Collecting at night in the wilds of San Benito county, central California

 

Much of San Benito county is a long way from civilization, very beautiful and very wild. It could be called "the Land Between the Freeways" - it's seen by millions as part of California's "fly-over country". But very few ever set foot on those remote mountains and valleys. They're still rich with wildlife, including the endangered giant kangaroo rats which live near where this picture was taken.

Image above: The sun was setting in the west as I arrived on my 2002 collecting trip, Labor Day weekend. After the stars came out I was driving the narrow highway through the roughest countryside on the entire trip - it was the pass through the Diablo Range.

 

The gigantic tarantulas of the San Benito Badlands

I'd seen and heard many amazing natural sights and sounds during the ten years I'd collected on my particular highway there. But I was about to encounter something I never knew lived out there - gigantic hairy tarantulas as big as a truck! I was able to snap this series of pictures before the area was sealed off. The National Guard had to be called in from Hollister. Note to would-be fluorescent collectors: don't say I didn't warn you!

November, 2003: the National Guard confronting a particularly large male tarantula.

 

The spider continued to advance. I was afraid to move in case it saw me.

 

 

The soldiers bullets only infuriated the tarantula.

 

 

Chomp!

At that moment I started running and drove as fast as I could out of the Badlands. I never heard anything about the tarantula battle in the news media - hopefully the government has eradicated the big spiders. But who knows?

 

 

Fluorescent minerals of San Benito county

 

 

 
 

I discovered and named the Hydra Springs location

Above are beautiful fluorescent minerals from a locality which I discovered and named "Hydra Springs". Evidently an ancient hydrothermal deposit left behind Calcite with multi-colored fluorescence. There are several different main types of fluorescent mineral at Hydra Springs.

The entire suite of fluorescent mineral colors from the Hydra Springs complex includes blue, white, pink, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, pale green and many various shades of those colors. The scarcer fluorescent yellow "sandwich" pieces from Hydra Springs are also attractive and unusual. I discovered this unique, secret location, named it and have acquired quite a collection of all the different types. Only a very few have been acquired by other collectors so far but I'm beginning to offer some of them on eBay.

Small earthquakes occur in this vicinity still to this day.

 

 

Watch out! . . . Don't pick it up!

On one of my 1992 trips to San Benito county at night I saw something on the ground with my small portable UV light. I was inches away from picking it up with my ungloved hand when I realised what it was . . . . a baby rattlesnake, coiled up to keep warm. I had almost made a big mistake. Even though it was sluggish and only a juvenile, if it had struck me with it's fangs I would have been just as sick as if it had been an adult. There were no emergency rooms for countless miles from where it happened. I did have a collecting friend with me, though. But he left for home, leaving me to continue searching with my own car.

A night-time close encounter of the poisonous reptile kind will definitely set your nerves on high, leading to a kind of hyper-alertness. Sure enough, I was wide awake and continuing to explore the backroads for hours after the snake incident. About an hour later I was in another remote place, reaching down to pick up a rock when I saw a real creepy crawler - the glowing claw of something, a tiny alien-looking object, which instantly disappeared underground. That night seemed to be one hair-raising thing after another!

I didn't know exactly what I'd seen but since then I've become familiar with them. It was a scorpion, out for a night of hunting but glowing with a ghostly greenish hue under ultraviolet. It was truly a weird occurrence in the dead of night in the Badlands of San Benito county. Look at the picture below and imagine seeing only a single claw for just a split second and then it was gone . . . It was easy to believe that the next incident that night could very well be something far more sinister. The sky was extremely dark and I was utterly and completely alone.

Nothing else happened on the way back except that I saw nearly a hundred small furry animals running across the road in front of me - more than I could count. Were they large field mice? Kangaroo rats? I don't know but that night I found out that the Badlands really were where the wild things are!

 

Scorpions are plentiful at night in the Diablo Range

The good news about the scorpions: they're not really dangerous and they light up under ultraviolet light, like the one shown here. The bad news is that as you reach down with gloved hands to pick up rocks, they are sometimes found under the rocks or walking on the ground next to them. It does get a little unnerving after it happens several times in one night.

 

 

 

 

 

 San Benito county by daylight

Click on the images for a larger view.

 

 The Panoche Valley

 

 

Panoche Valley panorama

 

 

 

 

 The Tumey Hills

 

 The Panoche Road is one of the loneliest in California.

 

 

 

 

Next stop