I have returned from Colorado eager to once again hit the trails on the backside of Mt. Wrightson. I must say, my excursion into the San Luis Valley where my friend, Judy Anne lives, was a satisfying and good trip. It was nice escaping the heat of the rest of the country, hanging at roughly 8,000 ft. for the better part of August, doing my snake walks and nature hikes. But…there is something nice about southern Arizona, despite the relentless heat: high desert, blue skies with intermittent afternoon thunder showers, island mountain ranges, a wide range of flora and fauna, and sparse human population generating a pleasant loneliness that I have come to appreciate while I wait out all the international travel restrictions. And of course, there is Tucson, exciting Pac 12, high desert community looming a mere 20 miles to my north at the base of 9,159 foot Mt. Lemon. If I need an urban respite, Tucson is a wonderful cultural hub with something for everybody.
The other day, I put myself to the hiking test, venturing up the still and quiet Florida Trail, (that’s Flor-e-dah) plodding, foot by foot, up the backside of Wrightson, much more than my soft muscles like. It’s always a test to just see how much I can endure. I calculate less in miles and more in time since the hike is so painfully slow: up a steep and narrow, stone strewn trail in 90 degree weather, hours at a time. On this day I provoked six or seven deer between long moments of dead silence. I am always on the lookout for lizards and snakes, being that that is my thing, my delight. I never know what I might perturb, glimpse, or even step on if I become too lackadaisical or too exhausted to be cautious. On this day, I paused to take a sip of liquid and I heard a buzz somewhere too near me to feel comfortable. I didn’t move for fear of moving in the wrong direction and who knows, maybe getting bit. Ahh…there it was! A few feet in front of me, a beautiful snake—surely between it’s broad girth and brilliantly colored bands (that surprisingly added to it’s camouflage), it’s alarming beauty made it one of the most superlative snakes I had ever encountered on a hike. And despite it’s gentle buzz, it was rather docile! I had a side of me that wanted to press it’s head down and capture it, but between my semi exhaustion and slower reflexes of older age, thought to myself to leave it in peace—it deserved that much—I could get within 12 inches of its face without provoking a strike. And so I took what pictures I could without giving the poor thing a heart attack.
From there, I pushed on up the semi-shaded ravine, climbed another wooded hill, and pressed on for another grinding mile or so before finally reaching my limit, at which time the rain cut loose and the thunder clapped and rolled down the canyons. I don’t know why I even bother carrying a cheap umbrella—-the wind of a rainstorm always tears them inside out. I suppose it gave me a little protection and I only got half as soaked as I would have with no protection, but I told myself, the grind and discomfort of a steep climb back down the mountainside in the intermittent sheets of rain was well worth the effort for the satisfaction of seeing a species of snake that was new to me.