Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 30, 2016

It rattles me

Filed under: Hikes,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:41 pm
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Lexington Arch, Great Basin National Park — and Kathryn

My last blog post described the realization that I live pretty close to sometimes-dangerous animals out here in the wilderness. It’s not something I give much thought to; it just is the way life works. I’m in the territory of wild creatures and I need to be aware.

On our days off, Chris and I recently headed to Nevada to visit a place new to us: Great Basin National Park. It has mountains and ancient bristlecone pines and a higher elevation (read: cooler during heat wave). With only 120,000 visitors annually, this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere park seemed just right for us.

That is, until we decided to hike to Lexington Arch.

No one told us that three years ago a large wildfire burnt that trail area. Subsequently, a particularly violent flash flood re-arranged the road to the trailhead, washing it out in several places, leaving gullies and ravines behind instead of pleasant walking trails. The trailhead kiosk was burned to bits, too.

Large cairns had been built, however, to help us get to the start, and we felt confident. It was warm, but we had plenty of water and snacks and were protected from the sun. Up we headed, winding our way between blackened trees.

Chris stepped into one of the washed-out gullies and headed toward the other side. I stepped down, right where he had, and a menacing buzz burst on my ears. Let me just say that, when I heard it, my feet did that cartoon-like thing where they are spinning in mid-air trying to gain traction. A loud sound (possibly a shriek) escaped from my mouth as I sought to put great distance between me and the source of that rattling buzz. I nearly knocked Chris over in my startle-ment.


Great Basin Rattlesnake. Head on right — moving away from us.

The 42-inch-long Great Basin Rattlesnake had been silent as he passed by. Chris calmly took my iPhone and snapped its photo while I went far, far away. Now, normally I love snakes. They are beautiful creatures and occupy an important niche in ecosystems. But the concept of sharing a gully with a venomous friend had me slightly undone.

Snake retired to another ravine without any fuss, but something changed as we continued walking. Every clatter of grasshopper wings sounded to me like my next appointment with slithering venom. Every cicada buzz brought elevated heart rate. My sympathetic nervous system has fight-or-flight dialed in. Vigilance plus.

We made it to Lexington Arch and back without any further ado. No other reptiles appeared, all gully crossings were uneventful, and peanut M&Ms awaited us at the car.

To all my concerned friends: I do not live on the brink of death most days. I have encountered two rattlesnakes in two weeks, but these brushes with exotic creatures actually enrich my existence.

Have you had close encounters with wild creatures? Comment below, please!

May 22, 2012

Eclipsed by a rattlesnake

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:26 am
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A well-mannered crowd gathers at Green River Overlook to take in the solar eclipse.

The solar eclipse was anticipated in our park for months. Sunday staff was added, programming put in place, and 40 or 50 solar viewing glasses were ordered. In Canyonlands, about 70-80% of the solar disc would be covered — impressive, but nothing like in Bryce Canyon or Zion, where 94% coverage would create the dramatic “ring of fire” of an annular eclipse.

Through our home-made pinhole camera, the crescent sun is safely viewed.

Nothing could have prepared us for the level of interest generated among visitors to Canyonlands. For an eclipse beginning at 6:30 pm, the parking area was full before 4:30. Around 300 folks gathered at the Green River Overlook, bringing lawn chairs, blankets, picnics, and excitement. They willingly shared the limited number of viewers we had available, and spent the next hours hanging out in a lovely place observing a rare celestial event.

Families played games while waiting and watching. Pinhole cameras were devised. People made hand shadows, casting little crescents on the ground. And, at an opportune time, a small Midget Faded Rattlesnake slithered onto the scene to add to the festive atmosphere. Ranger Julia, who regularly gives a talk on reptiles, stayed near the foot-long youngster all evening to educate visitors about it and make sure no one harassed it. It seemed only a little confused by the crowd, generally staying underneath the blackbrush and Mormon Tea.

A woven straw hat — pinhole camera times a thousand — creates crescents on a paper behind it.

A small band of young boys made a loop snare from a piece of grass and caught an unsuspecting lizard. Ranger Julia intervened, creating a teachable moment for the kids and their parents. The moon continued its trek across the face of the sun, and the early-evening light took on a thin filtered quality that is unlike any other astronomical condition. Glasses were passed around; oohs and ahhs emanated from every perch.

At its peak, for just a few moments, all the sun’s surface except a thin horseshoe of light was covered. The little rattler slithered to his next bush, oblivious. Visitors, joyful, thanked us for putting on an event like this. “It’s our privilege” was the only thing I could say as I pinched myself and walked to the edge to shoot a picture of the waning light.

Our little rattlesnake youngster stayed for the entire celestial event.
One visitor inquired “Did it come out because of the eclipse?” The answer is: No.

September 17, 2010

Rattlesnake 1, Frenchman -15

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:42 pm
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I had not been back from the wilderness for even an hour this morning when the radio started to crackle. Soon I heard an ambulance racing up into the park, lights and sirens ablaze. A tour bus full of French visitors had stopped at Balanced Rock, one of our least dangerous and most innocuous locations. One unfortunate 63-year-old had stepped off the sidewalk by about fifteen feet to click a photo, and was bitten in the ankle by a rattlesnake. He was already having difficulty talking and had a pulse of 150. The local hospital couldn’t help him much, as antivenin is available only if one knows exactly which species inflicted the bite*, so he was helicoptered to Grand Junction, Colorado. I expect he’ll be in the hospital for a week or ten days and then have a long, slow convalescence. Kind of ruins his American vacation.

Was it one of our shy Midget Faded Rattlesnakes? They are nocturnal, except that sometimes the males are out scouting for new territory this time of year and perhaps one was just there to get stepped on. Or, perhaps it was an atypical species of rattler (not our small shy one) that was just passing through. It makes treating the victim difficult.

You don’t want to mess with our Midget Faded. Shy, yes; benign, no. Their neurotoxin is one of the most potent of rattlesnake venoms. The typical effect of a bite from a Crotalus species is similar to most viper bites with massive edema (swelling) and tissue destruction. I hope the man from France recovers fully and quickly.

This is only the second known venomous snakebite in our national park, but the maps around here are filled with place names like “Rattlesnake Canyon.” I guess if you come to Utah, you’re taking a risk…

*(see comment #3 below)

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