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Death Valley
Photographer's Guide

The story behind the picture
Dancing with lizards

ChuckwallaI'm crouched on a black rock outcrop at the edge of a steep gully, my eyes fixed on a big lizard about ten feet away. Its broad head and heavy body are dark gray, almost black, while its thick, rounded tail is nearly white. It's a chuckwalla, about 15 inches from head to tail – the largest lizard in Death Valley and the second largest in all the southwestern deserts.

The chuckwalla turns its side toward me, showing the full bulk of its body, and lifts itself higher on its muscular legs. It performs a half-dozen pushups, then quickly scurries toward me, bobs its head a couple more times, and runs back to its starting point. I respond in kind – a few quick bobs of my head, then I extend my body forward and back again. The lizard's eyes widen. It takes a tentative step toward me. I crouch lower and retreat a little. Emboldened by my fearful reaction, the lizard moves closer, and this time it doesn't retreat.

We repeat the dance, and eventually the chuckwalla is less than three feet from the front of my lens. After a few dozen exposures, I slink away backward and we're both winners – the lizard has proven himself the alpha male, and I've gotten some great shots.

Only then do I look around and wonder if anyone has seen me making a complete fool of myself, doing a mating dance with a lizard.

Excerpted from Death Valley Photographer's Guide: Where and how to get the best shots


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Dan Suzio Photography
P.O. Box 5803
Berkeley, CA 94705

All images and text copyright © Dan Suzio 1996 - 2010. All rights reserved.
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