Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Back to school time is open season for tarantulas – for soul searching that is. If you’ve ever hiked the East Bay trails, you passed countless tarantula burrows without realizing it. Small dirt mounds with a dollar-coin size hole, they could be gopher hideouts for all you know. In fact, in their cool and dark underground room, male tarantulas are quietly waiting seven to ten lonely years until they reach puberty. When finally they’ve grown to adult size and wisdom, they only have a year or so to live until they starve to death. FYI, females can live up to 49 years so yes, it’s unfair. Speed-dating tarantula style starts. Male tarantulas go skittering all over the place to please the ladies.
Two weeks ago, our family drove to the Bay Area mecca of the biggest creepy crawlies on earth: Mount Diablo State Park. Mount Diablo is such a popular tarantula hangout that people come from all over the place for the hikes organized by the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. Think of this season as the ultimate hair-raising educational opportunity.
I happen to have a bad case of spider-phobia. Until recently I couldn’t even watch one on a TV screen. I’m better now but still won’t touch one. When I suggested we go on a tarantula hike, I viewed it as shock therapy with an opportunity to learn cool facts about the creepy crawlies. You know what? It worked. I’m not afraid of tarantulas any more. I know I’m very unlikely to get bitten by one, much less to be eaten by one. Look, I can even write about them without cold sweats.
The docent that day was a lovely woman called Helen who brought Isabella, her Chilean Rose pet tarantula, in case we didn’t see any on the trail. She did well. We didn’t see any at all but we had our tarantula fix at the start of the hike when Helen told us a little bit about tarantula behavior, life cycle, diet and moulting.
She would probably have stuck to her guns if another little girl hadn’t asked to hold the tarantula. She cupped her hands and stayed calm as Charlotte transferred from her owner’s to the little girl’s hands. She even started stroking its back with a smile. Ours couldn’t resist. Seconds later, here she was holding the tarantula. It’s ticklish, she said. My husband tried too and said the tarantuila was as light as a feather and very soft. I took notes in my notebook. Ticklish. Soft. Light.
The hike itself, around Mitchell Canyon, was an easy 2-mile loop with splendid views on the hills. I was surprised to see so many yellow and pink flowers on the trail. Sage was fragrant under the East Bay sun and the temperature was pleasantly warm. It was a great hike and though we didn’t see any wild tarantulas, some in the group were quick at spotting their burrows.
Sunday– Sept. 12 – 5:00 pm – Mitchell Canyon – TarantulaTrek (also Saturday October 2, 11am-1pm)
Join Helene Crowley for a talk and 2-mile round-trip nature walk to find out the truth about the world’s largest spiders. Bring sunscreen, snack, liquids and your expert eyesight. Meet at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center at the end of Mitchell Canyon Rd. in Clayton. Scout and Youth groups are welcome. Please contact Helene at email@example.com or(415) 974-2209, M-TH, 6:30am-3:30pm with questions.
Sunday– Sept. 19 – 8:45am – 11:00am – Tarantula Trek (also Saturday September 25, 8.45am-11am and Sunday October 3, 8.45am-11am)
A 19th century scientific expedition described Mt. Diablo’s tarantulas as “attaining the size of a half-grown mouse, possessing fangs the size of a rattlesnakes’, and delivering a bite generallyconsidered to be fatal.” Fact or fiction? Join us for a talk and 2-mile round-trip nature walk to find out the truth about the world’s largest spiders. Cost: $6 park entrance fee. Meet: Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, Mount Diablo State Park. Leader: Ken Lavin, (925) 852-8778, or firstname.lastname@example.org No organized groups on this outing, please
Sunday– Sept. 19 – 4:00pm – 7:00pm – Tarantula Trek (also Sunday October 3, 4-7pm)
Join Phil Reed for a talk and 2-mile round-trip nature walk to find out the truth about the world’s largest spiders. Bring sunscreen, snack, liquids and your expert eyesight. Meet at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center at the end of Mitchell Canyon Rd. in Clayton. Scout and youth groups are welcome. Please contact Phil at email@example.com or (925) 829-0628 with questions.
Now you know everything. Do go, you won’t regret it. Even if you don’t go, remember to be nice and gentle to those hairy beasts on the trails. They have a heart too.