Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Post in Pictures - Trail Head or Tail

On a too hot Saturday in late March, my son spotted something moving stealthily just off a trail in Usery Mountain Park and said, "Look, it's...", and a friend and I suddenly became like two giddy tourists astounded at their good luck in finding a celebrity while visitng that celebrity's native city. We oohed and ahhed, exclaimed in delight, congratulated each other on our good fortune, and clicked our cameras just two feet or so from the notorious individual's face. Said individual was not pleased with our attention. He attempted to slink beneath a bush. When that only had us bending over him, he demanded we keep our distance with an all too famous signal, a solo instrumental of warning.

  It all began with a morning hike. A lot of good, strange, very dangerous things do begin that way, I find. We were having a grand time, because it's nature after all, and nature never ceases to be a celebrity to humanity, especially the farther we grow from it. Everything too was in bloom except the saguaros. There were plenty of cactus flowers, yellow budding bushes, and there was a breeze - thank God for that! Without it the weather would have been oppressive (yes, in March).

The best thing was that I discovered a new place in this state to love. (I'm proudly collecting those places like marbles in a jar since my heart expanded to fit Arizona about a year and a half ago.) True, I  regretted we were not back hiking South Mountain at first, but then on the gentle winding trails in Usery Mountain Park, I found the true beauty of the Sonoran Desert with all its plant life diversity, and I knew South Mountain couldn't rival it. And I found a couple of famous individuals that I really associate with the West. Actually make that three....uh, four.

One of them was this gracious gentleman. His friend kindly gave me permission to take his picture. He and the scenery both were very photogenic.

A Horse With No Name

Another was this odd fellow, Sauron Saguaro I called him - The One Eye.

Oooohh...scared you, didn't I?

But the one that really gave us chills of excitement was this one:

Can't see a bloomin' thing, can you? Well, if you peer very hard into the center of this photo, you'll find a diamond pattern. Look to the far middle left, and you'll see a pattern of white and black lines. It's a rattlesnake, my friends, and the black and white lines are the end of its tail, the rattle. I was never so thrilled in all my life to see one. I could have gotten a really good picture of this famous reptile, but I would have had to let him strike me. You can understand, I'm sure, how I might not have been so happy about meeting him at that point. 

It was only after he rattled at my friend and I a few times and moved into a very decisive position that we had the good sense to walk away. My friend's little girl had cried in real fear when we spotted our celebrity, and her father swiftly lifted her into his arms. I apologized for making such a fuss over the snake and promoting this fear, but my friend assured me by saying:

"Oh, she's only scared because I talked to her about snakes before we came and warned her to stay on the trail."

Huh. Talked to her kids about snakes, warned them to stay on the trail? I had done neither. The most I had said in concern before the hike was, "Honey, did we remember the hot dogs?"

Silly novice hiker.

I made up for it, though, by obsessively reminding my kids after that close encounter to stick near, stay clear of bushes, and not to let one pinkie toe stray from the path. I had to amend my motherly failure, and, by heaven, I did my duty as paranoid parental figure forthwith.

Good thing, too. We ended our hike and drove to our chosen picnic spot where we could cook those hot dogs I was so solicitous about before our adventure. When we merrily emerged from our vehicles, an uneasy middle-aged man in the truck next to us pointed and said, "Be careful. There's a rattlesnake under that table."

No way! Rattlesnakes appearing twice in a hike to the same people? But sure enough. He was enjoying the cool concrete in the shade, and I got this really great picture of him for you.

Of course, the commonsense fellow in the truck watched us parade about the table for our shot, and his eyes plainly spoke what he thought about our mental deficiencies.

"You know what they say, don't you?" our grey-headed sage asked, not even a foot of his dangling near the potentially treacherous desert floor from his open cab door. "Where there's one, there's usually two."

Yes, but we weren't too bothered. We'd already seen the other one. Still, after snagging this prize picture, we drove off to a different picnic site where the rattlesnakes had the decency not to show themselves (instead snickering at us quietly from beneath their bushes) while we ate our hot dogs, salad, potato chips and cookies.

We wrapped up the hike by playing in the playground. Yes, adults, too. There was this really great four-seater see-saw there, and the parents all got on and tried to mildly hurt each other on a kiddie ride; as my friend said, This is what you call extreme sports once you become a parent. We were laughing it up and had little idea what the kids were doing. They could have been playing with rattlers, feeding their leftovers to coyotes...or getting smacked to the ground by another kid on a swing, which, it turns out, my two youngest were. My daughter was okay after walking in front of her swinging friend, but my poor little son got rubber burn on his face, and by his wails I was swiftly brought back to real life, cursing myself for another deficiency in parental responsibility.

So the hike wasn't peaceful, and it certainly wasn't danger or accident free, but it was beautiful and mostly enjoyable, and on the drive back into town I got to laugh again at a ludicrous sign on the side of a mountain. I suppose it's meant to direct snowbirds (retired out-of-towners who come here each year, fall to spring) to the main part of town or, perhaps - just perhaps, it's meant to direct foolish people like me to the nearest hospital with the best chance of treating that snake bite.

A little disclaimer: I, Hillary, the writer of this blog, in no way promote trying to take pictures of or attempting to get close to any kind of poisonous snake, nor do I advocate letting your children see by your actions that you think venomous reptiles are cool.  Be safe, my friends.


  1. A lovely mixture of adventure, excitement, fun and a touch of absurdity - I think your children are lucky to have you as their mum.

  2. Sharon, you are priceless. Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. I'm so glad I have a friend who is a writer! There is a proverb that says, "The faintest ink is clearer than the best memory" or something like that. This great experience in time would have become: Oh, remember that fun day. But now it is very hilariously and poetically documented in writing, thanks for that! We must plan our next adventure, although, I doubt we can top 2 diamondback sightings!

  4. Holly, you're a gem! You're also quite the writer yourself. I am honored by your comment - since you were there, you are an expert at knowing whether or not I portrayed the events of that day well or not with my words. So I am very touched that you liked it. Yes, let's plan a new adventure!

  5. Hillary, I love the story! I also love Usery Mountain. I think Brian & I hiked it a couple of times before Brendan was born. We never saw a rattlesnake, but we did hear the coyotes yipping one time as we were coming around the last section at dusk. Nothing like getting up close and personal with nature. ; )


  6. Camille, I wish we had gone hiking together before you moved so far away. I miss you, too, because you were my park buddy, and I have been so lazy this year about taking the kids to the park - probably because I don't have your company. Still, you can always visit me here to remember your Arizona. :-)

  7. Arizona should hire you to write their tourist and travel brochures! Great!


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