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Hiking With Tarantulas Along Eastman Lake

On any given hike, I just never know who or what I will run into. What should have been a fairly routine hike along Eastman Lake’s rolling Lakeview Trail became more interesting when tarantulas came into the mix!

Distance: 7.82 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate, depending on how far you go
Elevation Range: 586′ to 707′
Date: November 23, 2020
Maps: Ben Hur and Daulton Topographic Maps
Dog Hike: Maybe

To get to my adventure, I drove down Raymond Road past Raymond and turned right on Road 607, following the signs to Eastman Lake. I passed by the self-service Entrance Station, a self service kiosk where you insert your money and get a stub to display in your window. You can purchase a One-Day Pass for $5 or an Annual Pass $40. I had my Pass with me, which also includes the Corps of Engineers locations such as Eastman Lake. If you have a American the Beautiful or Lifetime Senior Pass, that will get you in without additional fees. Boat launch facilities and day-use recreation areas are open. Due to COVID, use of campgrounds, group picnic shelters and playgrounds are currently prohibited and the project office remains closed to visitors.

You can start this hike from either end of the 4 mile Lakeview Trail, from where I started at the lower trailhead or from the upper end of the trail at the Raymond Bridge off of Road 613 where it crosses the Chowchilla River. To reach the trailhead that I started, I took the paved road that skirts the south side of Eastman Lake Recreation Area and followed the signs to the Lakeview Trail.

I  followed the rolling trail as it wound along the lake.

And then I saw it, right smack in front of me in the middle of the trail, soaking up the sun on this chilly morning. It was a tarantula!

When I got home and downloaded my pictures, my cousin Liz asked me if those small appendages were pinchers. I needed to do a little research and located an article Meet Your Hairy-Legged Neighbors that Kellie Flannagan wrote for Sierra News Online back in 2012 that was full of interesting information.

While there are more than 850 tarantula species worldwide, only 18 species are known to inhabit California’s grassy hillsides, foothills and deserts. All of California’s tarantulas are members of Aphonopelma, which are ground-dwelling hunting spiders. The California tarantula is nocturnal for most of its life, leaving its hole at night to hunt for beetles, grasshoppers, lizards, mice, scorpions, spiders and other insects. Male tarantulas require 7 to 10 years to mature before emerging to roam the area, looking for females. While the male tarantula only lives a few months after it reaches maturity, females may live up to 25 years.

The tarantulas in our area can range in color from brown to black or a combination of both. From as early as the first week of September to as late as November, tarantulas are roaming around trying to find a date.

Scott Beamis was interviewed, a self-professed “advanced hobbyist” for the article. “We want to get the public more aware that they’re not trying to kill you,” says Bemis. “They’re beneficial to nature, they help control the insect, small rodent and small reptile population.”

The hairs on their bodies are actually sensory organs that look like little harpoons under a microscope. While some species throw off dagger-like hairs defensively, California natives are not particularly aggressive or dangerous. Though often feared, they don’t see well and are fairly fragile.

Oh, and those appendages? They are called pedipalps, are jointed, and look somewhat like small legs. They are not used like legs though. Instead, they are more like antennae, helping the spider sense objects that it encounters. Some spiders also use their pedipalps to shape their webs and to aid in prey capture and feeding.

Tarantula Anatomy (Courtesy www.theraphosidae)

Join me as the trail led me toward the inlet to Eastman Lake.

I’ve never been to the upper end of the lake, where the Chowchilla River feeds into it, when it has been this low.

And the trail continued on.

And here was another tarantula sunning itself on the trail but this one was so much darker than that first one. I wondered if it was a different species or just a different color variation?

I reached the top of the trail at the Raymond Bridge where a small group of quail hunters were returning from their morning’s hunt. I had heard a couple of shotgun shots far away when I was starting out and was wondering if I might run into hunters along the way.

 

I headed back down the trail the same way that I had come up.

I usually keep my eyes open for rattlesnakes but didn’t see any tracks at all on the trail. It was a cool day but as the weather warms up, I just never know when one could be out warming up in the sun. This area is beautiful when the wildflowers are out and can get a bit warm, so you may want to carry plenty of water with you.

I need to mention our local Coarsegold Tarantula Festival that is held in October because it is great fun and a way to learn more about tarantulas. It was first held in 1998 and the event is held at the Coarsegold historic village downtown Coarsegold. If you have never seen a live Tarantula Derby, you need to go!  There are plenty of other events such as the Harry Leg contest.

Dog Hike? Maybe

Dogs are welcome here but I didn’t bring mine because I knew that water sources for them would be limited. There were no running water sources at this time of the year. Also, I wasn’t sure about the water in the lake being healthy for them to drink since it was somewhat stagnate this time of the year and it would be a little hike to get down to the lake. On prior hikes, I have seen plenty of snake tracks. They are here! Other animals also live in this area so you want to have control of your dog. But earlier in the year, this could be a good dog hike for us. Later in the year it can get pretty hot and you may need to pack dog water or head down to the lake periodically. You can check out the link below for more rules and information.

Doarama:

What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Eastman Lake Doarama

Map and Profile:

Eastman Lake Topographic Map

Eastman Lake Profile

Sources:

Meet Your Hairy-Legged Neighbors by Kellie Flanagan

www.theraphosidae

The Habitat of the California Tarantula

Madera Tribune, Volume 77, Number 6, 21 May 1968

Codorniz Recreation Area Campground

Recreation at Eastman Lake

Eastman Lake Wikipedia

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking along Eastman Lake on the Lakeview Trail January 30, 2019

Hiking Along Eastman Lake March 17, 2017

Hiking With Raven and Sally Along Eastman Lake February 24, 2016

 

 

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Sierra News Online

Sierra News Online