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Rattlesnakes in the Southwest

July 13th, 2009

Watch your step! To hike the Grand Canyon and the Southwest, one must be aware of rattlesnakes. Now, the fact is that snakes, including rattlers, are really more afraid of us than we are of them. So you are not that likely to see them (even though some of you may be hoping for just that to happen). But, if you do come across one, you should know what you are looking for and what you're doing with them. Rattlesnakes know how to act in the desert, believe me. So the times that you are most likely to see them are in the early morning, like before 8AM, or in the evening, when the desert gets as cold as a bitter Northeast winter's day. You think snakes want to throw away their precious energy by getting burned up by the hot desert heat? Hey, they may be dumb, but they're not stupid. So, most hikers just aren't going to see the rattler, unless they make special efforts to do so. But it's always better to be informed, better to be safe than sorry. If you come across a snake, what should you be looking for and what should you be aware of? Remember that baby rattlers are every bit as dangerous as the adults, but they won't have their rattles yet. So it's very important that you know what to look for in case you come across a younger snake. A Basic List of Rattlesnakes * The near-legendary "pink rattlesnake" may be one of two rattlers in the Western Rattlesnake family, snakes with triangular heads that sense body heat. * The Hopi Rattlesnake will be pinkish with gray or green blotches. * The Speckled Rattlesnake is a reddish-pink color, and you're most likely to find it below the Havasu are of the Grand Canyon. * The Grand Canyon rattler, another family member, is light brown and mottled. * The final Western Rattlesnake member is the Great Basin, which is either light gray or brown and has dark patches. * You'll find the Desert Striped Whipsnake along streams or in bushes. * Then there's the Gopher Snake. This snake has a narrow head but no rattles. It will, however, do a wonderful impersonation of a rattler if it feels threatened! These might be a creamy yellow, a greenish gray, or tan; they have big brown, black, or ruddy splotches on their backs with small ones on their sides. Look for them among pines, open brushland areas, or flat desert plains areas. Rattler Bite Avoidance Tips for Hikers * Don't go barefoot at night, and wear long, relatively loose pants at night. * When you see one, back away calmly and don't do anything aggressive toward it at all. * If you are hiking and want to move a rock, log, or some brush, be careful, as these are places that desert snakes hide to escape heat and predators. * If you feel the need to move a rattler, use a long, strong stick--NEVER your hand.

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