Husband, Wife Help Readers Explore the Desert

by Loren and Melissa Shelton, Critter-Photography Team

We are Loren and Melissa Shelton, and we both grew up in Casa Grande. I’ve been here since 1969 and have seen a lot of changes. I’ve always been an explorer of the desert and have seen much of Arizona.

I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon several times, as well as Havasupai falls. Have hiked to all the highest peaks in Arizona, from Humphreys near Flagstaff to the Sky islands of southeast Arizona.

I grew up trapping bobcats and other fur-bearing animals back in the day right around Casa Grande; earned a lot of money in high school that way. Since then I’m more of a photographer with a deep interest in nature, especially reptiles.

Melissa grew up on a farm and owned a local pet store here in Casa Grande for many years. We do a lot of exploring together. I asked her to marry me on one of the Grand Canyon hikes.
We go out almost nightly looking for critters, especially snakes, which we photograph and let them go on their way. Last year we saw 300 snakes!

We see foxes, coyotes, lots of small animals, and lizards. Casa Grande is wonderful for sitting out of town at dusk and watching the bats come out at the right time of year.

There is so much to do and see locally, and we’d like to share some of our experiences with the places and critters we see.

Hopefully, everyone will enjoy what we share and learn a little along the way — most importantly to learn the benefits of creatures some people may are afraid of because of myths and fears perpetrated about them. Snakes have their place, as do scorpions and spiders.

I think we all will have fun getting to know more about our area and some of the cool things to do and see around here including learning about the elusive Gila monsters and Chuckwalla lizards.
We hope to feature some of your favorites over the months and we both look forward to the opportunity to share with you.

Meet the Chuckwalla

The Chuckwalla is a diurnal (active during the daytime) lizard that is rather large compared to other lizards around here.

Sometimes mistaken for Gila monsters, Chuckwallas are usually all black with a yellow tail. They live in the granite outcroppings of our local mountains and can get over a foot long. They have a large body they can puff full of air when they escape in a crack of the boulders making them next to impossible to get out.

Despite their large bodies, and the fact there are many of them all over our mountains, they are wary and alert. Most people have never seen one. They come out in the spring to feed off new plant growth and flowers and bask in the sun.

They are big beautiful lizards that are herbivores and are always fun to see. Next time you’re out hiking, look in the cracks of the boulders, and you just might find a big lizard peering back at you!