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The Desert NewsFlash
August 2020
                                                             Black chinned hummingbird at CDRI Nature Center. Photo  by Emily Zamora.
It's Hummingbird Season!
If you are fortunate to be in the Davis Mountains region through the next two months, it's  likely you'll get to view many different species of hummingbirds. Migrating birds are just showing up, starting with Rufous hummingbirds. Some of the best viewing is from a rocking chair on our porch, as well as at the CDRI Bird Blind. Bring your camera! Buy your ticket online at www.cdri.org. Wear your mask. And, always, be sure to bring plenty of water. For tickets and for more information, please see our website at  www.cdri.org.  
Hope to welcome you soon!
Photo, left: Calliope Hummingbird by Danny Hancock.  Photo, center: Rufous hummingbird by Andy Morgan. Photo, Right: Black chinned hummingbird by Carol DiQuilio. 
Creosote bush in bloom.
Garden Notes
The Creosote Invasion
By: Seth Hamby
 
The creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) is emblematic of the American southwest and Mexico, occurring in vast monospecific (one species) stands across thousands of square miles of the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave Deserts. The Mexican common name for the plant is “gobernadora” and is sometimes referred to as chaparral in the US. Creosote bush is a member of the Zygophyllaceae, or caltrop family. This family has around 285 species in 22 genera and typically has opposite leaves with stipules or spines. Creosote can be solitary or clonal and live for thousands of years. The “King Clone” stand in the Mojave Desert of California has been determined to be 11,700 years old, making it one of the oldest organisms on Earth.
Larrea tridentata is an evergreen shrub reaching heights of 10 feet or more with yellow flowers emerging after heavy rains. The plant gives off a powerful aromatic scent after rain that is reminiscent of coal tar creosote, hence the common name.
Native Americans have used creosote bush for thousands of years to treat infections, as an anti-inflammatory, for respiratory complaints, to treat gastrointestinal disorders, as a poultice for the treatment of cuts and skin disorders, as well as for general oral health and toothaches. Indigenous peoples also used the sticky secretions of the lac scale insect, Tachardiella larreae, that lives solely on creosote bush, for medicinal and utilitarian purposes as well.
Creosote bush is a keystone species of the American warm deserts, offering food to many animals including specialist herbivores and pollinators. The jackrabbit is the only known mammal to feed directly on the leaves of the plant. Other small mammals, including wood rats and kangaroo rats, as well as countless species of birds, depend on the seeds of the creosote bush for their survival, and have no doubt helped spread the plant across the deserts.
Countless species use the plant for shelter from the desert heat or as protection from predators. More than 60 different species of insects have evolved specifically with the creosote bush. One interesting example is a walking stick insect that looks like the leaves of the bush when young and then when older, looks like the twigs of the plant. There are at least 15 distinct species of gall midges in the genus Asphondylia that form unique and complex galls on the leaves, buds, and twigs of the creosote bush. These galls are irregular plant growth formed by an immune response to the growth regulating chemicals produced by these insects. The midges then lay their eggs in the galls to complete their life cycles. Twenty-two species of native bees have evolved to feed only on the nectar and pollen of creosote bushes.
The chuckwalla lizard is the only known reptile to feed on the leaves of the plant, but countless other reptiles use it for shelter. You can see from the myriad ecological connections why the creosote bush is said to hold the desert web of life together.
Larrea is a New World genus of plants, meaning it only occurs in North and South America. Four species of Larrea occur in xeric portions of South America and one, Larrea tridentata, occurs in North America. Creosote bush is considered to be a classic example of a polyploidy complex. Polyploidy, or whole-genome multiplication, is when a normally diploid organism acquires one or more additional sets of chromosomes. Polyploidy plays a critical role in plant evolution, producing novel characteristics that aid in adaptation and single-step speciation. For instance, if a polyploid seed is dispersed to a novel environment, the extra chromosomes increase the chances of the plant developing advantageous mutations that could help it survive. Some polyploid plants can even become entirely new species altogether in a single generation. Polyploidy is a major contributor the botanical dominance of flowering plants on Earth.
Larrea tridentata is a monophyletic group that is most closely related to the South American Larrea divaricata. At one point, the two plants were considered to be one species until genetic research made a pretty compelling argument for separating them. The argument stems from the polyploidy of the creosote bush. The general theory is that long distance dispersal of seeds is responsible for bringing creosote bush to the Chihuahuan Desert, and from there, the plant spread to the other warm deserts of North America. Interestingly, ploidy levels generally conform along desert boundaries. The Chihuahuan Desert plants are diploid (2), the Sonoran Desert plants are tetraploid (4), and the Mojave Desert plants are hexaploid (6).
The DNA evidence shows that the migration of plants from the Chihuahuan to the Sonoran was facilitated by a doubling of their chromosomes. Because the Mojave and Sonoran are more similar than the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran, the boundary between tetraploid and hexaploid populations is less well defined than between diploid and tetraploid populations. Tetraploid and hexaploid genetic sequences are also nearly identical when compared with diploid DNA. In summary, creosote bush made it to the Chihuahuan Desert via long distance seed dispersal, then became tetraploid to adapt to the conditions of the Sonoran Desert, then became hexaploid to adapt to the Mojave Desert.
All this to say, the creosote invasion of the North American continent was a “recent and rapid demographic expansion from a small founding population.” Recent and rapid are both relative terms of course. It is estimated, although no one really knows for sure, that the colonization event began sometime between the mid-Pleistocene and the late Pliocene. Whenever it occurred, the addition of Larrea tridentata to the desert landscape was certainly a benefit ecologically and anthropologically.
Honestly, before researching for this article, I was not particularly impressed by the creosote bush. Yeah, it’s got cool flowers. Yeah, to me it smells weird. But, if you talk to people who have spent their lives in the desert, they will tell you that it makes the air smell heavenly when the desert gets its summertime rains. Yeah, it seems to be EVERYWHERE - up to about 5,000 ft. elevation. Now, I have a newfound interest, respect, and appreciation. I hope this article has done the same for you. I think perhaps life is like that. I will leave you with a quote by Henry Miller, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
A Pup's Own Hitchin' Post 

We created the new Doggy Hitchin' Post located in front of the Cactus Greenhouse out of concern for all of the dogs who visit CDRI Nature Center's Cactus and Succulent Greenhouse (accompanied, of course, with their human). Because there are  mouse and rat traps set in out-of-the-way locations on the floor of the greenhouse, we have asked pet owners to leave their dog(s) outside of the greenhouse. Our concern has been that a curious dog might accidentally be injured. 
The next time you and your dog are visiting the Nature Center, please take a photo of your pup at the hitchin' post and email it, along with your name and your dog's name, to programs@cdri.org. We'll post our dog photos in a future Desert NewsFlash. 
CDRI’s Host Camper Program Continues to Produce Friends for Life

By Lisa Gordon

Four years ago, at CDRI, we took a chance. While several people said it was risky, Rick Herrman (the “then” Executive Director) and I said, “Not so risky. Let’s do it!” We placed an advertisement in one of the online RV sites for a host camper couple to work at the Nature Center. The “win-win” exchange we offered was for the couple to work three days each week at the Information Desk and Gift Shop, swapped for free lodging and accommodations (pad, sewer, electric), in door full size washer/dryer, a full sized indoor bathroom/shower, and four days off to explore the Big Bend Region.  Oh, and did we mention frequent afternoon cookies, courtesy of CDRI! 
What happened was a transformation on how we staff our Visitor Center. It also had a positive on our budget, which is architected under the mandate of “uncovering ways to do more with the same or fewer resources”.
We’ve had such wonderful host campers, each who have become friends, as well as a part of the CDRI Team. Andy and Terri were our first host campers. They were seasoned veterans from their experiences with other tourist sites, so they knew exactly what to do (and they didn’t charge us for the lessons we eagerly absorbed). Each evening, as their way to wind down, they would hike the trails and take detailed notes. Fresh eyes on trails we knew well, proved to be very beneficial.   On one of their many hikes, Andy pointed out that some of the trails were difficult to follow in certain places (something our familiarity caused us to possess a “blind spot”). He and Terri set out to build rock cairns as directional tools for hikers. It worked! They walked the trails daily and built cairns which helped other hikers throughout the year.  Moreover, when we uncovered another useful durable, low maintenance marking mechanism (cattle panel rock baskets, with signage), they and some other volunteer helpers meaningfully enhanced our trails.  AMAZING.  THANK YOU.
Andy, a retired veterinarian, also helped us with our Bird Sleuth educational program. Andy devised a working model to show students how the lung “chambers” of a bird function. At another program, Andy helped children learn about “entomophagy” and demonstrated eating insects was okay as a source of protein.
Following Andy and Terri were Jacky and Donna. They, too, worked primarily at the Visitor Center Information Desk, but in their spare time, you could find Jacky crafting walking sticks from sotol stalks. Jacky took the idea to a new level to where we now have volunteers make all of our walking sticks which we offer for sale in the Gift Shop. Volunteers and host campers start with shucking the rough sides off of the stalks, then they sand the sides to a smooth finish. Next, several coats of varnish are applied. Jacky and Donna added hand applied twine-wrapped hand holds and special rubber cane tips for the bottom of their canes. Andy (whose story is in the above referenced story) also worked on walking sticks upon his return. Andy’s artistic abilities manifested when he artfully painted desert critters on his walking sticks.
BJ followed soon after. We have dubbed BJ CDRI’s “Queen of new memberships”. She will be returning on October 1st for her 4th year with the Nature Center.  If you haven’t stopped to visit with BJ, you’re in for a treat (we suggest a 5-10 minute allowance so as to avoid missing any segment of the stories, particularly about her non-stop travels).
In between these visits, Sarah and Andy worked for two consecutive years. Andy is  a gifted, unassuming, professional nature photographer who generously donated his photographs of Mitre Peak and of the immediate area to the Nature Center. We made post cards from Andy’s photos, as well as the large artwork in the Visitor Center bearing our Mission Statement. Andy and Sarah returned for two years, and have stayed in touch and donated more photos. They were scheduled to return this month, but due to travel and safety concerns related to the public health situation, they elected to postpone their trip for another time.  We miss them and are eager to get caught up on their next “tour of duty”!
We’ve had other great host campers including Carolyn, who filled in on short notice, and who returned last summer just to visit with the Team and say “Hi!” And, Willie and Linda, who worked for two months. They left the Visitor Center and the Maintenance Building sparkling clean while conscientiously avoiding ever making us feel negligent.
Right on their heels were Steve and Colleen. Steve had been a machinist before retirement which gave him a knack for being able to repair things starting with the golf cart “Slice”, generously donated by Joe and Lanna Duncan several years ago.  Steve also installed the water refill station inside the Visitor Center, and rebuilt the back road to the Maintenance Building after a summer flood just last year.
All, and we truly mean ALL, of our host campers have become dear friends who we are fortunate to remain in touch with. Without question, your Nature Center is tons better because of their character, commitment, and abilities, and all of us at CDRI are better for knowing them and their ongoing friendship.  People were right is coaching us to be cautious, but we are forever grateful that careful planning, and the luck of meeting splendid people, have truly resulted in a “WIN-WIN” (a phrase we use often, and some might say, “wear-out”-WHICH we believe is darned near impossible).  Looking back to anyone who expressed worries at the outset, we hope they can now see those worries were for naught.
Last, but by no means least, allow us to set the stage.  Everyone agrees, the past six+ months have been an exceptional time with the pandemic raging across the planet.   Fortunately, while exceptional challenge demands exceptional response, CDRI was again fortunate that there was an exceptional host camper couple who arrived on the scene, prior to anyone’s ability to truly see the gravity of what has and continues to unfold. 
Dave and Mary arrived at the Nature Center on February 1st. Things were normal, as we were prepped and ready for the Nature Center spring, where our activity level matches nature’s “rebirth”. Almost as soon as they were able to settle in and we introduced them to the team and the Nature Center, the realities of COVID-19 emerged.  As you know, we elected to temporarily close literally during Spring Break and the annual Cactus Sale fundraiser. Dave and Mary never missed a beat, and they just kept on working. In fact, they stepped up the beat. They reported to work every day of the week. Dave immediately set to work on repairing – not replacing – the 15-year-old hot water heater that had quit functioning just as Spring Break was upon us.   Then, he worked out the plumbing issues on the newly installed bathroom vanities. They now have hot and cold water.
While Dave was working on plumbing issues, Mary started cleaning the Powell Visitor Center. Not only did she disinfect everything, she packed away the items in the Gift Shop to ensure they will be nice and fresh when we reopen the Gift Shop. Mary also ventured upstairs to the creepy old (queue the creepy organ chords) “Education Closet” which we had fondly named the “Mouse Closet” (with no fear of encroaching on a Disney trademark) and proceeded to empty out its contents. Mary sorted through 20 years of educational materials that had been stored in that closet which had been untouched for possibly 15 years. Many of the items retained educational value, allowing us to donate them to Fort Davis elementary along with some cameras and printers which we donated to Valentine ISD. We hope the materials can be used. Mary and Dave even drove the items to town for their handoffs to either the school or to the thrift store which benefits Grand Companions.
They took on the task of cleaning out the accumulated junk (oops, we mean, “we may need that someday” items) in the Maintenance Building. This was years and years of accumulation. This task alone was a many weeks long, labor intensive project which they insisted on seeing it to its completion.
Dave and Mary also weeded and removed debris from around the storage buildings, rebuilt the roads that had been washed out due to rains, and as a regular duty, they helped Head Gardener, Seth, with his watering chores and closing up and/or opening up the greenhouse at times when Seth wasn’t able to be there.
One of the first things Dave noticed when he arrived was the shabby condition of the walls and ceiling of my office, which he gracefully pointed out. Right after repairing the water heater (early in March) Dave began patching the walls. Who knew that in one of his past lives Dave was a professional drywall finisher? The Director’s office and conference room now looks beautiful, and on a par with the standards we pursue for the entire Nature Center.
Mary helped me order carpet. That’s another story for next month’s Desert NewsFlash, but she happened to know both: i) what to order, and ii) how much. We’ve since had the carpet installed (it was 20 year’s old) and wow, what a difference.  Other things that they did: Dave got the tractor to running again. That took many trips to Alpine to test and purchase/install parts. He also got our trailer back to being road worthy condition and saw to it becoming re-licensed. This included ordering new tires, struggling with the rims on the old tires, reworking all of the old wiring, and adding safety chains, devising a chain hook-up to the pickup truck, and repairing faulty lights. And literally the afternoon before leaving town, Dave made one last trip into town to get the pickup truck inspected.
Besides Mary and Dave, they had a wonderful Labrador retriever, Crew, who never leaves their sides.  Crew is a gentle natured dog, who loved to run alongside the golf cart they used to travel to the front gate to raise the flags every morning, and to take them down each evening.
All of our host campers have been exceptional people, team members, and workers, even though we “typically” have never spent six months with any of them. Dave and Mary were the exception, and they proved to be amazing. They refused to accept payment for any of their work, and left us feeling blessed for their having been at the Nature Center at the wrong (or perhaps, perfect) time. Dave and Mary are life-long friends, as are all of our host campers. To each of our host campers, we thank you for adding to this family that is the CDRI Team.
If anyone has ever thought about hitting the road and traveling these 50 magnificent States (Hawaii’s tough via vehicle), we want you to know that you are in the best of company.  Your trailblazers at CDRI are just the sorts of folks everyone benefits from knowing.  And, we’re pretty sure that along the way, you’ll run into Andy and Terri, Jacky and Donna, BJ, Andy and Sarah, Willie and Linda, Carolyn, Steve and Colleen, and Dave and Mary.  If it sounds like an adventure you’re maybe considering, please let us know. We’ll be happy to welcome you to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens. And, we’re pretty sure you’ll fall in love with the place, its guests, and the Team at CDRI just as quickly as we take a liking to you.
Our next Host Camper, BJ, will arrive October 1.  Be sure to stop by and say “Hello!” and “Welcome back, BJ!” 
CDRI Welcomes Steven Hamilton
Steven Hamilton joined the CDRI Team in July as Maintenance Supervisor. Steven and his wife have had a home in the Fort Davis area for eight years, which they chose  as their permanent home upon Steven's retirement. Having spent his entire career working at a desk, looking at a computer every day, Steven says he's enjoying his retirement by being outdoors and getting to experience nature. We are happy that Steven has joined the CDRI Team, and we invite you to come on out an welcome Steven on your next visit to the Nature Center!
Snapshots Around the Nature Center
In the May 2020, Desert NewsFlash we reported that Board Director and Vice-President, Jim Martinez, donated $1,000 to be used to purchase the remaining unsold, large plants from the Cactus Sale fundraiser. (For background: The second week of the Cactus Sale came to an abrupt stop on March 16, with our temporary closure due to the pandemic.) To our delight, not only did Jim purchase the plants and gift them back to CDRI, he and family member Daniel Botello helped plant the new additions this past month in the Desert Specialy Garden in the Botanical Gardens. Thank you, Jim and Daniel!
CDRI Member Donates Masks
We'd like to extend a big thank you to CDRI member Margaret (Maggie) Luebben who donated handmade cotton masks, for each member of CDRI's team, while keeping in theme with the Nature Center with a printed cactus design. Thank you, Maggie! 
Volunteers are Back!
And, They're Working in the Garden!
Judy Reichelderfer has been back at the garden for two weeks, helping Seth with repotting cacti and weeding in the garden.   
Nancy Foxworthy helped Seth repot cacti this past week, and will be back for more next week.
Anyone who loves to be out in nature, who wants to make a difference, and who wishes to learn and have fun, please contact programs@cdri.org to volunteer. There's plenty of work to go around. 
Region 18 Teachers Meet for CPE Training
Since 2015, CDRI has provided free, fun, summer educational programs for Region 18 teachers, and we did it again this year! Teachers came from Midland, Odessa and Valentine to take part in this year's program "Stuck on You!".  Head Gardener, Seth Hamby, began the program with a walk through the Botanical Gardens and up to the Cactus Greenhouse. From there, the teachers hiked to the Pavilion which offered plenty of space for social distancing, plus a nice cool breeze. Teachers learned about cactus ecology and evolution, cactus biology, the status and conservation of cacti, ethnobotany, and applied botany for education, including "take home" insights on establishing classroom cactus gardens. Each teacher received a Thelocactus riconensus cactus to: 1) be able to investigate the various features of a cactus; and 2) take with them as a start to their cactus garden. Our thanks to the teachers who drove anywhere from 60 miles to 170 miles (one-way) to attend the meeting! Also, we thank Seth who developed and presented the program. Participants and the CDRI Team enjoyed a productive and fun day of adventure and outdoor learning. Thank you!
Thank You for Renewing Your
CDRI Membership!

We wish to thank all of our nearly 400 members who have been diligent in renewing their CDRI membership! Your membership not only allows you free access to the CDRI Nature Center and Botanical Gardens for a full year, but each membership also helps support the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens with its educational programs and in its day to day operations to the tune of about 10% of our budget. 
Thank you for your support!
To join in support of our Mission as a new
or renewing CDRI Member,  Click Here.
SAVE THE DATE
CDRI COOKOUT & AUCTION!
SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, 2021
.
In Memoriam
Over the summer, we lost three dedicated CDRI volunteers who we wish to acknowledge. 
Joe Irby Skinner, May 2, 2020worked for CDRI at the Information Desk until 2014, and also volunteered as an interpretive hiking guide from 2014 - 2016.  Joe received his bachelor's degree in religion from Texas Wesleyan University. Besides working for CDRI, Joe worked for both the National Park Service and Texas State Parks, and he was an active member in Texas Master Naturalists, Tierra Grande Chapter.
__________________________________
Jennifer Jordan, May 29, 2020helped CDRI in its early years by creating several educational programs for school-aged children. Jennifer  was a  tremendous help in staging the Silent Auction at the CDRI Cookout & Auction fundraiser from 2014 - 2017. When Jennifer wasn't volunteering, she would bring her dog Radley for hikes through the Botanical Garden.  
CDRI wishes to thank Mike and Martha Latta for their generous donation in memory of the many contributions made by Jennifer Jordan. 
___________________________________
Gwynne Jamieson, April 29, 2020, volunteered at the CDRI Nature Center from 2014 - 2017. Gwynne was wonderful working with young children at the Critter Camp programs for Pre-K and Kinder. Later, Gwen poured her time and energy into helping develop the Railroad Park Garden in Alpine.  

From 

"the best rural nature center in Texas"

We wish you happy trails!


We look forward to welcoming you soon!
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734
432.364.2499

www.cdri.org


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