40 hour Arizona Rush - Part 1

Mark Walker MWalker at gensym.com
Sat Mar 9 05:26:12 EST 2002

Missouri Slim, Missouri Bill, and Hemileuca tricolor
When Bill Mooney contacted me last Sunday and told me that the Pima
Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura pima) was on the wing, he reminded me that I
had once mentioned that I would consider driving to Tucson on immediate
notice.  I had never found the elusive little Pima, and I found myself
tempted beyond what I can bear - so I packed my stuff and set the alarm.
Bill and I (we hadn't actually ever met) were planning on hooking up for
dinner and then heading out to the desert to light for moths, but I couldn't
see driving all the way to Tucson without stopping along the way.  I made
good time and was in Arizona by 11:00 a.m., so I targeted somewhere in the
Mohawk Valley, Yuma County, to do some practice swinging.  This isn't as
easy as it sounds, even when using a nice map like the Arizona Atlas and
Gazetteer.  One of the problems is that not all of the marked roads are
public.  Another problem is that many of the roads that are public tend to
disappear before your very eyes.  After driving into the Yuma Proving
Grounds, the road I had chosen simply vanished into a rather large wash.
Fortunately for me, I was driving my brand new Subaru Outback - and it
somehow managed to get me back to roads that were paved.  I saw no sign of
You'd think a paved road would be good enough, but it was amazingly
difficult to find one that led me back to Interstate 8.  I've had similar
problems in other parts of Gila River country, where the roads just don't
seem to go where you want them to go.  After driving through Farmer Johns
back 40, I stumbled upon Avenue 40 East - a downright significant
thoroughfare that actually included an onramp onto the Interstate.  The time
was about 12:00 noon, and I was now looking at the Mohawk Mountains (or
beyond) for my badly needed practice.  While Bill and I had planned to look
for the Orangetip in the morning, I was secretly hoping that I might find
one or two a day earlier.
Just as I was entering the onramp, however, I noticed a wayfaring hitchhiker
who seemed to be way down on his luck.  Next thing I know, I'm introducing
myself to him and promising to drive him all the way to Casa Grande.  He was
farther down on his luck than I thought, hunched, scarred, and shabby, and
it was no wonder that the poor guy was having trouble getting a ride.  Of
course, there's no end to the ride opportunities that come off of Avenue 40
East.  There's no start, either.  Slim had been sitting on that onramp for
over 48 hours.
It seems as though my new friend Slim had followed a redheaded bombshell a
week before from Casa Grande all the way to El Centro, California - only to
be rejected.  Slim had a heck of a time getting from El Centro back to where
I picked him up.  This had been an adventure which included a night stay in
jail for trying to get work detailing big rigs.  You see, my buddy Slim was
a homeless wayfarer who had run from the police in his hometown in Missouri.
Slim had a history of bad luck - he was thrown from the vehicle his brother
Petey was driving when he was 13, only to have the vehicle roll over the top
of him.  Slim's right arm is still a mangled mess from this event, but the
doctors deserve an award for mending it well enough to be functional.  I
would shake that right arm of Slim's no less than a dozen times over the
next 48 hours.
I offered Slim some beef jerky which he ravenously accepted.  Slim hadn't
had a bite to eat in over three days.  He had trouble eating the jerky on
account of his missing his dentures (his teeth had been missing since his
youth as well) - the dentures having been tossed out by the thugs that stole
most of his belongings a few days earlier.  Also stolen were his detailing
polish and the other things he used to earn a buck or two.  Now granted,
Slim reeked of alcohol, and admittedly his predicament was largely his own
doing.  But there was more to learn about Slim than would meet the eye, and
the two hours left to Casa Grande would really get me thinking (and
thanking).  Someone had written a sign for Slim during his attempts to get
out of El Centro that was intended to help him solicit money from passersby.
Slim had never done this before, and found it difficult - worrying that at
any moment his "Momma" might drive up and see him and give him an earful.
Slim's Momma is still in Missouri, well into her 70's, and still both the
matriarch and patriarch of the family.  His eldest brother is serving a life
sentence for shooting a police officer with a bow and arrow, after warning
the officer not to come onto his property.  Slim himself has served time
once or twice, but his latest legal problems stemmed from a nasty divorce
when the judge insisted that he surrender custody of his faithful dog Stubby
- a runt dog he had nurtured back to health and owned for over 12 years.
"I had the dog before I had the bride", Slim complained to the judge.  The
judge wouldn't listen.  "You're a @&%$ piece of %&#$", Slim responded.  The
judge put Slim in jail for 40 days for that offense.  Soon after being
released, Slim discovered his work vehicle was being confiscated.  This sent
Slim off ("I'm a hardheaded man", he'd tell me), and Slim bashed the windows
out of the van.  He's been on the run ever since, and it's been over two
years now.
"I'd like to go and climb that mountain", I said to Slim, pointing at some
prime Pima Orangetip habitat as we passed into Maricopa County.
"Why would you want to do something like that?", Slim asked.  I decided I
wouldn't even try to explain.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to Eloy", Slim told me,  "where I have
friends and a bed to sleep on.  It's been gettin' cold at night, and I gave
away my only coat".
"You gave away your coat?" I asked.
"The guy was hurting - pretty bad off".  He must have been, I thought to
I drove Slim the rest of the way, merging southbound on Interstate 10 and
pulling off the freeway at exit 200.  I was curious as to what friends Slim
might have at this truckers offramp.  I decided to buy Slim some food and
took him into the Petro truck stop, where he was nervously hoping to find
some acquaintances.  "There they are", he said, as he pointed off beyond the
trucks and into the adjoining field.  There in the distance, huddled among a
few scrubby plants, were several other homeless people.  "I built that",
Slim said, referring to a makeshift bedroll of trash and old furniture.
Here were his friends and that was his bed.  Way better than that offramp in
the middle of the desert, I supposed.
After dropping off Slim, I frantically checked the time and found it to
already be 2:30 p.m. (I lost an hour coming into Arizona).  I decided to
head up into the Casa Grande Mountains in desperation, hoping to find
something before the lepping day was over.  It was only 10 minutes after
parking the car that I saw my very first Pima Orangetip.  This ranks as one
of the most beautiful butterflies I've ever seen on the wing.  It's
unquestionably yellow, but once you're close enough you can't miss the
orange starburst that is emitted from the wingtips.  It's like a miniature
Orange Barred Sulphur, and well worth driving seven hours for.  
I would find another one that day, nectaring on the top near the
transmission towers.  I considered the find a pretty nice reward for getting
my priorities straight for a change.  Of course, I found myself chomping at
the bit as I drove past all the great habitat while Slim was gnawing on
jerky and telling his story.  Now I was on my way to see Bill, who is,
ironically, also from Missouri.  Bill and I would hit it off immediately,
and after a brief introduction at his home we headed into the Sonoran Desert
near Colossal Cave in Pima County to see if we couldn't lure in a few
Hemileuca tricolor - a very cool Silk Moth that tends to fly just after
sunset.  I had never seen the moth on the wing before, but after bagging the
Pima and sharing my ride with Slim, I felt as if I might have already iced
the trip.  Nevertheless, as the evening waned and the sky grew dark, I found
myself enjoying a whole new fellowship.  Bill and I chatted for hours while
sitting around the Mercury Vapor, exchanging war stories and lep stories and
hardly noticing the lack of moth activity at the sheet.
Suddenly, when it looked as if there would be no moths this evening, a lone
Hemileuca came buzzing along.  This one Bill dispatched using a syringe of
ammonia, and suddenly I had my very first specimen sitting in my pocket.  An
hour later we had two more.  Bill was surprised there weren't many more, but
I mentioned how I'm often blessed with just single instances of what I'm
looking for.  I was feeling pretty jazzed, having sampled both of the
species I drove ten hours for.  We packed it all up, and were home by 10:00
p.m.  How cool is that. 
Mark Walker
Oceanside, CA
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