About The Blog
Many people travel in RVs, and some even live full time in their rigs. When we decided on such a lifestyle in 2005, we determined to maintain a purpose in our life and travels. Having spent over 15 years as docents at the Denver Zoo and several years as naturalists at some Colorado State Parks, we decided to pursue this passion in our retirement. After 40+ years in Colorado, we sold our home and took to the road.
Living in a Box
Living fulltime in an RV is not for everyone, but we have discovered new meaning and have added more energy to our lives since embarking on this lifestyle. And while many RVers travel with animals that are pets, we travel with four snakes that serve as education tools that have opened opportunities for us at national wildlife refuges and state parks. Few people, whether rangers, visitors, or fellow volunteers, have neutral feelings about these reptiles. Reactions range from fervor to horror. Using these snakes as our tools, we promote respect for all wildlife.
In return for our parking space and amenities from parks and refuges, we visit schools, RV parks, and campfires with a reptile program that encourages understanding and respect for a feared and misunderstood animal. We’ve spoken with RV groups, who, like us, live or travel in regions inhabited by snakes. We’ve engaged students struggling to cope with an outdoors experience. And we’ve encountered dedicated teachers with little to work with but their creativity.
Keep on Learning
Snakes command attention whether or not the audience likes them. But not only are we teaching with our snakes, we continue to learn. These animals have brought us into contact with mentors who have taught us much. We have been able to exchange information with herpetologists, biologists, rangers, researchers, teachers, and other naturalists.
In a way, our snakes have kept our outlooks and minds young and flexible by forcing us to interact with all ages. Witnessing a child’s eyes widen and glitter at their first touch of this alien being is no less exciting than assisting an elder to discover that her life-long terror was unfounded. We treasure letters from school children thanking us for “bringing your snaks to our school.” And we admire adults who reach out with one tentative finger to touch a creature they have forever feared, only to discover that it feels soft and soothing.
A quote on the wall of a small-town Iowa cafe said it all for us. “You don’t stop learning because you grow old; you grow old because you stop learning.”
While snakes are a large part of our volunteer work, our work as naturalists also finds us, among other things, leading hikes in the desert, presenting programs with our collection of skulls, and discussing the virtues of an elk refuge. Follow our challenges and adventures as we travel with our collection of snakes and volunteer as naturalists at National Wildlife Refuges in some of the most beautiful parts of the country.
All opinions are our own.
About Betty Mulcahy
When Chuck and I married in 1968, I had no love for snakes, even though Chuck had spent hours with them as he grew up. My dread and revulsion stemmed from my father’s phobia, passed along to me like a virus. It took Chuck years of patience to calm my fears and help me realize they were unfounded.
While a docent (volunteer teacher) at the Denver Zoo for many years, I began using snakes in my live animal demonstrations. I started with an 8-foot boa constrictor because for some reason it seemed more animal-like than the small, squirmy versions. As my confidence grew, I developed a fondness for these misunderstood, often maligned, reptiles. Having experienced negative emotions myself, I feel assured that our programs can help allay fears, as well as educate others how to react when confronted with a snake.
As avid as I feel toward our snake program and its message, my real passion lies with mammal skulls that I have collected over many years. Having worked for a dentist for over 20 years, I developed an interest in teeth. Combined with my zoo experience, I became fascinated with how mammals can be identified by the shapes of their teeth and how these teeth function according to the animal’s needs.
A course in comparative osteology taken at Denver’s Museum of Natural History (now Denver Museum of Nature and Science) helped Chuck and I distinguish skulls, as well as other bones, in a variety of mammals. As we present programs, we demonstrate different features in skulls and bones that help identify their functions.
Even though we had accumulated many years as volunteer naturalists, several years ago Chuck and I completed a class with National Association of Interpreters to become certified guides. This instruction refined our skills as naturalists and helped us create interactive programs that relate to people’s experiences.
Whether leading winter visitors on hikes through the Sonoran Desert at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge north of Yuma, Arizona, connecting with school children during a school program at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Omaha, or standing on the viewing deck of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole relating its history and its conservation role, we relish our work as naturalists.
About Chuck Mulcahy
Since the age of 8, I’ve had an interest in snakes as well as other reptiles. Who do I thank for this pursuit? Probably, I’d have to mention the influence of my step-mother above all others. Was she a snake-lover? Absolutely not! She was a self-proclaimed expert on all subjects, but had an irrational, contrived fear of snakes. She delighted in shrieking in disgust whenever seeing a snake or any animal looking like the slithery reptile. In fairness, she grew up in an area of the country with an abundance of snakes and, I’m sure, learned this fear and hate courtesy of her parents. And that’s the way most people learn to fear any animal or other unknown item.
Although I was forbidden to have snakes as a child, I had my share of lizards, turtles and even a small gator. When I grew older, married with two children, I renewed my interest in snakes. Learning about snakes at a young age, our son and daughter had no fears or distaste for the scaly critters. We’d find a snake at a nearby reservoir, bring it home, and keep it in a cage for a week or so. After its short visit with us, we would return it to the exact spot of its capture and release it. This practice continued over the course of a few years.
After the kids were out of school, Betty & I began volunteering at the Denver Zoo as docents – unpaid teachers, the dictionary defines it – leading tours and helping to educate young and old who visited the Zoo. As that pursuit continued, I became friends with some of the zookeepers, especially those in the rainforest exhibit, home to all those reptiles. As friendships grew, I was given a 12 inch, newly hatched, California kingsnake and spent many hours learning its needs – how to feed it the proper food at the right time and all the other necessities for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
After a few years of caring for “Spike,” the kingsnake, we acquired three other snakes, all different species. Now that we’re on the road full time, these snakes travel with us. We volunteer mostly at national wildlife refuges, often using our collection of snakes to reduce others’ fears and introduce them to the benefits of these animals.