Dinner at the Rock House
By Matt Marine
Click here to see photo gallery from the trip.
Sometimes nature works with you, providing beauty beyond belief. Other times, nature has different plans. On a recent trip to the Rock House north of Tucson, we headed out to witness a beautiful sunset followed by the moonrise of the supermoon. If everything went as planned we could also have a nice dinner and take some photos of the house against the night sky.
I guess Mother Nature wasn't in a cooperative mood that night, but it didn't start out that way.
We left our house at 5 pm, looking northward at darkening skies. Radar showed a big line of storms coming in from the north, but my guess was that they'd be long gone by the time we hit dirt. And I was right (probably for the last time that night). By the time we turned onto Willow Springs Road all that remained from the recent rains were some new washouts and large puddles that hadn't been there when we'd driven by the night before.
My friend Scott and his family followed us in Scott's newly acquired Toyota Tundra, followed by Mike and Angel in their TJ. We stopped to air down at the 24 Hour trailhead and I let my daughter Jennifer take the wheel. The first part of the trail is fun and easy - a good place to learn some 4WD techniques.
She led us west along the power line road as the sun began to set. The rain was way off in the mountains to the west, obscuring the sun, but also providing a nice breeze and cool temperatures. Gidget (our newest puppy) and Cat-dog rode with my wife in the back seat of the Jeep. It was Gidget's first time four-wheeling and I think she'd rather had stayed on pavement.
I took over the driving when we made the turn to the Rock House and we made good time, getting there just before sunset. That's when Mother Nature gave us her first hint that we may not have been welcome that night.
We had no sooner parked, when Mike pointed out a Gila Monster walking on the road just beyond the Rock House. These are shy and rare creatures (I've only seen about four in my thirty years here). This guy was quite large and faster than I've witnesses before. He was also shedding his skin. I tried to take a few pictures of him, but he was camera shy and went to hide in the cactus and bushes.
Not two minutes after we got back to our vehicles, we began to smell the strong odor of a skunk. Something had frightened one very close to us and the smell was overpowering. I thought I was going to have to leave (due to my illness, my smell is about 1,000 times more sensitive than most people's). Some of the group attempted to wait for the smell to dissapate by putting their shirt over their noses, others by walking further down the road and others still by putting a bag of spicy chips up to their face.
It took more than twenty minutes for the skunk smell to go away. By then, the sun had set and we had missed most of the colors. This didn't surprise me since the Rock House is in a shallow valley and we couldn't see the sun as it dipped below the horizon. We grilled hot dogs and had dinner on the patio. It was actually very nice. The weather was pleasantly cool and a nice breeze swirled around the house.
After dinner, we began to set up our camera equipment and that's when "it" hit the fan. The first one bit was Cammie. She gave a soft yelp and began limping on her front foot. My wife found a large black ant still attached to her paw. If you've never been stung (bitten) by one of these, it's similar to a bee or wasp sting in many ways, unless of course you have a reaction. About 10 years ago, one bit me on my leg. It promptly turned red and splotchy, went numb and swelled up for about a day. Not fun.
Almost immediately after pulling the ant off Cammie, we found a few more ants on Gidget. What was going on? I didn't have much time to think about it before I felt a sharp pain on my left hand.
Then Angel yelped.
What in the hell?
We pointed our flashlights toward the ground and the scene was as if we were standing in the middle of an ant Armageddon. Thousands of black ants were pouring out of their holes and racing around in what appeared to be an aggressive manner. It was as if the ground were alive with ants. I could see ourselves being portrayed on the next hit reality TV show called, When Ants Attack!
My wife took the dogs (and herself) back to the Jeep for safety. I ignored Mother Nature's warning, still determined to get the photos I'd come out there for. Just a few pictures, I told myself. I placed my camera on the tripod and worked the lens.
Then Scott cried out. An ant had crawled up his leg and bit him in the thigh. That was enough for my sister and she also took refuge in the Jeep. Those staying outside remained defiant. We were the 300 Spartans against the Persian hoards. We quickly got out the light sticks as if they were Spartan swords, our battle plan was to keep moving around as we took the pictures so the Persian ants could never gain purchase.
In some ways it was a comical scene, the remaining few dancing and constantly shifting their feet in an attempt to thwart the ant's advance. We didn't last long (King Leonidas would have been disappointed). After about five minutes our resolve left us as I got bit a second time and my daughter found at least five crawling on up her legs (this was while she was dancing around) and one on her back.
It was a quick retreat. We packed up as fast as we could, literally throwing the gear in the back of the Jeep and got the hell outa there. It was a battle we could not win and unlike the Spartans, we wanted to live to fight another day. Besides, we were the invaders, not the ants. They were protecting their home.
The drive out of the wash was a little eerie, the overgrown trees seemed to get closer in the darkness, their branches clawing at the Jeep as we drove by. Once we made it to the power lines and up on the ridge, the world opened up and we all took a deep breath. During the rest of the drive home we could see lightning off in the distance and drove through some light sprinkles. Thee air was cool and best of all, no biting ants. We got home safely and everyone took a shower just in case there were any left over Persian ant warriors hidden in our clothes.
I have never seen such aggressive ants. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was something else. All I know that it just wasn't our night to be out there. Regardless, it was better than staying home and watching reality TV. And I did manage to get one or two salvageable photos before the ants sent us marching home.
Click here to see gallery of the photos from our trip
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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