Two years ago in Death Valley I had my first encounter with a coyote in the Furnace Creek Inn parking lot. He was less than a car length away looking furtive and blasé at the same time.
Today I have my first encounter with a roadrunner in the same place: the Furnace Creek Inn parking lot. There it is, spotted by my sister Jennifer, also known as "Hawkeye" because she has an instinct about critters and signs.
(If we were 49ers on a wagon train, she would have been the scout. Without her I would have been a pile of bones bleached white in the desert. I never look at signs. She always does.)
'Look!' said Jennifer, as we are backing out of the Furnace Creek Inn parking lot after a quick look at the pool and gardens. 'There's a roadrunner.'
And sure enough, there it is.
The night before Jennifer spotted two coyotes loping across the desert, lit by our headlights.
Later that day we go for an afternoon horse ride out of Furnace Creek Stables. My ribs have pretty much recovered from my four days of horse riding at White Stallion Ranch in Arizona. It's nice to get on a horse again. Hilda is a lovely mare, responsive and good-natured. (I wish I'd had a horse like her at White Stallion.)
The three of us start happily through the dusty late afternoon Death Valley landscape.
Our wrangler, Luke, points out a coyote. Jennifer is the first to spot it. I hope we might see some more, but for the next hour: nothing. No coyotes. No rodents. No birds. The desert is full of dust and silence and lengthening shadows. I love it.
We are almost back at the stables when suddenly our horses are running off the path. My first thought is: 'Maybe we should have opted for helmets...' My second thought is that Jennifer's big gelding, Atlas, bit my mare Hilda on the rump.
'Pull them up!' cries Luke. 'Pull them up!'
Hilda is running toward a fallen mesquite trunk and she is over it before I can react and pull back on the reins. But I am safely over and we are all three still astride our horses. Hilda and the other two horses come to a stop. Our hearts are pounding.
'What happened?' said Jennifer.
'A coyote came out of the sage and spooked Richard's horse, Chief,' says Luke.
'How do you know it was a coyote?' I ask.
'I saw it over my shoulder,' says Luke.
We are all three flushed with excitement from our unexpected and short-lived fast ride.
'Did you see me jump that log?' I ask, still a bit breathless.
'Actually,' says Luke, 'Hilda just stepped over it.'
'Oh,' I say.
But we are all pleased that we survived our few seconds of excitement.
Later that evening, after the sun goes down, we go to a viewing platform near Furnace Creek Golf Club, which Luke tells us is a favorite haunt of coyotes. Once again, Jennifer is the first to spot one loping across a green to join his two friends.
So the tally for the last twenty four hours is Coyotes 7, Roadrunners 1.