3 Rattlesnakes and a Frenchman

Although I was running short on time, my adventure in Chiricahua National Monument was not complete. I really wanted to hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The only competing circumstance was that I had a four-hour drive ahead of me to White Sands National Monument, and I needed to get there before 6pm to secure a camping permit. It was already noon. I would save time, I concluded,  by running the trail to the top of the mountain. After all, it was only a 1.9 miles hike round trip.

I pulled into the parking area. I was already up in the mountains, but this cylinder-like peak jutted up from the mountain as its own entity. I  had to see the view from atop. I grabbed my backpack and hydration pack, made sure I had my car keys, and was off. I started running up the narrow path which hugged the mountainside and spiraled DSC09539around the peak. There was one part with a narrow tunnel carved or blasted out by the Civilian Conservation Corps and another section where the rock and trail became smooth and bright white, appearing almost as if it was a part of a bobsled track. Apart from that, the rest of the trail was of typical rock and dust, with prickly plants all around and the summer sun in full exposure. Yes, it was strenuous, DSC09552going uphill the entire length of the trail, but it wouldn’t be long. I was pushing myself, taking on my machine mentality in which I concentrate on keeping mechanical movements and consistent speed, imagining I am nothing but a machine operating in a programmable mode. I was finally picking up speed and getting past my mechanical groove into a free-spirited free run until…..

“Tststststsssss” ( That’s how I spell the sound a rattlesnake makes). That noise was coming from behind me.

I ran right over a rattlesnake. My heart instinctively jumped at the sound. My feet must have barely missed stepping on it. Offended, it cringed and rattled its way off the trail. That was a close one!

Preparing for my first trip out West, I was very concerned about rattlesnakes. I read up about them. I thought they were going to be everywhere and would be a real issue for me. I was overly cautious to the point that now it is only humous to think back. My rattlesnake encounters ended up being so few that the threat of rattlesnakes had worn off and they weren’t even on my mind, until suddenly in this moment. Although it through me for a surprise I took this situation very pragmatically. I started building a small rock cairn as an indicator for myself on the way back that I would need to be cautious of a snake in the area.

Then I drew on what I new about rattlesnakes. They are mostly blind and rely heavily on vibrations on the ground to sense what’s going on around them. They aren’t aggressive until threatened. They will move out of the way if they sense someone coming. So I decided I would tread heavily and every-so-often throw a handful of stones out on the path in front of me to startle any snakes into a rattling mode.The plan seemed good to me, so I pressed forward.

Then, unexpectedly, around the bend appeared….a man- a young man- a fellow hiker. After a friendly smile and acknowledging “hello,” I proceeded to warn him: “I just passed a rattlesnake on the trail back there around the bend. I built a cairn. So when you see the cairn, just know there is a rattlesnake in the area.”

“I just saw too more rattle snakes.” He had an accent. He didn’t sound like he was from around here.

“Did you make it to the top?” I asked.

“No, I turned around. There are too many snakes.”

Turning around because of too many snakes, hadn’t even crossed my mind as an option. It troubled me that this guy was going to give up on the hike and a potential amazing view. When you face as many hardships as I have in life, what is a rattlesnake really? It’s got nothing on me.

“Well, I’m going to the top,” I informed. “You can follow behind me if you’d like. I’ll scare away the snakes.” My ego got an espresso shot right about here. I was the brave one. I was the daring one. I had suddenly become a leader.

And just like that I had a hiking companion. His name was Gzeivieur, and he was from France. He told me how he liked to vacation in the United States and visit our National Parks. It’s a perfect topic! I love to indulge in talking about the Parks, so naturally we proceeded to talk about our National Park experiences. We had been to many of the same ones. His favorite was Yosemite. Mine was Death Valley. On his present trip, he had already been to many of the places I was headed. We got on the topic of Dinosaur National Monument, a park I would become a big fan of. He recommended I visit a place near the park called Fantasy Canyon. The name alone sounded very intriguing. He told of rock formations unlike anything he had ever seen elsewhere.

We also reined in the conversation to our most immediate happenings. I told him I camped here in the Monument. He told me he stayed in a hotel in Wilcox. My mind flashed back to those abandoned and sketchy hotels I passed by on my way here.

“Tststststsssss” My stone throwing method had worked. I had been causally tossing stones every once in awhile and I had alarmed another rattlesnake, which scooted off our path.

The trail was soon leveling off and we were nearing the end when Gzeivieur warned of another rattlesnake. This little guy was snug up against a rock right aside the trail. To continue walking on the trail would put us in teritorial risk, so we maneuvered ourselves off the trail on the opposite side, skillfully fumbling over some rocks.

And then…

DSC09570

We were there! We made it! Gzeivieur had been so close on his first attempt.

There at the top was a lookout building. I’m not sure if it was intended to be a fire tower sort of building, or a weather station at some point, but it was paneled with windows which looked out into the spectacular landscape. DSC09574

Clouds had rolled in bringing out a dark richness in the landscape. Here golden wild grass carpeted the mountaintop. Just below us was the valley spread, now so miniature, speckled with trees and hoodoos, and just level with the eyes were dark blue and grey mountains. I am so glad neither of us gave up on reaching a view like this. There was a 360 degree view. We walked around all sides a few times before we began our descent.

DSC09561Despite all our snake encounters on the way up, there wasn’t a single encounter on the way down, but I did see a short-horned lizard. As we descended, my hiking pal and I continued talking all about our National Park adventures. I might have shared with him a story or two of some of my wild happenings.

I will say some of the most interesting and genuine people I’ve met have been out on the trails or at different sites in the National Parks. I’ve made a list of them to ponder, remember, and appreciate these people. All of these people I’ve met from the across the National Parks are rich in experiences. They are like books, full of adventures and tales to tell, and our paths meeting end up enriching our own stories.

It’s one thing for a solo traveler like myself to venture across my country. But here was Gzeivieur, doing the same but as a foreigner. That’s some pretty “bad a**ery,” but hey, he still wasn’t going to finish this trail because of the rattlesnakes, so I one-upped him this time. But it’s all in good humor. I was glad to meet Gzeivieur. Before we parted ways, we exchanged social media information. I continue to follow his adventures as he does mine.

Back in my car. I strapped myself in. Chiricahua National Monument provided a full and robust beginning to my summer odyssey. I was now ready for the next leg of the adventure. It was time to head into New Mexico to White Sands National Monument.

Check back next Wednesday, as the adventures continue. 

Click here for the previous entry: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/my-crisis-at-chiricahua/

Check out my book “Among Blue Smoke and Bluegrass” on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Among-Blue-Smoke-Bluegrass-Tennessee/dp/1790631297

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