My Rattlesnake Story

Just Like the One I Encountered

It was about twenty years ago. I was hiking by myself at Point Mugu State Park. I approached the park from the north and parked near the Satwiwa Interpretive Center. Unfortunately, I started a bit too late, so this turned out to be a hike that I had to abort in the middle. I was walking along the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, which eventually merged with Sycamore Canyon Road, which was a level walk back to the parking lot. As it was late afternoon, I got a little anxious because the junction was farther along than I thought, and the parking lot gate was closed at 5 pm.

So I had to walk down one of the narrow paths that connected the trail with the road. I didn’t like the look of any of these paths, because some of them seem to disappear midway down. Finally I chose one and was halfway down before I noticed a rattlesnake coiled up beneath a bush that pretty much hogged the trail. To the left of the bush was a cliff down; to the right, a cliff up. I had to get past that rattler without sustaining a load of its venom.

I was wearing thick leather hiking boots that went up above my ankles, so I was safe if the snake went low. But what if it went high? I also had with me a sturdy ash hiking staff. I noticed that the path along the edge of the cliff gave me about six inches to walk around, so I started to plunge the staff down hard every few inches to encourage the snake the bite the staff while I edged around the bush. It did make a feint at the staff, but did not bite. I managed to circle around the bush and resume my hike, returning to the parking lot with only a few minutes to spare.

 

Serendipity: Cabot Yerxa and Rattlesnakes

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

This is an entire article that Cabot Yerxa wrote for The Desert Sun on May 8, 1952 about his encounters with rattlesnakes. I myself have encountered rattlers several times during my hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains. Perhaps I will tell you later about my scariest encounter, which occurred in Point Mugu State Park about twenty years ago.

I have had many close calls with rattlesnakes. Then one night came a new one. It was quite dark, I was walking gingerly through a patch of cholla cactus, slowly making my way so as not to contact the vicious spiny stalks which I could barely distinguish in the gloom. Twice the noise of my feet crunching on rocks had disturbed snakes and I heard the buzzing, so I knew this was snake country.

Perhaps I was giving most of my attention to the cactus. Anyway, all of a sudden, without warning, I stepped right in the middle of a large coiled diamondback rattlesnake! He was asleep or would have rattled. Or perhaps his mama did not teach him to rattle. But this rude awakening made him mad, and he buzzed angrily. I could feel the strong coils twist and squirm under my feet, even now, and its head thrashing about my legs. You can be assured that I made two or three big steps. Fortunately my boots were heavy, because I still had five miles to walk in the dark.

On one occasion Bob Carr and I were walking from the railroad to the mountains on this side of the desert in snake season and after dark. We both had on just ordinary city shoes of rather thin leather, with no protection for our legs. First one man would lead and the other follow until it was embarrassing, then he would take the lead for a while and the other fairly thankfully follow along. We several times heard buzzing near us, but reached home safely. In those times it was rather silly to be out at night without some protection.

On moonlit nights, rattlesnakes cast a narrow shadow, and if watching closely it is quite easy to see them. In fact I have on occasion gone out on moonlit nights to find rattlers for my snake pit. At the old ranch house I kept 15 or 20 snakes and chuckwallas for pets. They were in a pit five feet deep and 13 feet square. Many people came to look at these, which brought in some revenue.