Now that it is no longer one bazillion degrees in the desert, my partner and I spend some of our weekend mornings hiking. Maybe eventually we will run on the trails, but for now, we’re content to see what they look like and where they go.
At each trailhead in our nearby park, there is a sign that looks something like this:
I am not an inexperienced hiker, but in Michigan (where I grew up and did most of my hiking), that type of “Caution: Rattlesnakes” sign would really mean:
If you go way back in this trail system and are very, very quiet — like you’re hunting rabbits — you might see the place where a teeny tiny rattlesnake had once been. But probably not. If you do see one, it will almost certainly not be able to bite through anything more resilient than a T-shirt. Said bite would be an irritating nuisance to humans, though it may prove fatal to gerbils and teacup chihuahuas, if you happen to be hiking with them. But seriously, worry more about the mosquitoes and black flies. Those motherfuckers are fierce.
However, apparently in Arizona — when they say “Caution: Rattlesnakes,” what they actually mean is, “You might see a rattlesnake.”
The other week, we were walking. Not far in: we were about a mile from the trailhead and the road. The trail system also seemed to be in pretty heavy use. The parking lot was full, and we’d already passed a number of other trail users: one group on horses, a couple of runners, and a couple of other hikers — the most recent within a couple of tenths of a mile. I assumed there was enough traffic on the trails that most of the park’s animal inhabitants (save the lizards, which are everywhere) would want to stay off of them.
Yeah, that was a mistake.
We were coming down a short but steepish hill. I was in front, my partner behind me. When I was almost at the bottom, I heard my partner exclaim, “Wow!”
And things happened.
I heard a rattle. Not like a baby rattle, or a “something is wrong with my car” rattle. But also not a rattle that could be mistaken for, say, the humming of insects or the rustling of leaves.
I said, “Hey, that’s a rattlesnake!”
And we watched a creature, who — near as I can place, as we did not have time for our own picture — looked something like this…
… slide casually away into the underbrush.
We have, of course, decided that we would do well to be more watchful in the future.