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Friday, November 30, 2012

Fatboy Slim... A Snaky Hike In Zion

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.

"Fatboy Slim"
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.


  1. That rock would make an excellent postcard. What a gorgeous hike! I guess it will have to wait till next year along with the numerous other hikes/bikes that are still on the list. -Susan

  2. I know someone who would really love a postcard of the rattlesnake. - Maikel

  3. Loved the silhouette of the tree with the sun in the background. The rattlesnake not so much. Consider this hike Not on my bucket list.

  4. The swirls in the rock are just so gorgeous. I can't believe you took that picture of that hissed off snake. I'm sure hoping you were a long way off and used a zoom lens.

  5. I think snakes are real sensitive to "vibration"... they seem to be able to detect the "Vibration" of attitudes that are worse than theirs...

    With some little while spent working in "Their World"... they've seemed to judiciously left me strictly alone! ;)

    I'm not real receptive to threats from serpents! :)

  6. Yikes! What is the zoom on your camera? He certainly looks "hissed off". One of the meanest snakes I have ever come across was near St. George at Snow Canyon park. He refused to let us get around him. BE careful out there! -scamp

  7. Looks like it was worth taking a chance with snakes and Rangers. Have fun in the subway.

  8. Such beautiful scenery in Arizona, looks like we are going to really miss it this winter.

  9. Now Mark, like your Mom, must I remind you of the slogan "Don't Mess
    With Rattlesnakes"; on the other hand, was it Thoreau that said..I have learned that if one advances in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined,he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours...
    The pictures are phenomenal! Thanks Julie's Mom....

  10. Enjoyed this post and your photos, very much, Mark. Thank you. Sue

  11. Susan and Maikel,
    Would mail that "postcard" to Boonie :))

    Kib Explorer,
    Come on... he was just letting us know he was there :))

    Jim and Sandie
    I did zoom in a little, to be honest :))

    CowBoy Brian,
    He pick us up way before we pick him up, for sure. Keep an eye out on warm days. Of course you are used to snakes cause you live in Arizona for a while.
    thanks for commenting!

    Yes, we've had to go off trail a few times to get around rattlesnakes that would not give way... once in the Chiracuahua's . thanks!

    The Subway was awesome... stay tuned!!! Thanks

    George and Suzie,
    There's always next year :))

    You do sound like Mom...
    and, I've used that quote before, a good one to live by. Thanks for commenting!

    RV Sue,
    Thanks for stopping by. I'm surprised you have time for other blogs judging from the viral success of your blog :)) It is such a hit, and I noticed you pushing the 100 mark on comments!!!! WoW, Good for you!!!
    And Thanks for stopping by :))


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