Wildlife on the Trail?

Would you know what to do if you came face to face with wildlife on the trail? Obviously, a lot depends on exactly what kind of animal we’re talking about. ย A marmot would have me stopping in my tracks to snap a bunch of photos all the while baby talking to it and letting him know how darn cute he is.

A snake on the other hand gets my heart pounding while exclaiming, “Oh sh*t!” but of course still managing to take a quick snapshot ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ˜ฎ (which I don’t recommend)

rattlesnake

coming face to face with a rattlesnake on the trail

Even though I should already know the answer(s) considering my past wildlife encounters, lately I find the need to evaluate my trail safety savviness and ask myself, “What should I do if ….. ?” The reason for my review pertains to my recent encounter with a rattlesnake on the trail last week. This was my second time having a close encounter with a diamondback and I’m hoping it’s my last, but when you spend as much time hiking in their habitat as I do, chances are we’ll meet again.

Willow Lake Prescott Arizona

Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona

So what did I do when I heard that unmistakable sound only a diamondback rattlesnake can make? My tale about his tail ….

Willow Lake, Prescott, ArizonaLast Thursday was a glorious day offering a much wanted reprieve from the every day rainstorms. However, it is monsoon season here in Arizona and the moisture is very much-needed in this arid climate.

With the sunny blue skies, it didn’t take me long to lace up my hiking shoes and head on over to the Granite Dells area for an exploratory hike with the camera.

I chose an out and back hike at Willow Lake in Prescott, Arizona. The trail started off like any other dirt hiking trail, but soon I found myself scrambling across huge boulders and using the white spray painted dots to guide me along the trail.

hiking Willow Lake, Prescott trails, Arizona

white dots highlighting trail

I was a mere fifteen minutes into the hike when the trail went up rather steeply and I began wondering what I had gotten myself into.

To maintain my balance, I leaned forward toward the boulder and steadied myself with one hand on the ground as I climbed following the white spray painted dots.

I continued to pay close attention to those dots as to not veer off the trail. I was focused on my footing and my where abouts and of course the obligatory photo taking.

About 20 to 25 minutes into the hike, the trail had taken me up and over some beautiful scenery. I was enjoying myself and getting in a great workout. The trail had dipped down only for it to head back up over a rock outcropping. I was slightly winded as I climbed and just as the boulder leveled off, there was an unmistakable sound to my right.

diamondback rattlesnake

Is it just me, but I see shoes? I find his skin beautiful … the repetitive pattern, texture, and color is stunning.

“Oh sh*t, not again!!!” There off to my right about 10 to 12 feet away was a rather large diamondback rattlesnake in strike position. Tail was up and rattling. Head was up with tongue dancing. I slowly and gingerly kept walking (which I felt was my safest and quickest option).

Within seconds, he settled down and both of us no longer felt threatened. I quickly, and I mean quickly, snapped a couple of photos while admiring his unique beauty. ย Hmm, years ago I owned a pair of snake skin shoes with a similar texture. At the time, I lived in the Chicago area and had never seen a snake in the wild.

For some reason, I kept thinking about those shoes and soon came to the conclusion that it would somehow feel very wrong to me owning a pair of snake skin shoes. Although I didn’t appreciate the encounter on the trail, I do appreciate wildlife and that beautifully textured skin belongs in the wild and not on my feet.

diamondback rattlesnake

I was hiking from left to right when I met Mr. Diamondback

diamondback snake

guess I wasn’t the only one on the move.

rattlesnake

As I was hiking from the left and coming over the ridge, I was more focused on my footing and potential critters in the rock crevices which is why I didn’t immediately notice the snake sunning himself near the ledge.

For a brief second, I thought about hanging around for more photo-ops. He was rather large and a good-looking snake at that, but thank goodness my better judgement took over. ย Although he and I seemed to have come to an understanding, you never know what might provoke the guy. He is a snake after all and unpredictable. I’m not afraid of snakes, but I am afraid of being bitten by a snake.

I continued on my hike and once I was on the other side of the ravine, I looked back to see if the snake was still there.

Willow Lake Prescott, Arizona

Looking across the ravine to see if the snake is still on the trail.

I certainly felt somewhat relieved seeing Mr. Diamondback on the move. Remember, I have to hike back this way ๐Ÿ˜ฒ This rattlesnake encounter did take some of the joy out of the rest of my hike and I was almost ready to call it quits, but I’m a stubborn gal and I was on a mission to see the red bridge. Thus, it was onward and upward …. figuratively AND literally.

hiking Prescott trails, Arizona

Eek – all those nifty places for snakes to hide. “Please Lord no more diamondback encounters”.

Red Bridge Willow Lake Prescott, Arizona

The red bridge looks more pinkish than red thanks to the Arizona sun

I made it to my destination; the red bridge. I was tempted to continue hiking a little further, and probably would have had it not been for the snake encounter. It was already 85 degrees Fahrenheit at ten in the morning. With the heat and sun shining, this was ideal snake weather and one diamondback meet up was more than enough.

Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona

Red Bridge – Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona

After a little rest and several photographs later, it was time to turn around and retrace my steps. To say I was on edge or a little jumpy would be an understatement. Each little rustling of vegetation from lizards or grasshoppers would have me whipping my head around in search for the cause of said movement, and lets not even talk about the sounds of crickets or birds.

lizardgrasshopper

 

 

 

 

 

It really was a beautiful day and Willow Lake is a wonderful place to hike, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the return hike. I was on edge and just wanted to get back to my car.

Prescott trails

I laid my pack down next to the white trail marker to help show the grade – steepness

I navigated the areas of the trail where I was concerned about the steepness of the boulders with a quickness and ease that surprised me. And to think, earlier I thought I’d be scooching back down this trail on my derriere.

Willow Lake trail Prescott, Arizona

follow the white dots – hiking up to see if Mr. Snake is still there!!!

When I retraced my steps on the trail near the rattlesnake encounter, I felt nervous and heard a large sound in my ears. It was a familiar sound, yet unfamiliar. It was so loud that it nearly drowned out the sounds of birds chirping. I stopped for a second to figure out what it was and soon realized it was the pounding of my heart. ย “Geez, Ingrid. Get a grip. It’s only a snake”. ย “Ah, but not any old snake”, I replied to myself.

critters on the trail

careful of sneaky critters on the trail!

Okay, now I’m talking to myself. ย I vowed, when I got home, I’d do some Googling and investigate what to do when encountering wildlife. I felt pretty sure of myself and what to do, but a little review might be helpful and perhaps make me feel a bit more confident in the future.

hiking in Prescott, Arizona

The stick on the trail made me jump thinking it was a snake

I made it past the rattlesnake sighting only to have a hornet keep buzzing around me. Must’ve been the sweet nectar oozing from my pores. Between the heat, blazing sun, and nervous fear this gal, who normally doesn’t sweat, was sweating indeed.

And although I managed to avoid a snake bite or hornet sting, I did return to the RV with a dozen itchy tiny welts from mosquitoes.

At least these were itty bitty mosquitoes when compared to the huge ones found in Minnesota.

hiking in Prescott Arizona

So here are my thoughts on safety guidelines. Although today I’m talking about wildlife, I use the same personal guidelines when visiting a city. Thus, whether I’m in the wilderness surrounded by boulders and vegetation or in a metropolitan area surrounded by concrete and roads, a little street smarts goes a long way.

  • learn an animals habits and potential dangers
  • stay calm and back away slowly
  • appear tall and confident
  • allow a wide berth
  • do NOT turn your back
  • do NOT act threatening or provoke
  • be prepared and always have an exit strategy
  • carry pepper spray/bear spray

I know this is a basic ย guideline and each animal reacts differently, but in all cases, I’d say most important is not acting threatening or provoking. So what would I have done if bitten by that rattlesnake?

  • First, distance myself from the snake
  • Second, sit down and stay calm. Try not to move.
  • Third, call 911 (when I’m out and about, I’m always checking my phone for reception) If my phone won’t work, use my whistle or scream for help (I try never to hike remotely when by myself. Although this day, I didn’t run into another hiker on the trail. Thank goodness I had good cell service)
  • Always be familiar with your location and surroundings so you can give good directions should you need rescuing. I stopped at every trail post noting my location.
  • If not dizzy, slowly make my way back to the trailhead
  • Get to a hospital as soon as possible.
  • Additional info on snake bitesย here and here

Willow Lake Prescott Arizona

Have you ever come across wildlife unexpectedly and feared for your safety?

Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildlife, A Guide to When, Where, and How

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68 thoughts on “Wildlife on the Trail?

  1. Great hiking story for Goodness Snakes!! The first shot of Willow lake is a beauty. I do not like snakes!!
    Fortunately, we have no dangerous snakes on the West Coast – only bears and cougars, though I’ve never come across them. However, I did have some rattlesnake encounters in Interior British Columbia.
    At age 16 I attended a 26 day program with Outward Bound in Keremeos, BC. Our group was going for a good run through some desert area. I had decided to take my time with a steady pace, so that I was behind the rest of the group. As I was approaching the log that everyone had leaped over, I spotted a rattlesnakes tail and rattler poking just above the log. Yikes. I stopped and circled wide around it and there he was – all coiled up under that log!!

    • Thank you Michael. I’m sure you remember how heart pounding that snake encounter was. Good thing you saw it when you did. It’s kept me off the trails this past week and I’ve resorted to get in my walking around the RV Park … certainly not photo worthy but at least I’m getting in some steps.

      • Don’t worry Ingrid, I’m sure that you’re adventurous spirit will soon get the better of your sensibilities. For now you will have to settle for shots of the wild folks who inhabit your RV site!

  2. I can so relate, those rattlers can make you jump. Your guy is huge and was just ready to pounce had you made a wrong move. The sight would probably make me turn around, but you are such a brave lady!

    • The fact that he was so big actually made me feel better. It’s the little ones that are quick to strike. The bigger older ones have learned to save their venom for food more their size. As soon as I continued passed, he settled down right away and we just looked at each other, but most definitely unnerving ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

  3. I agree, the snakes are beautiful! But I don’t like seeing big rattlers on the trail. We’ve only encountered a few in our many years of hiking, but not in as precarious a position as you were. You certainly got some great photos! :-))

    • Both my snake encounters were a little too close for my comfort. It has since kept me off the trails, but this too shall pass. My desire to snap pictures will soon trump my fear of being bitten by a snake ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Those white markers make the trail so clear. Wish I saw more trails marked as clearly in Australia. We have snakes here, but although some are highly venomous, the fact that that they skedaddle at the first sound of footsteps means we rarely ever encounter them. Could relate to your sentiments, that you aren’t afraid of snakes, but are afraid of being bitten by a snake. Now a cockroach on the other hand will take away all sense of reason and leave me jibbering mess – go figure!

    • Eek, cockroaches? Yeah, not a favorite. It is interesting as to what creatures cause one to have the heeby-jeebies. I’ve spent enough time hiking in the desert southwest to know the snakes come out when it’s hot and they like to sun themselves. Thus, a snake encounter is to be expected. I just wish I had seen him first before he saw/sensed me.

    • Yeah and normally I would’ve turned around but when I glanced his way I had already walked passed him and I sure didn’t want to do that again ๐Ÿ˜ฌ All in a days adventure!

    • I know what you mean. I was visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and a bunch of us were parked along the side of the road watching a herd of elk graze. We were standing outside of our cars and taking photos when this huge buck came out of the woods behind us and walked right passed me and the next car over. I literally could’ve touched him but stood frozen. Very cool encounter but it was intimidating.

  5. One thing we were told when hiking in Arizona was to make sure you wear a good pair of LEATHER hiking boots…A snake has a harder time burying his fangs in the leather than your leg!! We have never hiked in the summer out there, but I’m sure that’s the best possible time to see a rattler..Remember…LEATHER hiking boots even in summer…especially in summer!!

    • Yeah a good pair of leather hiking shoes is an excellent idea. I keep telling Al that I’m getting snake gators to cover my calves and his usual response is for me to stop hiking those remote trails. He is none to happy with me these days ๐Ÿ˜ especially when he saw the photos of the trail. Gotta keep the guy on his toes ๐Ÿ˜†

  6. Recently happened upon wild boar in the Wye Valley, England – a mother and 4 young. … so annoyed at myself that I was too engrossed watching them to take a proper video – instead I have one blurry photo! ๐Ÿ™‚ So much respect and admiration for your photo haul of the snakes!

    • I saw my first bald eagle in the wild last week, and like you, I was so engrossed watching I failed to get a good photograph. Eek, a wild boar? We have what’s known as javelina’s around here. They can be aggressive if they have any young. It took be a few moments to compose myself and focus on taking a couple of snap shots of that snake.

  7. I would recommend you carry a revolver loaded with a couple shot shells then standard ammo for larger critters. A good used Smith & Wesson revolver can be had at a decent price in 38 special or 357 magnum.

  8. Glad you’re safe, Ingrid. I had a large Diamondback hiss at me on the trail early this summer @ Cattail Cove. It put an end to my warm-weather hiking. Thanks for the safety tips. As a solo hiker, I’ve often wondered what I’d do if I was attacked by any critter.

    • Does not surprise me that you’ve had a run in yourself. LH is the perfect environment for a diamondback. Does take the joy out of hiking though. My encounter last April kept me off the trails and took me months to overcome. That encounter shook me up more than this one. Stay safe and cooler weather is around the corner!

  9. Wow! At least rattlesnakes do rattle. I think northeast copperheads are much worse because they just bite. Glad you are OK. Snakes love sunning on boulders. Beautiful scenery!

    • Yeah, I’m glad he let me know he was there or I may not have seen him for a photo-op ๐Ÿ˜€ Yes, beautiful area and I should’ve reminded myself about the sunning on boulders thing!

  10. Wow! I would not have had the guts to continue on, knowing I would have to return the same way. I used to be afraid of all snakes, even pictures until a close encounter with a copperhead in NC. Now I am careful but actually have gotten so I can enjoy the beauty in the snake skins and markings. I don’t run any longer or throw partners into the bushes as a sacrifice. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hahaha … partners in bushes as a sacrifice!!! Love it! I have a stubbornness in me that said I wasn’t about to allow that snake to ruin my day. It did take a bunch of repeating in my head though to keep the legs moving ๐Ÿ˜†

  11. We were walking through our campground in Oregon on a paved and well traveled road recently and came face to face with a 5 foot long bullsnake in our path. They look very much like a Diamondback, except for the tail…and they are not venomous. They definitely get your heart racing, though!

    • When we lived in southern Colorado, we lived on acreage and actually had a couple of large bull snakes hang around our house. Since a bull snake trumps a rattle snake, we were glad to see the bulls around. I even named one ‘buddy’ lol. Never had a problem with mice or rattlers the entire time we lived there.

  12. Great advice and great reminders for me since we’ll be back in snake country soon. Thankfully the snakes are not around as much in the winter. Hitch itch has set in, Sept 15th can’t get here soon enough.

    • A full summer in IL would be tough for me. So I know, you’re more than ready to get rolling. And yes, with cooler temps around the corner, the snakes will soon be crawling back in their holes … at the least, slow down!

  13. Wow. Now that is quite a tale…don’t mind the pun. I would have never gone on that is for sure. I think you may have a little crazy in you girlfriend.
    The photos, as usually, are amazing. The red bridge is actually my favorite. I love seeing the whit puffy clouds being reflected in the water. Gorgeous

    • Well, I think if you’d a seen the lay of the land, you would’ve kept going forward. Heading back the way I came, would’ve put me closer to him. And that wasn’t happening!!! All and all, it was a wonderful and challenging hike surrounded by beauty and yes, even Mr. Diamondback was beautiful. Just wish he hadn’t scared me! ๐Ÿ

  14. I’ve encountered turtles, lizards, chipmunks, geese (mean buggers), herons, ducks and one snake (didn’t ask him for his ID let him scoot across the path) but if I heard THAT noise I would sooooo go in reverse or maybe throw a rock at it to get it to move so I could sprint past. Shudder….. be safe.

    • Eek … never throw anything directly at wildlife. It’ll be viewed as aggressive or threatening. Last winter I threw a handful of cracked corn at some unique geese…. yeah, don’t feed the wildlife ๐Ÿฆ† Well, they had me running with my butt tucked under in attempts to avoid being goosed by a goose ๐Ÿ˜†

  15. You learn quick out in the wildness. After a few hikes when living Out West we started carrying bear bells, whistles, hiking poles, first aid kit, extra water and snacks, sunblock, bug spray, hats, extra layer of clothing, etc. It is harder to stay alert and aware when you are on a busy trail with multiple groups of people too. The animals are still around when people are out and about. Happy Exploring – Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Good advice Renee. The first time I heard about wearing bells was in Glacier NP. Well, that was enough to keep me off the trails back then. I think I can handle a snake encounter a lot better than a grizzly encounter. Hmm, I may need to add a hiking pole to my gear, but I’m concerned it’ll interfere with my photo taking and get in the way.

      • It took me a bit to manage poles and a camera plus having a backpack strapped on to the front of me too. I found that the areas I needed poles in I could not be actively taking photos. I would have to stop and find a secure spot to photograph from. You might need to give it a try – maybe someone you know has one you can borrow to test out before putting monies down on one.

  16. Igrid, You are much braver than me! I could not have kept on going once I saw that snake! We were hiking in Palo Duro Canyon when we passed several hikers going the other way that had seen a rattle snake just up the trail. That was the end of the hike for me! Henry kept on going for a little way and didn’t see the snake but I refused to go any farther. We turned around and went back.

    • I remember your post about the “possible” snake encounter. Made me chuckle. Me? I’d want to continue the hike, although very alert and cautiously, in search of the snake and a photo-op. Al’s about ready to toss my camera for fear it’ll get me into some serious trouble ๐Ÿ˜

  17. Ingrid you are a BRAVE woman. Snakes have always been scary to me – growing up in south Texas it was common to encounter water snakes or an occasional cottonmouth. But where I’ve lived for the past 27 years there are hardly any snakes – I think I’ve seen one snake and it was harmless and tiny. But, I still fear snakes. The only wildlife encounter I am likely to have here is maybe with a coyote or a skunk. AND I am impressed with the photos – mine would’ve been blurry or I would’ve dropped the phone and lost it! Stay safe and enjoy the outdoors, safely.

    • Eek, snakes in the water? I don’t think so. That has me freaking out. Yeah, I don’t think during my thirty years of living in the Chicago burbs that I saw many snakes. Certainly none that were poisonous. As long as the temps are in the eighties, I think I’ll pick some different trails ๐Ÿ˜Š I’ve had enough excitement for a while!

  18. How is your photo of that snake so clear?! I would have been shaking so hard! What a great hiking story – both snake encounter and the terrain. I’m too nervous, mostly of falls, to wilderness hike in my own – good tips.

    • Since my husband works, I either hike by myself or I don’t go. Thus, I’ve gotten quite used to exploring on my own, plus he gets bored when I get ‘into’ photo taking. When I photographed the snake, he put his rattle down and kept his tongue in his mouth which meant he wasn’t feeling threatened and my concerned lightened… but just a fraction!

  19. Very nice post. We’ve hiked quite a bit in the western states and have only seen one rattlesnake. He was actually trying to get away from us, so posed no threat. I certainly wouldn’t want to startle one unexpectedly, however. I, too, would have been nervous on the return trip. You’re a brave woman hiking alone.

    • I do a fair amount of hiking by myself and always stick to popular trails. This was one rare day where I didn’t come across anyone else on my almost 2 hour hike. I know when I’m hiking in temps in the mid to up eighties, I need to be very alert. I think I’ll be hanging closer to camp for a while ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Yep, snake definitely wins, but that trail did have me wondering what the heck I was doing. Challenging! When Al read this post, he was none to happy with me and asked, “Can’t you hike a normal trail?” “Honey, it’s all about the photo-ops” … eye roll ๐Ÿ˜†

  20. Those rattlers sure are intimidating! We’ve only seen two on the trail. One was a rattling hisser and we about jumped out of our skin. The other was on a cooler day and he was very slow and just cruising by the rocks. But both times I was very nervous for the rest of the hike. I, too, research just what to do if bitten. Glad this big guy gave you a warning. I love the patterns in those beautiful rocks!

    • If he had been stretched out crossing the trail, I would not have been as shook up. It’s the fear of getting bitten, that has my heart pounding in my ears. It’s all part of the territory and if I continue to hike in the heat, I’m sure this won’t be my last encounter. And let’s not forget about the tarantulas…. fascinating but eerie!

  21. Yikes, Ingrid! Those are some great photos of the rattlesnake to be quick ones. I have encountered some snakes in Texas, some sharks in the Pacific and some bears in the US, Canada (mostly Alaska). I usually try to take a photo, but sometimes, My better judgment wins, and then there is no photo. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes, most times it’s best to forget about a photo. The encounter alone is usually etched in our memories pretty well ๐Ÿ˜† I think a shark would freak me out more than a rattle snake!

  22. Wow. We have yet to deal with anything even remotely scary on a trail. I have a feeling that’s all gonna change when we make our way west. Good advice on here and we will definitely keep it in mind when we head out that way. And I’m hoping you had a very long lens to catch photos of him that close…. Incredible!

    • During the winter snakes are rarely a problem. It’s when things heat up, the snakes come out. Both of my snake encounters occurred when the temps were in the mid to upper eighties. The photos were snapped around 108mm so a little closer than one should comfortably be. The bigger the snake the more calm they are and not as quick to strike. They’ve learned to save their venom for smaller eatable prey … if that’s any consolation ๐Ÿ˜

    • I’m so glad I snapped a couple of photos… 108 mm. A tad closer to Mr. Diamondback than was comfortable. Not looking forward to a repeat anytime soon!

  23. Good post. Let’s see…black bear. We were out camping in spring and a very large male black bear was following us on a trail of a campsite on the shores of Lake Superior. Now most of the time if you don’t bother the black bear, the bear won’t bother you, but in spring time young adult males wake up hungry and mean and they crave meat and you can end up on the menu. We could hear the bear following us (a very bad sign!) so we cut across the woods off the path and onto the beach. We then hightailed it back to our campsite by walking fast along the beach. That bear followed us right up to the shore and then gave up and went looking for something easier. We found tracks later. That bear had feet as big around as a supersize dinner plate. I have tried to always carry bear spray, flares and bangers after that.

    • We used to backpack and canoe in northern Minnesota and western Ontario, and for the most part, we did not fear black bear too much. BUT there are always those exceptions and attacks do happen. Lucky for you guys that you made it back to camp unscathed. They are hungry guys when they come out of hibernation. When we’d go wild blueberry picking, one of us always acted as look out.

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