In the Wash

An environmental portrait of a desert cottontail sitting in Apache Wash in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Most of the desert washes I cross when I hike are fairly small but not so Apache Wash, there are signs as you approach warning you not to enter when flooded and the large debris scattered around tells you why. It was damp on the morning I crossed on my first visit to Phoenix Sonoran Preserve but the rains and thus the danger had long since passed the day before, so I and a pair of desert cottontails enjoyed the quiet before the sun came up.

An close-up portrait of a desert cottontail sitting in Apache Wash in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Flight

A black-tailed jackrabbit sits next to a foothill palo verde along the Apache Wash Loop Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

On the trails my glimpses of jackrabbits are normally rather brief but this one I got to watch for a while as it casually moved through the desert, feeding as it went. It was aware of me and the others on the trail, mostly mountain bikers and hikers (none of whom stopped to watch). Our time together came to an end when the jackrabbit took flight as a loud plane passed overhead.

Shields Up! Red Alert!

A coiled western diamondback rattlesnake with its head up underneath a dead tree on the Sidewinder Trail at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Today was meant to be a test of my knee and turned into a test of my heart when this western diamondback rattlesnake and I scared the living daylights out of each other.

Yesterday I made my triumphant return to the trails after a self-imposed two week absence to allow a sore left knee to heal, choosing a flat hike I know well at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Since that went well, as well as a morning and evening swim later in the day, this morning I decided to try some new-to-me trails at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. I did some research and the Ocotillo Trail looked fairly flat, with an easy return on a paved trail if my knee started acting up but also an option for some elevation changes on the Sidewinder and Ridgeback Trails if my knee felt up to it.

As I neared the point where the Ocotillo met the Sidewinder, my knee felt fine so I put my camera into my camera bag and brought out my trekking poles. My goal was to use the poles both for stability and to shorten my steps on any inclines to avoid stretching my legs more than necessary. As the trail immediately started to climb I knew I could turn around at the first hint of trouble and take an easier route back.

And that’s when I heard a noise right in front of me that nearly stopped my heart. The rattler was right beside the trail, coiled with its head up and mouth open, rattle shaking. I backed off immediately and it relaxed, slowly moving a few feet over and hiding under a dead tree. As you can see from the first picture while not in a full striking position its head was still up and prepared to strike if need be, but quickly lowered its head to its body, then even fully relaxed when it realized I wasn’t going to approach.

I was sorry for startling it so but thankful our encounter ended peacefully. With my new camera bag I was able to get the camera out quickly and take a few pictures. I wasn’t expecting to see a rattler so close to the trail since I had passed many mountain bikers who would have come past, with a couple more passing me a few minutes later, but perhaps it had just crossed the trail or maybe it didn’t mind the quickly passing bikes.

Happy to report that after a 7.5 mile hike on a hot and humid summer morning, both the knee and the heart were doing fine. My eyes could use some work though, to better see beneath my feet.

A coiled western diamondback rattlesnake with its head lowered underneath a dead tree on the Sidewinder Trail at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Joy at My Feet

A common side-blotched lizard perches on a rock beside the Sidewinder Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

If I could tell myself at 10 years old that in 40 years I’d be working on things in space and hiking with lizards at my feet, I suspect he’d wonder what took me so long to get here. I’ll tell him about a place called Oregon and I think he’ll understand, and if not he soon will. I don’t think I would have been ready for the desert without spending so long in the Pacific Northwest first and will always be grateful for my time there. I’ve been hiking as much as I can since arriving in Arizona, I love seeing lizards in the desert even though usually they’re scurrying out of sight as I walk past. Sometimes I get a longer look such as this past weekend with this common side-blotched lizard on the Sidewinder Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, my first hike outside of Scottsdale.