This monster was recently discovered by Ron Ruppert and his Herpetology class from Cuesta College on a field trip to the Mojave Desert. Gila monsters are seen quite rarely in California because our eastern desert hills consitute the westernmost part of their range.
Here are excerpts from Ron's description of the find:
"When we sighted the lizard it was on the road and moving slowly to the north. The road is gravel at this location. The time was 16:20h and the air temperature was 76 degrees F as measured by my vehicle temperature gauge. The date was May 2, 2009. The Gila stopped by the bush it was near and all 21 of us exited the vehicles to watch and photograph it. After a few minutes it turned back south and crossed the road under the lead van which was parked at this point. It slowly moved into a loose bush where it stayed as we watched it for about 20 minutes longer. It was in this bush when we drove away. The terrain was rocky and gully washed. The canyon was fairly narrow at this point. The area was well covered with shrubs. There was mesquite, acacia, creosote, burro bush and cheesebush in the area.
The animal was bright in color. The coral color was bright and the black was deep black and the tail was banded as you can see in the photos. It’s tail was plump and the lizard looked healthy. Estimated length was 14-16 inches total length but no measurements were taken.
I have been in contact with Kent R. Beaman (his email is Heloderma, the genus for Gila Monsters). He sent a paper he published about the status of Gila Monsters in California. Prior to our sighting there have been only 26 individual sightings in California in 153 years (and 9 of those may be of the same individual on different days). California apparently has a different "banded" subspecies, Heloderma suspectum cinctum, from the more common Arizona subspecies (although it's admittedly a small sample size!). The last sighting in the Providence Mountains ... was in spring 1982. The last sighting in the entire state was in spring 2006 in the Kingston Mountains over 70 miles to the north of the Providence Mountains ... Prior to that there was one sighting in spring 1999 far to the south (Cadiz Mountains) and previous to that there were two separate sightings in 1982. The rest were previous to 1982 extending back through the 70's, 60's, 1906 and back to 1861. This is a rare animal in California!"
Indeed, this is quiet a find, and made the morning news today in SLO Co. (although our dingbat morning news reporter couldn't keep herself from exclaiming "I'm glad they're in the Mojave and not here!").