From faded midget rattlesnakes to tarantulas to desert tortoises – hiking in the southwest can be rather wild!
Tarantulas on the trail! (Photo: B.Kopp)
Snakes in Slots
With names like “Peek-a-boo” and “Spooky”, it’s no wonder the slot canyons of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are such drawing cards. We went back one year with another family. The kids loved the pink glow and sweeping curves of “Peek-a-boo”, but we warned them not to go too far ahead as we entered the darker, at times less than shoulder-width wide, high-walled confines of “Spooky”.
As we twisted and turned in the increasingly narrowing canyon, the boys scampered effortlessly ahead. Rounding a corner, we saw the six-year-old standing, arms outstretched, blocking the route.
“We can’t go any further,” he said. “There’s a rattlesnake up ahead.”
“Sure there is,” I thought, “it’s probably just a stick.”
And I ate crow when we poked around the corner to find a faded midget rattlesnake stretched out between canyon walls.
No, that’s not an error. We weren’t terrified of the fuzzy brown arachnid that froze in the middle of the trail on our way to explore the prehistoric ruins of Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. The tarantula seemed terrified of us!
It cowered in the middle of the path and then quickly scurried off to hide in a yucca plant. We left it alone and continued our saunter up the trail – only to encounter a second hairy brown spider.
As with the first, it froze in place and then when it worked up enough courage, it darted off to hide near a sandstone rock. I guess that could be called humaniphobia!
We were hiking down after summiting Arizona’s Picacho Peak when we spied an odd-shaped brown rock just ahead. And then it moved, slowly, very slowly. After almost 20 years of hiking in the southwest, it was our first sighting of a desert tortoise.
Keeping our distance, we watched as it picked up a leg and slowly set it down. Then picked up another and set it down. We watched, and watched, and watched. After viewing to our heart’s content, we were ready to move on – but the tortoise was still on the trail. Picking our way above it through cactus and piles of rock, we skirted around the now stationary terrestrial turtle, intent on making it to its destination, on its own time!
What is one of your most memorable wildlife encounters?