The Arizona Desert: Hide and Seek with a Rattlesnake

Ocotillo and Saguero Among the Desert Colors West of Tucson (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

Ocotillo and Saguaro Among the Desert Colors West of Tucson (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

In my travels around parks and public gardens, I am used to seeing innocuous signs that read “Do Not Feed the Geese.” During a recent visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, it was my first time to see a sign that read “Do Not Feed the Coyotes.” Really? We need a sign to be told that?

Flowers on a Prickly Pear Cactus at Sonora Desert Museum (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Flowers on a Prickly Pear Cactus at Sonora Desert Museum (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

When my husband and I travel together, especially to gardens, we each take our own camera. My husband is on a constant search for that one perfect flower form and a close-up shot that comes out just as perfectly. As a garden and travel writer, I think all plants worthy of consideration, albeit for different reasons. Nonetheless, I admit I am challenged in the southwest — what with all the hues of tan and gray grabbing for my attention — I am still on the look-out for the best “pretty.”

Today, Chuck is absorbed by the many prickly pear cacti (Opuntia sp.) flowering. He has just walked away from where he was shooting photos of a prickly pear with a pad topped by a row of inflorescence in various stages of development. I walk up to the same plant a minute later to look at the black fungus on its lower pads. I often use my little camera to record impressions I might later want to recall — for instance, to record the point that this is a botanical garden that does not gussy up its plants for visitors, but leaves the unattractive stuff for studying.

I leaned in to get a close up of the fully opened yellow flower and the horizontal branch supporting the upper pad. I moved in further. I wanted a good look at the black debris at the plant’s base before I clicked my shutter. I bent down and just as quickly I jerked back, thinking “Whoa, momma.”

Where in Plain Sight is the Snake (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, 2013)

Where in plain sight is the snake? (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

I see him and him, me. I yell, “Holy crockmeyer!” He recoiled back with wide-eyes and hissy surprise, and my sandals slid backward, seemingly under their own power.

The well-camouflaged diamondback rattlesnake glided under the larger shrubs farther off into deeper shade. I wanted to follow to get another photo, but people gathering around me suddenly blocked my view. Besides, it would have been bad form to traipse inside the beds of a botanical garden. Okay, Chris, get a handle. We are talking about a rattlesnake, not a lost dog. Some, like me, were curious; others cut a wide half circle around me to get past the commotion.

My husband rushed over. He motioned to the spot where I was standing a moment ago and reminds me he was just there: He loves the desert but not the snakes. I looked down at my toes sticking out of the leather wrapped around my feet. Was it a diamondback? I had not heard a rattle though it sure looked like one.

Desert Plants Like a Flowering Agave Offer Shade and Cover to Protect Wildlife (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Desert plants like a flowering agave offer shade and cover to protect wildlife (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Back at home, I looked through my downloaded photos. There he was hiding in plain sight. Never mind the four paws coyote warning: I knew I would wear boots next time.


  1. says

    Wow Chris, what a story. And yes, those snakes, do they wear camouflaged jackets! Without knowing what to look for I wouldn’t have spotted it in the photo.
    That flowering agave is stunning by the way, I have never seen that before. Keep on taking those photos I would say!

    • says

      I’m still not sure that I see it ……. I’ve lived in rattlesnake country all my life, signs are posted on the trails I hike. And I’ve yet to see one. Not that I want to!

      • Karen Berger says

        Hi Yvonne — it’s on the lower left, and it IS hard to see…. which, I suppose is the point. Having been scared out of my hiking boots by being rattled at by a snake I couldn’t see, I certainly appreciate — and empathize with — this tale.

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