Forked tongue in the road

If you go to a wilderness area, you expect wild things to happen. During a recent hike in a Nevada wilderness called Alta Toquima, my expectations of interesting encounters with flora and fauna were realized with reptilian abundance.

I saw the rattler before I heard him, as he slithered toward a rock just off the side of the trail. Then, one second later, he commenced to rattlin’ up a storm, letting me know he wasn’t appreciative of being stirred from his afternoon meditations by some happy wanderer tromping along the trail. He curled up by the rock and fixed his beady little viper eyes on me, emanating a powerful aura that could accurately be described as testy. As in, “Don’t test me, buddy.”

Well. This presented a strategic problem, since my meditations had been fixed squarely on the icy bottles of brew that were to be my reward for making it back to camp after a hardy hike. So I was hopeful this encounter would be over quickly, with me politely halting, and him politely taking off. Alas, such was not this buzzworm’s plan. He refused to budge and dared me to make the next move.

I backed off a few steps and sat down on the trail, opting to hang out with my surly new pal. He was an undeniably handsome snake, about 2 feet long with a sandy cream diamondback scheme that blended in dangerously well with the color of the hills. As I sat, he maintained a steady buzz with his hard workin’ tail tip. He was also flashing his other tool of intimidation, his tongue. With my binoculars, I could see the Simmons-esque flicking fork had two colors—a deep black and a rich, dark blue.

Well, terrific, snake, and thanks for the rare close-up, but jeez, um … you know, like … the beers?

That ornery sumbitch settled in and rattled at me for 10 minutes, non-stop. At that point, I began to peeve, since the alternative routes around this fanged demon were either up a steep slope, which looked like a lotta work, or down a steep slope, which looked like a lotta scratchy scrambling. I decided to give him five more minutes. He responded with more rattling and tongue-flicking.

OK, OK. Nuts to this. I decided to bail via the low route. My rising inspired his rate of rattling to shoot up into the red zone, and he further stiffened his coiled body into an ominous pre-strike tautness. Hey, hawk-lunch, take a pill!

The low road maneuver did indeed feature lots of sliding in loose dirt and scratches from the brush. But the snake had not attacked, and had been successfully bypassed. Chilled bottles awaited.

Imagine, then, my consternation as I rolled into camp only to discover another cream-colored diamondback coiled next to my bleeping ice chest!

Or so I first thought. This beast turned out to be a gopher snake, one who was easily coaxed to stand aside for the liberation of some cold ones during Operation Newcastle Freedom.