Guest column: 'A little danger adds spice to the beauty'
I miss clouds. In the middle of a drought, we’re also in the middle of our driest period before monsoon season. This is when Arizona residents collectively hold our breath, hoping each day passes with no word of fires taking hold. Meanwhile, our skies remain clear and relentlessly blue. As much as I love sunny days I yearn for cloud cover.
Before the rains we need the bringer of rains. So I want days with shifting, jostling fluffy clouds. I want boisterous clouds, free-range clouds, creating an enchanting blend of light and shadows, adding texture to an already vivid landscape. I love walking beneath dramatic skies, to feel them pressing down on me, to see them reinvent the world every few steps. Arizona skies are always living, breathing things. And soon, if we’re fortunate, our skies will weep and we will all dance amid the tears.
Over my many years of hiking I’ve encountered more than 100 rattlesnakes. They’re fascinating creatures and I’m generally delighted to see them, even when I’m surprised to discover one close by. Many times, I’ve glanced down to spot a rattler just off the trail lying still, hoping to go unnoticed, which is almost always their first reaction.
But over Memorial Day weekend I had a run-in that was closer than I liked. I was hiking one of my regular trails in Dead
Horse Ranch State Park, which becomes a sandy path leading down to a small wash. Just above the wash where the sand is heaviest, a row of rocks lines the edge of the path. I often use them as a firmer surface. Soon as I stepped on the rocks, a rattle exploded right under my feet. I immediately accelerated, two strides and I hit the wash. When I looked around the snake was stretched from the path across the rocks, pulling back so I knew he had taken a swipe at me. He came sidewinding down the trail toward me, mad as can be. When he got into the wash, he slithered off rattling the whole way. That’s when I snapped the photo.
I finished my hike but the thing that bothered me was how could I have not seen a rattlesnake lying in the trail. It’s a bare sandy trail so it didn’t make any sense that I missed him. I went back the next day and hiked it again. When I got to the rocks, I suddenly understood. The stones are packed in sand, no way to get under them. But the second rock jutted out a little bit and with the way the hill sloped down, there was a slender little strip not visible from my angle. The rattler must have been lying there snugged up against the rocks, completely out of sight. He stayed still hoping not to be seen. Instead I practically stepped on his head. No wonder he was perturbed.
All in all, it was a good reminder. I’m alert and focused when hiking. But despite that, I had a brush with danger, all because of one tiny blind spot. The trail is in my home park so I’ve hiked it literally hundreds of times yet never realized there was a thin snake-sized sliver of path not immediately visible. Now when I come that way I know to take a wider approach to the rocks so I can see everything.
Nothing else has changed. I’m still hiking nearly every day enjoying the tranquility of an Arizona morning. This was actually the first rattlesnake I’ve seen since 2019 so I know they’re not swarming the landscape. I’ll continue to be vigilant. Part of the joy of hiking is that heightened awareness, not just for danger, but for all the delightful details of the world around me. Constantly scanning the ground and underbrush means I might see a rattler but I certainly spot wildflowers, cactus blooms, and animal tracks. Listening for the sounds of movement means I hear birdsong and scurrying lizards and leaves rustling in the breeze. I love all of Arizona and that includes rattlers and Gila monsters and cactus spines and mesquite thorns. A little danger adds spice to the beauty. So get outside and experience it for yourself. But leave the ear buds at home. If I had been listening to music, I almost certainly would have been bitten.
If you want to explore Arizona, my books make excellent guides. You can snag copies of both Arizona State Parks and Arizona’s Scenic Roads and Hikes directly from my website: www.rogernaylor.com. And many of my books are available at your neighborhood bookstores. Support local businesses whenever you can.