As our first season at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge progressed, we discovered more interpretive opportunities. Sue McDonald drove us down Red Cloud Mine Road, past the Painted Desert Trail, to what one volunteer had named “The Bee Wash” after a pocket of bees he’d observed nesting in a crevice of the rock wall.
“I don’t like that name,” Sue told us as she parked the Suburban and we made our way up the rocky dry wash between towering rock outcroppings. “I think it’ll scare people away.”
This very well could be, we thought. As we scanned the terrain, we saw no one else, nor had we seen anyone during the bumpy four-mile drive to the Bee Wash. Sue told us that a volunteer had led hikes with winter visitors in this area the previous season and that the wash was now under consideration as a route for the “Moonlight Hike” — a popular full moon hike with winter visitors once or twice a month.
As we trekked into the wash, Sue noted the footing. Although the Painted Desert Trail had been used in previous years for the Moonlight Hike, its occasional steep inclines and descents made travel difficult and dangerous even in the brightness of the moon. The level ground through the Bee Wash, though covered with loose rocks, was easier to negotiate.
A half mile into our excursion, as the wash narrowed, we arrived at a deep overhang. Peering into its recesses, we could have been fooled into thinking it was a cave. Bat guano and bighorn droppings littered the dirt floor, and tiny craters in soft sand revealed that ant lion larvae hid in each ready to ambush a hapless bug caught in the depression. A flycatcher flitted nearby, but no other wildlife was in sight.
Sue examined the area with experienced eyes. “This is far enough for the Moonlight Hike. We can spend time here with folks, then return the way we came.” Sue thought for a moment, then added, “And we’ll change the name to ‘Moonlight Stroll.’ We want people to take their time. It’s safer that way.”
We looked forward to accompanying Sue on the first Moonlight Stroll along the Bee Wash later that month. But we had no idea that later in the season we would be leading these walks ourselves. Nor did we realize that we’d soon be guiding a weekly daytime interpretive hike with winter visitors down the Bee Wash, over burro trails, and into the remoteness of the Sonoran Desert.
Later that day, we returned to the Bee Wash by ourselves to explore. “Look here,” Chuck said, pointing to an elongated hole in the side of a bank. Nearby, on a mound of burro droppings, we discovered a skull and scattered bones. Close examination of the teeth confirmed the skull to be that of a badger. The squat, elongated hole, we learned from “A Field Guide to Desert Holes,” was once the home of a badger.
We collected the skull and a few bones as a butterfly flitted nearby and a rabbit scampered away. “Badgers, butterflies, and bunnies!” we commented in unison. “Add that to bugs, birds, and bees, and just about everything here begins with the letter ‘B’.”
Burros turned loose by 19th century miners roamed the hills, and bighorn sheep struggled to survive here as well. Bats inhabited the area during summers, bobcats roamed nearby among brittlebush and bursage, and beavers built dams in the wetlands. And the wash emptied into Butler Lake.
“We’ve got a new name for the Bee Wash,” we told Sue when we returned to the visitor center.
Unofficially, with Sue’s sanction, the wash is now known as the B Wash.