Yesterday I returned home from a camping and bird photography trip to the San Rafael Swell area located in Emery County in central Utah and even though there weren’t many birds to speak of in the area I still had an awesome time. Normally we camp near the San Rafael Recreation area near the swinging bridge but when we scoped that area out we didn’t see or hear any birds so we headed to The Wedge Overlook hoping there might be some birds in that area, maybe migrants moving through or raptors soaring on the thermals.
We were checking out the campsites at the top of The Wedge to see if we could maneuver the camping trailer into the the one closest to the edge of the overlook and because getting in to a campsite is sometimes easier than getting out so we got out of the pickup to walk around the site. At one point I could not resist the urge to walk over to the peer down into the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River 1200 feet below. The views are incredible.
I was totally focused on the scenery in front of me as I walked between two gnarly old Junipers that might have been spaced about 12 feet apart and wasn’t watching my foot placement as closely as I should have been when I heard a very distinctive buzzing sound, it probably only took me 1/100th of a second to realize that I had walked too close to an extremely well camouflaged Rattlesnake. I estimate that I was within a mere 15 inches or so of stepping on it.
Talk about an easy way to get the adrenalin flowing, and it did!
Now Ron will tell you that I “squealed like a girl”, I’m not sure about that but I do know I made a sound as I jumped back away from the Rattlesnake, I hadn’t even seen it clearly at that point because it blended into the habitat so well. It took me a few seconds to even form the words “It’s a rattlesnake”. The snake was only about 14 to 15 inches in length but even at that small size it had startled me quite sufficiently.
I scurried over to the pickup to grab my backup D200 with the 70-300mm VR lens attached and Ron’s “little camera” because our longer lenses would have been overkill while Ron kept an eye on my “find”. I took 46 images of the Rattlesnake, probably half of them were sharp, the others were not so sharp thanks to taking them handheld with too much adrenalin coursing through my body which caused my hands to shake!
I’m not certain about the identification of the snake, it may be a young Great Basin Rattlesnake – Crotalus oreganus lutosus or a Midget Faded Rattlesnake – Crotalus oreganus concolor. It might be another croatline subspecies too. If anyone reading this can identify the snake, I would certainly like to know.
Edit: I’ve been informed by Jamison Hensley; who knows far more about rattlesnakes than I, that this is a Midget Faded Rattlesnake – Crotalus oreganus concolor. Check his blog out here.
I spent the rest of the trip in the San Rafael Swell area very carefully watching where I put my feet because I didn’t want another Close Encounter of the Snake Kind!
PS. Maybe I did “squeal like a girl”, I was rather “rattled“.