Snakes awake

The Western coachwhip is one of the few diurnal snakes in our area, most snakes are nocturnal and rarely seen.

By Rick LoBello

It’s almost Memorial Day, it’s getting hotter and many snakes are starting are coming out of their underground burrows where they have been brumating (hibernating) during the cooler winter months. Snakes are cold blooded animals and can not tolerate extreme cold or heat. As they begin to wake up they are hungry and seeking warm air. They really can’t function when its cold and if they get caught out in cold weather they can die.

People in our city sometimes will find a snake in their yard or when hiking, but overall if you stay on hiking trails you could hike all your life and never see one. The main reason why snakes are rarely seen is because most are nocturnal. Some snakes at this time of year will warm up out in the sun for part of the day making them vulnerable to predators like hawks. Its at this time that you might get lucky and see one. 

While most snakes are nocturnal there are some that are largely diurnal because of their interest in catching lizards and other animals active during the day. They include gopher snakes (bullsnakes) and coachwhips. Like any snake rattlesnakes can come out during the day, but your chances of running into one are very slim. Don’t be overly concerned by signs in parks warning you to watch out for snakes. Yes there is a possibility that you might have an encounter with one, especially if you are walking around at night during the summer when most snakes are active.

If you are worried about seeing a snake or getting bit by one, the best way to avoid encountering a snake is by staying on trails and avoiding dense vegetation or putting your hands or feet in places where you can’t see what may be hiding. If you should see a snake, especially a rattlesnake, don’t disturb it any way. Snakes will defend themselves and can bite. 

Snakes are beneficial to humans in many ways including how they eat rats and mice that may come around the home, the same rodents who have ticks bearing lyme disease.

Did you know that biologists have identified 32 species of snakes in El Paso-Juarez Border Region? UTEP posted a checklist on their website in 2000 which is very helpful when trying to identify any reptile or amphibian you might find in your backyard or out on a trail in our area.


Family Colubridae: Common Harmless Snakes
Arizona elegans–Glossy Snake
Diadophis punctatus–Ringneck Snake
Elaphe guttata–Corn Snake
Elaphe subocularis–Trans-Pecos Rat Snake
Gyalopion canum–Chihuahuan Hook-nosed Snake
Heterodon nasicus–Western Hognose Snake
Hypsiglena torquata–Night Snake
Lampropeltis alterna–Gray-banded Kingsnake
Lampropeltis getulus–Common Kingsnake
Lampropeltis triangulum–Milk Snake
Masticophis flagellum–Coachwhip
Masticophis taeniatus–Striped Whipsnake
Pituophis melanoleucus–Gopher Snake
Rhinocheilus lecontei–Long-nosed Snake
Salvadora deserticola–Big Bend Patch-nosed Snake
Salvadora grahamiae–Graham Patch-nosed Snake
Sonora semiannulata–Ground Snake
Tantilla hobartsmithi–Southwestern Black-headed Snake
Tantilla nigriceps–Plains Black-headed Snake
Thamnophis cyrtopsis–Black-necked Garter Snake
Thamnophis marcianus–Checkered Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis–Common Garter Snake
Trimorphodon biscutatus–Lyre Snake

Family Leptotyphlopidae: Blind Snakes
Leptotyphlops dulcis–Texas Blind Snake
Leptotyphlops humilis–Western Blind Snake

Family Viperidae: Vipers
Crotalus atrox–Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Crotalus lepidus--Rock Rattlesnake
Crotalus molossus–Black-tailed Rattlesnake
Crotalus scutulatus–Mohave Rattlesnake
Crotalus viridis–Prairie Rattlesnake
Sistrurus catenatus–Massasauga


Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles
of the El Paso-Juarez Border Region, 2000
Carl S. Lieb, R. G. Webb, and J. D. Johnson
Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum,
University of Texas at El Paso

2020 Fiesta will be a two day event at the park and the El Paso Zoo

Artist Andy Dufford stands next to a wolf sculpture he created along the entrance way to the El Paso Zoo’s new Chihuahuan Desert exhibit.  The sculpture is made from three blocks of Colorado sandstone each weighing about 8,000 lbs. The blocks were carved individually then stacked for final shaping.  

Save the date – Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta – September 19-20, 2020

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and Franklin Mountains State Park are happy to announce that this year’s Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta will be a two-day event with day one at the El Paso Zoo and day two at Franklin Mountains State Park – Tom Mays Unit.  Late in 2019 the Zoo opened a $16m Chihuahuan Desert exhibit that has completely transformed the northern end of the Americas section.  The all-new area serves as home to animals from one of North America’s largest deserts, and includes Mexican wolves, mountain lions, jaguars, prairie dogs, pronghorns, coati, thick-billed parrots, burrowing and screech owl, bolson tortoises, coach whip snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and black widow spiders.

Day one of the annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta will introduce fiesta goers to El Paso’s big backyard and help people connect to the beautiful desert and invite them to explore the trails at Franklin Mountains State Park. On day two, visit the new Franklin Mountains State Park Visitor Center and meet park staff and local naturalists, they will lead a series of guided hikes for people of all ages.

Follow this blog by entering your email address on the lower right or join our FaceBook Group to keep up with more details on the event and other Chihuahuan Desert news.

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Looking east towards the Franklin Mountains along an arroyo in Tom Mays Park, March 4, 2020.  by Rick LoBello

Stay connected with CDEC


Greetings Chihuahuan Desert Coalition friends,

Thanks for your continued interest in CDEC and for staying connected with us.   Please note that we are no longer maintaining a general email list.  The best way to keep up with our organization is by using the follow link at the bottom of your screen and entering your email address.  You can also join our facebook group at

If you have not looked over our top priorities below please contact us to let us know how you would like to be involved.   We are a volunteer organization.  We need help with social media, blogging, fund raising and someone with the passion to help educate youth to coordinate our Nature Club.

Our big three goals are: (1) Education and Outreach, (2) Volunteerism, and (3) the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta.    To help us accomplish these goals the following individuals have agreed to help.

Education and Outreach – Collaborating with the Parks Department Trailblazers program with coordination by Joe McKnight.  Developing a schedule of Zoo Adventure Chihuahuan Desert workshops at the El Paso Zoo with coordination by Sarah Murphy

Volunteerism – Encouraging people to become volunteers at the Chihuahuan Desert exhibit at the El Paso Zoo and at local parks and protected areas with coordination by Rick LoBello

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta – Increasing the conservation education impact of the annual event with coordination by Rick LoBello

Celebration – Making sure we focus on celebrating everything about the Chihuahuan Desert to help more people value this important landscape and eco-region with coordination by Diane Perez

Plan now to landscape with native plants

ClevelendSq_signs_Torrey Yucca

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition encourages residents to landscape with native plants and create backyard habitats that will attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. These mini habitats, when connected with other natural areas in the neighborhood, can make a real impact in helping wildlife such as birds needing trees to build their nests and butterflies needing nectar from flowers. Backyard habitats landscaped with native plants from our local Chihuahuan Desert also help the community conserve drinking water. Examples of drought tolerant plants include desert willow, yellow bells, acacia, sotol, ocotillo, and wooly butterfly bush.

Make a plan, find a local nursery –click here.


Cutler calls upon the community to get involved in efforts to conserve the Franklin Mountains

Opening Remarks by Scott Cutler of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition at the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

September 28, 2019

Thank you all for coming to the 15th annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta organized by the Franklin Mountains State Park – a wonderful opportunity to learn more about our Chihuahuan Desert and local groups that help us understand and protect it.

Of equal significance, 2019 represents the 40thanniversary of the Franklin Mountains State Park’s creation. The Franklin Mountains have always been the centerpiece of our city.  As the City began to spread northward around the mountains, citizens began realizing this iconic piece of El Paso might be radically changed if not protected.  This concern came a reality when the owner of much of the Franklin’s bulldozed a road to the top of Mount Franklin. The community rallied together and convinced the City of El Paso and the State of Texas to produce legislation that created the Franklin Mountains State Park in 1979.  This legislation preserved a large portion of the higher elevations of the Franklins and the Park has become a major destination for El Pasoans and visitors from around the world to recreate and immerse themselves in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Forty years on, it is worthwhile to see where we are with the largest urban state park in the continental United States. 

Visitation continues to rise. In 2009 there were 34,996 registered Park.  In 2019 that number was 71,795.  That’s a doubling in visitation over the last 10 years.  As amazing as those numbers are, it is known that many people enter the park and use the trails without registering their visit. It is believed  the real number of people who come into the park is closer to 150,000 per year. 

 A new visitors center is nearing completion.  This will provide an official Park entry point where visitors can ask questions and get assistance in planning their visit.  

The Park now has over 100 miles of trails, providing nearly limitless opportunities to explore the many habitats and vistas within the park.

The Park and the mountains it protects are still the centerpiece of our city and a refuge for all seeking the opportunity to reconnect with nature and enjoy the healthful benefits of being outdoors, whether alone or with friends and family.

While this 40th anniversary of the Park’s founding is significant, and an important historical event, the Park will be here well into the future. So, while we are thrilled with what has happened to this point, we should also look forward to the next 40, 80, 120 years or more.  What might the Park’s and, by extension, the Franklin Mountain’s future look like? Here are a few possibilities.

1.  Without a doubt, park visitation will increase, perhaps doubling again in another ten years.  This will strain existing park resources needed to maintain trails and roads, protect sensitive areas and provide adequate staffing.  The park’s budget must increase to meet these needs.  To this end, it is very important that visitors to the park register their visit.  All funding decisions emanate from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) office in Austin and those decisions are based, in part, on visitation numbers.  The more registered visitors, the better the budget. Perhaps the Park will come up with an app that allows people to sign in electronically from wherever they enter the park.

Another source of funding for FMSP (and other State Parks) are funds generated by the sale of hunting, fishing and camping supplies.  A certain portion of the sales taxes from those purchases is supposed to go to Texas Parks and Wildlife for parks.  We, as tax paying citizens, need to ensure that the Texas Legislature fulfills its duty and directs those funds to TPWD.

2. When the Texas legislature created the Park, the enabling legislation included language that would allow Castner Range (a closed firing range owned by Fort Bliss on the east side of the Franklins) to be added to the Franklin Mountains State Park. Due to concerns about unexploded ordinance, the transfer never happened.  Local groups have worked hard for the past 40 years to find a way to preserve the 7,000 acres remaining.  Perhaps dialog and partnerships will form between the Army, the Park and the community that will lead to this striking landscape preserved in its natural state as park land, fulfilling the original vision put forward four decades ago.

3. Over fifty years ago the City of El Paso purchased upwards of fifty square miles of land around El Paso, many thousands of those acres being part of the Franklin Mountains.  Those mountain lands could provide excellent recreational opportunities for the growing city as well other no-cost environmental benefits.  Maybe a partnership can be formed between the City, El Paso Water, community groups and the State Park to manage those public lands as open space.  This would help conserve our water resources, reduce our City’s impact on climate change, and lower our future tax burden.

4. Volunteers will be able to play a vital role in helping the park function in the future – from manning the visitors center to leading hikes and maintaining trails. Hopefully community members will rise to this need and create a core of volunteer help that allows the park to serve its visitors while protecting the land’s resources.

The Franklin Mountains State Park is a tremendous asset for the City and its residents.  It is here because people in this community, folks just like us, saw the mountain’s value being greatest as open space rather than as developments.  I hope that their vision and tireless work is never forgotten.  As we move towards the half century anniversary of the park and beyond, let us all remember that we, the people, have great power to make change.  

Get involved.  Commit a little of your time to a larger cause like protecting our mountain and the park.  Only through our support, vigilance, time and effort, will the Franklin Mountains and the Franklin Mountains State Park remain the treasured centerpiece of our community forever.

Borderland Jaguars

One of the presentations at the Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 7 will be entitled Borderland Jaguars – Why There Are Jaguars in Mexico, but Only a Few in the U. S. by Diana Hadley of the Northern Jaguar Project. Formed in 2003 by a small group of dedicated conservationists from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) is a binational non-profit dedicated to protecting jaguars and their habitat. NJP is revitalizing the northernmost jaguar population by maintaining a protected core reserve and by working with ranchers, schools, and local communities to promote conservation. They are in the process of expanding, managing, and rehabilitating the Northern Jaguar Reserve to attract and safeguard breeding jaguars and the dozens of rare and sensitive species that live within its boundaries.

A schedule of presentations and posters planned for the conference will be posted on the conference website by October 1. The Pre-registration discount ends on October 1. After that registrationwill continue until October 30.

Fiesta will feature two native wildlife presentations by the El Paso Zoo

Houdini the Harris Hawk with Heather Rivera.11.26.14 013

Heather Rivera, senior Education Specialist at the El Paso Zoo will present Houdini the Harris Hawk and Buckbeak the Swainson’s Hawk on the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Stage on Saturday, September 28.   Nearly two dozen environmental groups will be on hand at the fiesta this year presenting family friendly interactive discovery opportunities about the Chihuahuan Desert.

The event is free to the public at Franklin Mountains State Park where most the activities will be held at the end of the loop road at Tom Mays Park from 9am to 3pm.   See the schedule and more – click here.