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. 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 🐍😮 (which I don’t recommend)
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.
So what did I do when I heard that unmistakable sound only a diamondback rattlesnake can make? My tale about his tail ….
Last 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.
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.
“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. 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.
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. 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.
I certainly felt somewhat relieved seeing Mr. Diamondback on the move. Remember, I have to hike back this way 😲 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. “Geez, Ingrid. Get a grip. It’s only a snake”. “Ah, but not any old snake”, I replied to myself.
Okay, now I’m talking to myself. 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.
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.
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 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 bites here and here
Have you ever come across wildlife unexpectedly and feared for your safety?