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Cave Creek Regional Park: Getting up close to the North Valley desert

Elizabeth Medora ~ Staff~ 5/13/2015

CAVE CREEK – The North Valley is home to many sections of picturesque open space. Some of the most beautiful and fascinating of that North Valley desert is located in the Cave Creek Regional Park.

Located on nearly 3,000 acres of Sonoran Desert, the park offers something for every outdoor enthusiast, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, wildlife education, and more.

Ranger Mark Paulat, who has served as ranger for the past three years, oversees the park and looks after the Nature Center animal inhabitants. Through the park, people can interact with nature and learn more about the desert.

Paulat noted that animals in the park are protected and should not be harmed. Visitors are always welcome, as long as they abide by park rules.

“This is the animals’ sanctuary,” Paulat said. “This is their home. Respect them.”

The Nature Center at the park is home to multiple desert creatures, and visitors can get up close – but not too close! – with several varieties of snakes, scorpions, and a Gila monster. Paulat shares information about each creature with visitors, separating facts from myths. Carefully lifting a giant hairy scorpion out of its tank by pinching below its stinger, Paulat explained that the stripe-tailed scorpions, bark scorpions, and giant hairy scorpions in the tank are kept there for educational purposes for visitors.

“All of these guys walked in through the door,” Paulat said, referring to the scorpions. “They volunteered!”

These eight-legged “volunteers” live the good life at the Nature Center, eating crickets and living free from outside dangers. Paulat talked about the differences in the scorpions; the giant hairy have the least painful sting of the three types at the Nature Center. These scorpions are about four inches long. They’ll eat other scorpions, making them one of the better arachnids to have around. They live in burrows in the ground.

The stripe-tailed scorpions have a more painful sting than the giant hairy. Like the giant scorpions, they also burrow. These scorpions look similar to bark scorpions but have light stripes on their tails and wider bodies.

The Arizona bark scorpion is the most common scorpion to be seen due to its ability to climb. These medium-sized scorpions have the most venomous, painful sting of all North American scorpions.

Paulat noted that size has nothing to do with scorpion stings. Bark scorpions give the worst stings; baby bark scorpions are no more or less venomous.

Moving on to the display of snakes in the Nature Center, Paulat described his lifelong fascination with reptiles.

“I’ve been playing with snakes all my life,” he said. He has relocated many snakes, doing so with snake tongs and using caution so that no one gets hurt.

A king snake, a bull snake, a rattlesnake, and a Gila monster all reside at the Cave Creek Regional Park Nature Center. These creatures have been relocated here for various reasons; some could not be returned to their home areas and would not have survived elsewhere. The Gila monster will live out his life in captivity due to an injury that left him with only three legs.

Paulat noted that king snakes can eat rattlesnakes. King snakes are constrictors; they kill and eat rattlesnakes by constricting and swallowing them. These black and white snakes are useful visitors thanks to this unique ability.

The Diamondback rattlesnake is one of 13 varieties of rattlesnake in Arizona. Known by its diamond-style pattern, this snake is one of the most common and adaptable of the rattlesnakes. Like other rattlesnakes, it’s highly venomous and should be avoided. This snake gives birth to live young.  

“Diamondbacks are 8-10 inches when born,” Paulat said. “They can control their venom from the time they are born.” Paulat noted that the bigger the snake, the more venom there is.

If you see a snake at your home, you can call Daisy Mountain Fire Department or another relocation service to remove it. The fire department will remove any snake, venomous or not.  

Paulat offered tips on discouraging snakes from your property. Pools and other standing water attract snakes (and a multitude of other creatures). Avoid heavy watering so there is no standing water and fewer cool areas to hide. Keeping your property open and clean so you can see a snake helps avoid a surprise visit, too. If you do see a non-venomous snake that you don’t want around, you can make it feel unwelcome. With a venomous snake, it’s safer to call an expert and let them deal with it.

“Chase snakes off to give them a bad experience,” Paulat said. This will discourage the snake from returning to your property.
Park visitors can learn much more about these and other creatures. Regular events are held at the park, including nighttime hikes, kids’ activities, and stargazing. The Cave Creek Regional Park is open 365 days a year. Dogs are welcome, so long as they are kept on a 6-foot-or-less leash, for their own safety and the safety of park animals. Drones and motorized traffic are not allowed on park grounds.

Follow the Cave Creek Regional Park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CaveCreekPark to see critter cams, get park updates, and learn more about the park. The Cave Creek Regional Park is located at 37019 N Lava Ln., in Cave Creek.