Angry Prairie Rattlesnake at Ute Valley Park
This was my morning wake-up call today at Ute Valley Park in Colorado Springs. I was doing a quick hike up Popes Bluffs, an unranked summit, the high point of the park, and one of my favorite local hikes.
I was walking up the gullied trail when this bad boy, a three-foot prairie rattlesnake with coarse, rusty scales, was sprawled across the trail in the early sun, although it was already 80 degrees at 8 o'clock. He felt my footsteps and quickly coiled into an aggressive position. The buzz of the vibrating rattles filled the air, warning me to step back and give the snake space.
Once you've heard that unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake, the dry, raspy shaking like seeds in a dried husk, you never forget it. The sound puts you on edge, at once both thrilling and frightening. It can raise the hair on your neck and cover your arms with gooseflesh, especially if you're thrashing through the underbrush in west Texas or southern Arizona.
I've had plenty of close encounters with rattlesnakes. If you venture out much in the drylands, tramping down dry stony washes, scrambling over talus slopes, and threading through dense willow thickets along trickling creeks then you will eventually meet up with a buzzworm.
I saw a six-foot western diamondback with a body almost as thick as my thigh in Texas that raised my hair and I've been struck at a few times. One prairie rattler just missed me along lower Beaver Creek. He was knee-high in a mountain mahogany bush to get off the hot ground when I surprised him on a rocky slope. I jumped as he struck and he missed. I've seen plenty of Crotalus species: timber rattlers in New York, Connecticut, and once, seven of them in one day on Old Rag Mountain in Virginia; green Mojave rattlers in western Arizona and the Mojave Desert; sidewinders in southern California; and I once caught a rare western Massasauga at the Royal Gorge.
This fella is a prairie rattlesnake or Crotalus viridis, the most common rattler along Colorado's Front Range. This one was mature, with a length of about three feet, although I didn't want to grab him to measure. It's important not to kill rattlers or any other snake since they're a vital part of every desert ecosystem, and besides, we're usually intruders in their homeland.
It reminds me of an old poem, "To a Rattlesnake," by Vaida Stewart Montgomery. The last stanza reads:
And yet, Old Rattlesnake, I honor you; You are a partner of the pioneer; You claim your own, as you've a right to do -- This was your Eden -- I intruded here.