I Spend about 10 days in the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona at Christmas every year. The place I stay hosts a cookout at least once during that time, at a site called Yucca Flats about 5 miles out in the desert. Most get there by horseback or jeep, but I walk. I love walking through the desert that time of year because I don’t have to worry too much about getting snake bit. Although a rattler can be seen in the desert on a warm day any time of year, they’re mostly asleep in December.
A person afoot is advised to carry a firearm and know how to use it nevertheless. Not for snakes, for which a firearm is not good defense anyway, but there are mountain lions and wild hogs that might have to be contended with. Lots of coyotes also but they’re not a bother. If they were a good growl would get rid of them. There are some two-legged critters that are rightly labeled desert rats and hooligans. Although I’ve never encountered any in the flesh their presence is known by the mess they leave behind at a certain place I can’t easily avoid on my way to the cookout. I could avoid it by bushwhacking but that is little fun in country where everything one encounters either sticks, stings or bites. It would be like walking through a horde of lawyers.
The site where the hooligans hold court consists of numerous empty beer and liquor bottles, food wrappers and other junk. I know they are armed because most of what they leave behind is shot full of holes. The broken glass from using their empty beer bottles as targets is everywhere and looks to be several years worth. Using glass bottles for target practice is a nasty habit and leaving the mess behind is an antisocial act. So is mixing firearms with alcohol. Therefore, I’m wary.
In early Spring, one also must be aware of rattlers since a snake bite while walking alone in the desert several miles from a road is the most likely to be fatal. Few rattler bites are fatal if medical treatment is available. Having to walk several miles to get to a medical facility severely lessens one’s chances of successful treatment. The snakes are reported to be out early this year.
When I can I visit the Sonoran desert in April because it’s blooming then and not too hot. At that time of year snake boots are essential, especially if one intends escaping civilization for a day, as do I. Most of the rattlers in the Sonoran are Western diamondbacks. That species is a bad one, although the Eastern diamond back could be worse. The diamondback is a large snake and can deliver a big dose of venom. It usually strikes without warning as you walk by the bush it’s hiding in. The stuff of bad dreams for sure. Snake boots specially constructed to avoid penetration by fangs are therefore critical.
The Western diamondback is more dangerous than most rattlesnakes because while it’s not pugnacious like a copperhead or water moccasin, it won’t move away like most other rattlers when it feels the vibrations on the ground you make as you approach its hiding place. It’s hiding in wait for prey and those vibrations sound a dinner bell to the snake. Like all other snakes the diamondback does not have ears and does not hear, but feels and smells your presence.
The part of the Sonoran with which I’m familiar was the site of early mining activity and there are lots of mine ruins to explore, as well as lots of abandoned mine shafts to fall into and never be heard from again. Just one more hazard to avoid.
The desert is flowering this time of year.