Masthead: Kaweah Range

Continued from:
Buzz-worms of the Southern Sierra

Jim Warner

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalis viridis)
Photo: Bradford Hollingsworth San Diego Natural History Museum

As I hike along the trails, I frequently flip sticks off the trail with my walking stick. While hiking near Junction Meadow in the Kern Canyon last year, I was amazed to see a "stick" begin to move as we approached it. This was just a day after we found two above the switchbacks as we descended into the Kern off the Chagoopa along the High Sierra Trail. I was surprised to see these rattlesnakes, because I'd been along that trail on six other times, and never even saw a track of one.

Another thing I noticed was the color of the snakes, they were all reddish and golden in color, perfectly matching the color of the Jeffery Pine and Western Juniper bark. Most of the rattlers in the foothills are much darker in coloring.

As I was relating the incidents to one of the backcountry rangers, she told me of her first encounter of a rattler at Moraine Lake (9,302'). She was brand new to the job, and was still unfamiliar to how to move a snake with a stick. Seems that she had put her food in the locker after setting up camp for the night. She had taken a walk around the lake before dinner, and came back to find a large rattler coiled up in front of the locker. She says she went to bed hungry that night...

Rattlers are an integral part of the landscape in many places and, of course, National Parks are places where they are protected as are all wild creatures. They are normally rather shy creatures that try to avoid contact with humans. Most of the problems encountered come when a person tries to be "macho" (that's spelled s t u p i d in my book) attempting to handle them.

To paraphrase and old adage, "Leave ‘em alone, and they'll go home, waggin' their rattles behind them."

For Further Reading
California Department of Fish and Game: Western Rattlesnake




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Hydromantes platycephalus


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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer