Had I seen that trailside rattlesnake in Santa Clara Canyon before hiking the Right Fork Trail, I wouldn't have gambled hands and lower legs to venomous serpents for all the gold in heaven, money in Vegas, nor postcards in Zion. That Fatboy Slim was coiled and ready to strike.
You see, the Right Fork Trail is primo rattlesnake habitat... south facing, ledgy, and warm... due to abundant black lava rock. I grew up in the deserts of Arizona, for Christ's sake. There wasn't a day Mom didn't warn me to watch out for rattlesnakes and scorpions. So I know exactly where and what makes a good environment for rattlers... and if I was a rattlesnake, I'd make my home amid the black lava rock ledges of the Right Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park. Consider yourself forewarned.
Hear me. Do not hike the Right Fork Trail on warm sunny November days... and, you might want exercise caution when looking for petroglyphs among rocks and ledges on trails around Santa Clara Canyon. Warning number two.
The above Mojave(?) rattlesnake was really hissed off that we dared disturb his tanning booth time... about as aggressive as a LA road-rager with a gun. The pitch of his rattler was at a higher frequency than normal, such that it took a couple extra milliseconds for dear departed Mom's voice to ring out in my head, "SNAKE!"
But Bobbie and I hiked the Right Fork trail before meeting Fatboy Slim. Out of sight, out of mind. Still, I knew we were climbing through a veritable snake den. But curiosity for a trail we had never hiked overcame common sense, heebie-jeebies, willies, and sound judgement.
The perilous thing about hiking the Right Fork Trail on warm sunny days is that it's steep... fraught with brushy thickets and lava ledges. It takes both hands in addition to feet in order to negotiate your way into and out of the canyon. We were forced to grab onto rocks and reach into bushes for limb handholds in order to make our way. Needless to say I was moving pretty slow and making plenty of noise, hoping rattlesnakes would extend me the same courtesy.
There was absolutely zero information about the nature of the trail at the parking lot kiosk... we had no idea where it even went. After a few hundred yards of weaving through skeletal cedars left over from a previous burn, the trail disappeared over a blackened, craggy ledge into an abyss of volcanic lava that spilled its way down to an inviting creek. We stumbled along, trying to follow hit and miss cairns through pit viper paradise. The morning air was still cool, so I trusted our enemy was still tucked away deep within the pocked recesses of the volcanic vomit. Hiking out later in the afternoon might be a different story.
The creek bottom teemed with gorgeous rocks and boulders. We relaxed and picked our way upstream, crisscrossing as needed. After a couple of miles the canyon walls began to close in. We discussed Zion's "policy," that "all narrow canyons require hiking permits." Last year Mr Ranger busted us on a hike in Subway's canyon. It did not matter that we were not going into the Subway, mind you... one needs ropes and wet suits to do that... we were just "a couple of geezers out for a canyon walk, trying to get some exercise and snap a few photos." This did not matter to Mr Ranger, though. Nope, he had a badge and was intent on using the authority it granted. My argument was that the canyon was not yet "narrow" by any reasonable definition (still a mile wide). But it fell on deaf and dumb donkey ears. He took our names, addresses and phone numbers and said we'd be getting something in the mail. Then, worst of all, he turned us around just short of the Subway's entry.
After thinking about how hard and dangerous it was to get into the Right Fork's canyon, I figured it would be doubtful that we'd run into any Rangers. We proceeded "permit-less," and entered the "narrowing" canyon. It turned out to be a beautiful creek hike with grand boulders of every color... all in all a great day, right up to when we had to scramble back up through that lava rock snake den (shudder).
Stay tuned for the Santa Clara petroglyph (and rattlesnake) hike. I got video of Fatboy Slim. It might make you think twice about your next warm, sunny day hike in the desert :)) Now, if you will excuse me, we are headed off with Susan and Maikel to hike into the Subway... and this time we have a permit.