Probe: June 27, 2002

June 27, 2002

QUESTION: Why did Calexico build Nosotros Park so close to New River, the most polluted river in the nation?

Recently I took my children to the park. It's a beautiful facility with a playground, shaded picnic tables, restrooms and a skateboard area.

While eating I noticed a foul odor. I looked over my shoulder and saw a beautiful view of the river a football-field length away from us. The park's proximity to the river makes it the most dangerous park in America.

The New River carries 25 known diseases and a lot more unknown pathogens. Besides, the mosquitoes that breed along the river carry encephalitis. — Amazed, Calexico


Relax. There's nothing in New River that can get you if you stay out of the water, said Yvonne Smith, director of Imperial County Public Health Services. Just don't drink the water or let the kids go for a swim.

It's true the encephalitis virus gets into mosquitoes but it doesn't get into people, Smith said.

In 25 years there have been no cases of local people getting encephalitis.

"I don't know why that is. Some people think we may have developed a resistance to it," she said.

There have been a couple of reported cases of people coming down with the disease after passing through the Valley, Smith said. But she insists the link to the Valley has never been proved.

Imperial County maintains a flock of "sentinel chickens" near the New River to monitor the virus' presence. Blood of the chickens is regularly tested. If the virus is found it indicates the mosquitoes are carrying encephalitis.

STICK TOTING LIZARD — I am 60 years old and lived in this Valley all my life. I can't remember when I had not heard about a lizard that ran over hot sand carrying a big stick in its mouth. It's a joke, something desert hands tell simpletons dumb enough to believe ‘em. — Ha! Ha!, Seeley

We've lived in Holtville about as long as you have lived in Seeley and never heard of a stick-wagging lizard. Even after hearing it from three PROBE readers, we didn't believe it. Nevertheless, after writing PROBE for 25 years, we've learned never to discount any wild tale relayed to us by the PROBE gang.

Chris Knaf, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife specialist, says there is no lizard that carries a stick in its mouth.

Knaf said the first time he heard the story he thought it might be true.

"It seemed strange but animals adopt strange behaviors to adapt to extreme conditions," he said.

QUESTION: I have never seen a lizard carrying a stick but I have seen Gila monsters. My friend says Gila monsters are never found in California. I have seen that ugly lizard in California. Who is right? — Desert Explorer, Holtville

You are, according to BLM's Knaf.

There are four varieties of Gila monsters and they are found in New Mexico, Arizona, the eastern corner of California and in Mexico where they are called "the beaded lizard."

Knaf said there is a Gila monster population near Blythe and reported sightings near Brawley.

Although it does not have hollow fangs like a rattlesnake, it carries a toxic venom and it will bite, sinking its teeth and hanging on, spraying its victim with its poison. Although the venom is rarely fatal, it can make you sick.

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