I called my brother last night and suggested Sunday morning would be a good day for a desert hike. Being as persuasive as I am, I talked hiim into it, and I reached his home in Avondale by 7:30 in the morning. By 8 a.m. we had reached the desert park, and were planning our trip. Brian commented that we should be careful–this was perfect snake weather. I said I hoped we saw one. For all the times I’ve gone walking in the desert, I’ve never actually encountered a rattlesnake.
This rock tower was our target. Didn’t know if we could walk that far, but it gave us a landmark to aim at.
We had already walked about a mile before I took my first picture. That granite tower in the distance is not as near as it looks–my camera isn’t very fancy, but it does have a built-in telescopic lens that makes things look about 3 times as large as they are to the naked eye.
I am a fool to dress this way for a desert walk. Black is not the color one should wear for an Arizona desert walk, but it isn’t too hot yet–mid 80s, and I like black, so I wear it even though I know better.
This is living. I’m about as happy as I ever get when I’m out in the desert or any wilderness, just enjoying nature and exploring. I am vain so I try to get my pictures taken without my glasses on, but Brian took a second shot I wasn’t expecting. I had put my eyes back on and was pulling the water bottle out of my pocket for the first drink on the walk.
Desert view, looking uphill. Brian is leading the way up the trail. Most of the time, you hike single file. This is a good trail for hiking, but there isn’t room to walk side by side.
The granite tower is a lot closer now. It looks like it might almost be reachable.
I stop and look back the way we’ve come. We have been climbing steadily. That haziness in the far distance is the city of Phoenix.
It’s a good ridge line off to the left. One almost expects to see a group of Apache warriors sitting up there on their ponies.
Suddenly, I hear Brian say, “Snake, watch out!” It wasn’t exactly a yell, but his voice did get louder. He was in the lead, and walked right past the snake and heard it rattle. He stopped me from walking into its path. Probably the fact that he walks pretty fast got him past the reptile before it could strike. He heard it rattle–the noise isn’t exactly the clicking of a castanet, more like a whirring noise, turned and saw it. He’s very good at spotting desert wildlife. I had a hard time seeing the snake. I was very cautious, walked way around the snake on the left side of the trail, even climbing on top of some boulders to keep me well beyond its strike range.
The rattlesnake is coiled in the shade of a little bush by the side of the trail. It’s a diamondback–the same animal that is the motto of our Phoenix big league baseball team. The diamondback rattler is one of the deadliest animals in the desert. Its poison can kill a grown man in an hour or two and is extremely painful.
We carefully worked our way around the snake, and made a note of where it was for our journey back. We met another hiker coming down from the other direction, and warned him. We probably spent about ten minutes with the snake. He wasn’t very happy to see us, but he never struck. I got my wish. I saw a snake in the desert. I would see it again on the way back down the trail.
We ran out of time. The plan was to walk in for an hour and then out for an hour. At our turnaround point I saw this exuberant patch of desert daisies–the camera doesn’t really capture the brilliance of the hundreds of yellow wildflowers growing at this point on the hillside.
The Arizona desert is famous for its Saguaro cacti. This is a fine healthy specimen.
In the center of all the green and yellow is one passionate splash of pink. That is probably a cactus bloom, but I couldn’t get close enough to tell for sure. I liked that contrast.
This picture is an accident. Camera in hand, I accidentally clicked while it was pointing down.
By this time we’ve been hiking for about 90 minutes. I’m getting tired and the bottoms of my feet are getting sore. I wear tennis shoes, but they’re not really perfect for desert walking. Brian is getting pretty far ahead of me. The trail is at its roughest here, and one wants to step very carefully.
As we get back to the lower elevations, Brian pointed out two vultures circling above the hills to our left. No chance of getting them on film with my little camera. They move too fast and are too easily lost in the immensity of the sky. I took this shot of the biggest saguaro in this corner of the desert instead. Saguaros stand still. 🙂
We are back at the snake’s bush. The shadow is Brian’s, and he’s watching the snake and talking me past it. I’m aiming my camera at the bush and hoping to get another shot of the diamondback. I think you can spot it just past the black rock in the center of the picture. Its camouflage is excellent.
Looking back, I’m past the snake now, but would like to get one more picture of it. You can see the shadow of my hat, better than you can see the snake, but it is in the top right part of the picture.
The snake is far behind us now. The most interesting things in the desert are the saguaros. This is a very tall one.
This is a veritable forest of saguaro cacti. The one on the right has grown strangely to form the letter U.
Just the right angle to see the cactus in front splitting the U of that weird saguaro.
Back at the parking lot, the hike is over. My black Kia is covered with dust spots from the shower we had about 3 days earlier. When it rains in Phoenix, it brings dust out of the atmosphere. Rain doesn’t make you clean in Phoenix, it makes things dirty.
And so we say goodbye to the great saguaro forest of the White Tanks mountains.
My hike is over. We walked somewhere between 3 and 4 miles. Looking back at town, you can see Camelback Mountain in the far distance–it is the highest peak in this part of the state. The white triangle you see is the domed roof of the football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, located west of the small city of Glendale, which is northwest of the city of Phoenix. It’s a massive structure–more than ten miles away in this picture and still easily visible.
I’m tired and satisfied. You’ve just done another desert hike with me, Ken St. Andre.
If you’ve ever been face to face with a rattlesnake, or any other scary reptile, why not leave a comment?