Summer in Wickenburg —and the rest of the desert southwest — is the time when cold-blooded critters come out of hybernation. I’m talking about lizards and snakes.
I’ve already seen a number of snakes here in town. The first was the 4-foot rattlesnake I spotted on my driveway when I got home from a weekend away. I guess he decided to take advantage of the piece and quiet on the concrete and get himself some sun. When he saw me walking up the driveway, he realized his vacation was over and he slithered back into the tall, dead grass alongside the driveway. I haven’t seen him since.
Then there was the snake I saw down in our lower horse corral. That corral is in the wash and is very sandy. A nice place for snakes to hang out. This one was on his way somewhere when I came down to feed the horses one morning. He wasn’t a rattler, but I didn’t get a good enough look at him to figure out what he was.
And the other day, I almost ran into this fellow crossing Steinway Road. I had enough time to make a U-turn, pull over, and snap this photo. (Read the comments at the end of this article for more about the snake.) In case you’re wondering, his head is on the right side of the photo.
I like snakes. I think they’re pretty cool. But not everyone feels that way about them. In fact, a lot of people go out of their way to kill them. That’s a pity, because snakes do their part to keep nature in balance.
Here’s a true story. A few years back, we were having a terrible time keeping mice out of the shed where we store hay, horse feed, and saddles. It got particularly bad when they started using one of my $100 saddle blankets for nesting material and I can’t begin to describe what their urine did to my husband’s old saddle. I’d trap them regularly and caught, on average, one a week. But there were always more. It was a bad situation.
Then snake season started. One morning, when I went out to feed the chickens, I noticed a rattlesnake coiled up under the shed, in the fenced-in area the chickens scratch around in during the day. One of the chickens was about a foot away from him when I noticed him, but the chicken wasn’t interested in the snake and the snake wasn’t interested in the chicken or me. The snake was there almost every morning. We didn’t have a dog at the time, so having a rattlesnake living under the shed didn’t really worry me.
And guess what? The mouse problem ended. You see, rattlesnakes eat mice.
When we got our dog, we took him for rattlesnake training. We saw the training in action one day on a horseback ride in Cemetery Wash. The dog approached a bush, a snake in the bush started to rattle, and the dog ran away. What more could you ask for?
We don’t kill snakes unless they become a nuisance. My husband made a snake catching tool not long after we moved into our home. He caught a rattler up by the house one day and relocated it down to the wash. The next day it was back. Fearing that it might decide to come into the house, he separated it from its head. It was unfortunate, but I do draw the line at rattlesnakes in the house. (The occasional scorpion is bad enough.) Of course, if I get a mouse problem in there, I may change my mind.
I remember horseback riding alone out in the desert one day years ago. My horse was following a trail and stopped suddenly. I asked her what the problem was and noticed that she was looking at something on the trail in front of us. I looked, too. There was a rattlesnake coiled up there, about five feet ahead of us. Just as I looked, it started to rattle. Smart horse. I steered her around the snake and we continued on our way.
Don’t be afraid of snakes. Just be smart about them. Here’s some good advice for outdoor activities during snake season:
- When hiking, stay on trails and out of tall grass or weeds where snakes might be hiding.
- When exploring ruins or rocky areas, keep an eye out for snakes that could be hiding in the shade.
- When climbing, don’t put your hands where you can’t see them.
- If you do run into a rattlesnake or other poisonous snake in your travels, don’t provoke it. Just walk around it.
Snakes are smart. They don’t want to waste venom on you because they can’t eat you. So as long as you’re not a threat, they’ll leave you alone.
Visitor Comments about the Snake
Webmaster note: I didn’t know what kind of snake this was and originally asked site visitors to e-mail me if they knew. The following comments arrived via e-mail before our Comment feature was implemented. If you have a comment, please use the Comment link at the end of this article to add yours or to read others left by other site visitors.
Looks like a king snake to me — they actually eat rattlesnakes and help control population of them. We’ve had one around our place on Jones Road and seen it several times over the last 10 years.
– Darla Schooler, GLEN L Marine Designs
This beautiful chocolate and white King Snake is a valuable resident of our ranch. King Snakes are non-venomous constrictors who help rid areas of rattlesnakes and small destructive rodents. Their diet also includes eggs, lizards, and the occasional small bird.
King Snakes can be found all across America — up and down each coast and across the southern sections of the US. They come in a wide assortment of colors, from black and white to brown and yellow, sometimes with red bands.
– Jeanne Tavares, Liberty Haven Ranch
My favorite online site for identifying snakes is the AZ Herpetological Association:
– Henry Stryker
I read your story about snakes with interest (and a bit of trepidation!) Our cocker mix generally likes to explore the brush around our property, although with the extent of the brush that catches in her fur, she’s reluctant to explore too far off the patio or driveway, unless she has a line on a rabbit or a lizard. SOOO I am particularly interested where she can be “snake trained” as you wrote you did with your dog. Thanks for the information!
– Valerie DiSciascio, Sunshine Plaza & Storage
In answer to Valerie’s comment, the snake training people come through Wickenburg in the spring. I don’t know who they are or where they’re from. We learned about the training from our vet, Bar S. Animal Clinic. Anyone interested in the training might want to call them for more information, 684-7846.