stop now.
My list from Three Forks:
Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur)
Lycaena ferrisi (Ferris' Copper)
Speyeria mormonia (Mormon Fritillary)
Speyeria nokomis (Nokomis Fritillary)
Speyeria hesperis/atlantis (Northwestern Fritillary)
Oarisma garita (Garita Skipperling)
Poanes taxiles (Taxiles Skipper)
Pyrgus communis? (Checkered Skipper)
Mark Walker
Oceanside, CA
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