Rattlesnakes and Friends in Catalina State Park (Part 1)

(from nature journal March 13, 2017, part 1)

The heat rose in waves off the dry ground, rippling up against the mountain backdrop. It was the hottest March on record in Catalina, Arizona. I was reminded of a Clint Eastwood western and laughed to myself as Robbie sprinted with his bike over the asphalt onto the trail. We were both anxious to get a bike ride (him)/walk (me) before the sun set.

“Heh little boy, stop!” The hand of a large man jumped onto the trail in front of Robbie. I jumped forward in alarm as Robbie abruptly stopped. The man raised his hands and said, “We had 2 rattlesnakes here today. One was at our campsite circling around our tent…the rangers removed them but I don’t know if I would go that way.”

I thanked the man for telling us.

Robbie and I talked it over. I told him that I thought the path was wide and clear enough except for one little section ahead, and we could sing and pound our feet as we approached. He would need to walk his bike though and I would need to go first.

We found a long stick and I carried it to poke at any hidden ground in front of us to alert anyone lurking we were coming. Rattlesnakes bite because they are startled not because they want to bite or eat us.

We sang our way forward and within a minute a shining “white” body glinted in the late afternoon sun on the trail 30 feet ahead of us. As he slithered by, the burgundy diamonds on his rattle flashed. He crossed over and was gone into the grasses within seconds.

The birds were quiet. Silence was everywhere, even the ground squirrels had stopped their frenzied activity. Only the black butterflies continued to swirl and catch the hot breeze blowing around us.

We walked fast on the trail, singly loudly and came to the blacktop.

Mom: “Honey, I don’t think we will come back this way. It will be darker too.”

Robbie: “I agree Mom.”

Mom: “Are you scared?”

Robbie: “A little, but it was cool.”

Mom: “I got a little scared too, but we will stay clear of the grasses and only go on double track trails now. Sound good?”

Robbie: “Yes!”

Mom: “It sure was beautiful that burgundy rattle as it went into the grasses, wasn’t it?”

Robbie: “I don’t know Mom, I couldn’t see all of it, you pushed me behind you.”

Mom: “Oh right. Well we should probably talk about rattlesnakes a little more.”

Robbie: “The juveniles are the dangerous ones Mom. When they start to rattle, that is when they are about to strike. So rattling is not good.”

Mom: “Oh, I didn’t know that Robbie, thank you. Good thing it wasn’t rattling then and far away from us. Let’s talk to the Ranger tomorrow to see if we can learn more.”