All summer at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, the burro skull we’d rescued from a road-kill specimen near Yuma Proving Grounds last spring roasted in the hot Yuma sun. Although most of the tissue had been devoured by fly larvae by the time we returned this fall, dried skin and ligaments adhered to the bone.
“It’s a heckuva job removing that stuff,” we were assured by a refuge employee who had experience.
Not willing to risk ruining the skull with our feeble efforts, we sent it off just before Thanksgiving to Skull Taxidermy in Deer Lodge, Montana, after checking with several other taxidermists in the West. While others ignored us, delayed responding to us, or were unsure they could deliver on time, Pat Bannon of Skull Taxidermy replied to our request immediately.
“We’d like to have the skull back in time for a library program we’re presenting January 13,” I e-mailed Pat, even knowing that this would be a busy time of year for him with hunting season just beginning. “We can do the program without it, but it would be nice…….” I also asked how much it would cost to prepare the first two cervical vertebrae that we managed to saw off with the skull.
“I guarantee to get it to you by then,” Pat e-mailed back. “No extra charge for the vertebrae.”
Waiting for the Skull
As the weeks passed, we gave little thought to the skull until after the holidays. Our program date loomed, and we e-mailed Pat to check on the progress.
“I just have to whiten it,” he responded, “then I’ll ship it Friday with three-day shipping.” That meant we’d get the skull Monday! Our program was Wednesday, so we’d have the skull in plenty of time.
When the skull didn’t arrive Monday, Chuck assured me that UPS and FedEx didn’t work weekends, so the three days shipping probably meant the skull would arrive Tuesday for sure.
FedEx came and went Tuesday while Chuck reminded me that it was likely shipped UPS. Finally, UPS parked in front of the visitor center about 2:30, and the driver carted in two large boxes on a hand truck. But neither contained the burro skull.
“Well, I guess we won’t get it in time for our program tomorrow,” I said. Chuck agreed.
Heading to Town
Knowing that UPS delivered to Martinez Lake, three miles down the road, before coming to the Refuge, we left early Wednesday afternoon in the Refuge Suburban for our 3:00 p.m. program at the library and drove slowly around that tiny village searching in vain for the UPS truck. “I didn’t really expect to find it,” I said gloomily as we left the little town and headed down the 10-mile stretch of road to the highway.
Martinez Lake Road is a series of hills that rise and dip like a roller coaster and runs adjacent to Yuma Proving Grounds where the Army practices parachuting and other maneuvers. Very little traffic passed by as we drove toward the highway that would take us to Yuma. But halfway down the road, as we topped one of the higher rises, Chuck spotted a brown delivery truck headed toward us.
Chuck flashed the lights of the Suburban and waved his hand out the window, but the UPS truck sped past us. Chuck glanced in the rear view mirror. “His brake lights are on!” He turned the Suburban to catch up with the driver.
The driver, Eddie, delivered regularly to the Refuge and recognized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife emblem on the Suburban we drove. Before we’d exited the car and headed toward the truck, Eddie had the box in hand and shoved a receipt toward us to sign for the item. We thanked him and hurried back to the Suburban while I ripped open the box to expose the freshly cleaned skull of a jack (male) burro in his prime.
But before we started off toward town and the library, we glanced about our surroundings and suddenly realized that we had taken possession of this skull at the exact spot where the burro was killed last spring. And, as Pat Bannon had promised, we had the skull in time for our program.