Trailblazer: Robert Martinez
Trailblazing Position: Seeker of cats, wildlife photographer
Location: Glendora, California
I’m a Trendy Hiker as a result of: I wish to discover, uncover and be taught.
As I comply with Robert Martinez up a slim, rugged canyon sliced into the San Gabriel Mountains foothills, I expertise the distinct feeling of being watched. It stays as we scamper up a brief recreation path to reach at a tree-ringed clearing. Right here, Martinez drops his pack, then sits down subsequent to a small metallic field, which incorporates an excellent smaller digital camera. Because it seems, there are eyes in these hills—and various of them belong to Martinez.
The beginner wildlife photographer pulls a banged-up laptop computer from his pack and fires it as much as see what the digital camera may need captured over the previous week. Deer, bobcats, gray foxes, mountain lions, and bears frequent this actual spot, one in all many layovers alongside the huge internet of pure superhighways that exists within the San Gabriels, barely faraway from the comparatively unnatural sprawl situated slightly below. They saunter previous with their kin, they lounge below shady oaks, they caterwaul in quest of mates—animals being animals, with out the interference of people. At the least, none that they’re conscious of.
I wait patiently as Martinez hundreds the movies. The digital camera is delicate to movement, so most of the time, it’s triggered by wind or small mice scurrying previous. However there are comical moments, too—curious squirrels strolling almost straight into the lens till their tiny nostrils fill the display; blue jays abruptly popping up from beneath, as if taking part in a recreation of peek-a-boo.
It’s all fulfilling to look at, however let’s be actual—what we’re actually hoping to see is a mountain lion.
Martinez grew up close to this canyon, conscious from a younger age of the “ghost cats” that lived within the hills above his house. “We by no means get to see them, however they see us,” he says. “That’s at all times been intriguing to me.” Whereas visiting his mom in Colorado seven years in the past, he remembers questioning if there have been lions in these mountains, too. Again house, his curiosity piqued, Martinez started scrolling by means of YouTube, drawn to the beginner path digital camera movies that served as a window into the cats’ on a regular basis habits. Then, he went for a stroll.
Alone on a fireplace street, removed from well-traveled climbing routes, Martinez noticed tracks. “I couldn’t cease considering how cool it was that the lion was strolling proper the place I used to be strolling,” he says. He arrange his first path cam in March 2012. “It was embarrassing telling folks, ‘, I’m going to get a mountain lion on digital camera!’ It’s like, yeah, proper—you’re going to get squirrels and nothing else.” He positioned the digital camera close to the place he noticed the tracks a number of months earlier. Six weeks later, Martinez caught his first mountain lion on movie. “I couldn’t cease watching it,” he says. “After that, I bought so obsessed. I’m like, I’ve bought to see extra.”
Martinez now owns over a dozen totally different cameras, principally video and some nonetheless. He has no particular coaching in images or wildlife biology—he works within the grocery trade—so this new passion got here together with a steep studying curve, albeit one he was keen to realize. He used to place cameras in easy-to-reach spots, which left them inclined to theft. Now, Martinez chooses distant areas, looking for current recreation trails and finding out the realm for indicators of wildlife.
As we navigate round freshly downed bushes and clamber over algae-slicked boulders, Martinez factors out these indicators—piles of scat; small, urine-soaked depressions left by lions to mark their territory; claw marks left by a bear. He additionally tells me tales of what he’s seen on this space, particularly the remnants of mountain lion kills, a few of them shockingly recent. And naturally, he’s additionally seen actual, precise lions; solely two to this point, though he hopes to expertise the fun once more. “It’s like peeking backstage at a present or one thing.”
Spoiler alert: we don’t see a lion that day on movie or in particular person. Neither of us is especially bothered, although. The joys lives on for Martinez as he continues to discover the mysterious lives of mountain lions. He would like to sometime see a den, and hopes to lions within the snow. “I must have cameras in all places,” he laughs. “It’s like, what do they do all day? It’s enjoyable making an attempt to piece collectively the story.”
And as for me, I do know I’ll be capable to see his future captures on Instagram and YouTube, the primary venues for Martinez’s work. In truth, shortly after our hike, I discover that he uploaded a photograph of lions consuming at what he calls the “neighborhood pool,” a water gap hidden from sight for many forest guests, however nonetheless seen to all due to his dedication and diligence in offering a window into the lives of those elusive creatures.
Martinez sells prints and licenses movies every now and then, and whereas he admires Nationwide Geographic photographers like Steve Winter, who’ve made a profession on this area, he’s most grateful for the chance to easily view cats and different wildlife of their pure routines, and to share the expertise with others. He additionally hopes to encourage folks to view mountain lions in a distinct gentle.
“I get requested on a weekly foundation, ‘Are you afraid? Aren’t you afraid of getting attacked? Are you going to be subsequent?’ No, I’m not going to be subsequent. They’re not in search of people to eat. They’ve bought loads of deer,” he says. “They don’t wait within the bushes for people.”
As a substitute, Martinez desires folks to put their fears apart and understand that people and cats can (and do) peacefully coexist, and that we will really take an energetic position in making certain their survival. He suggests that individuals think about donating or volunteering with organizations just like the Mountain Lion Basis and help the present efforts to fund a wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon, particularly necessary now that the Woolsey Fireplace has affected over 80% of Santa Monica Mountains parklands, essential habitat for mountain lions.
“I would like folks to really feel protecting and never take them with no consideration, and understand how necessary they’re to the ecosystem,” says Martinez. “To see the wonder within the mountain lions, to really feel the eagerness that I really feel.”
Mountain lion picture by Robert Martinez; all different pictures by Shawnté Salabert