Photo: Charles, William and Stephanie viewing tanks holding endangered fish species.
Day three started off a bit better than day two, but overnight it became painfully obvious one heater wasn’t enough. The heater had been set up at Cara’s end of the camper, and it kept half her roof dry. But it again rained on Gus and me at my end. Poor Gus once again had frozen while loyally shivering at my feet all night. Discussing the situation, we decided we’d have to acquire another, but even larger heater.
This morning started out very, very early. It turns out oil field workers get up around 4:00 a.m. and they aren’t quiet about it. The clattered around and about their RVs, talking loudly. As it came time for them to leave they revved their Diesel pickups. All in all, it was impossible to sleep. The dogs, not being used to other humans so close, especially objected to the noisy trucks and men just outside the camper. Our dogs have mobile territories which they protect with vociferous growling and barking. We got up. This morning we had no problems breaking down the camper; that task being accomplished in less than a half hour. As a result, we got an early start to our next stop at Dexter after eating breakfast in Artesia. The dogs enjoyed breakfast tacos. We headed north to the hatchery where a population of Gambusia gaigei, the Big Bend Gambusia, is kept just in case something happens to the wild population.
Cara had called ahead to make arrangements with Stephanie Callicutt who was setting us up with a staff biologist, William Knight. The hatchery has normal visiting hours, but we’d asked for and had gotten permission to get a more in depth visit outside of normal hours. The actual name of the organization we were visiting is the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center @ Dexter (Center). Stephanie met us at reception and took us to the fish rearing building and William’s office. Visiting the Center was like going to the zoo to me. They are responsible for breeding and rearing a number of endangered species, including G. gaigei. Back in the 1970s they also kept G. amistadensis, more about that fish at its habitat later in the road trip.
The Center keeps G. gaigei in two places. William showed us the tank where they kept a portion of the population of G. gaigei inside. Unfortunately it was too muddy to visit the outdoor pool on the far edge of the hatchery where the other population of the species was kept. At any point in time the hatchery has between 5,000 and 10,000 G. gaigei. As an unexpected treat we were able to photograph this fish in a viewing tank. Being able to get photographs of endangered fish is very difficult since capturing them would be considered harassment and a violation of the Endangered Species Act, a federal crime.
William surprised me when he told us they didn’t heat the outdoor pond. G. gaigei was native to two warms springs and I expected they wouldn’t survive winter temperatures. Nevertheless, they exhibit significant cold tolerance. William said two winters ago Dexter experienced -12°F (-24°C) for a few days. The pond was so frozen over the ice people could walk on it. G. gaigei came through it with no apparent losses.
- gaigei has a very interesting history that I’ll blog about later.
After leaving Dexter we turned south toward San Salomon Spring in the Balmorhea State Park at Toyahvale, TX. With a stop to buy another heater, we arrived late afternoon and set up camp.
On a bit of a personal note here, we stopped at Walmart solely because Cara did an online search and could only find heaters there; sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices in west Texas. Susie (my wife) and I have been boycotting Walmart and Sam’s Club for years due to their political leanings and bad treatment of employees. It was with gritted teeth that I allowed Cara to enter Walmart to buy a heater while the dogs and I trooped around a vacant field next door. All that said, however, Susie and I have ceased our boycott to reward Walmart’s recent decision to pay its employees at least $10 per hour.
The next blog will be: “Gambusia Road Trip – Day 4.”