I was just finishing up my hike when I heard a woman scream. As a good citizen, I went back to check that everything was okay (or not). The woman was standing on the concrete path, with her two dogs. Five feet further on, a rattlesnake was stretched halfway across the concrete. The woman and her dogs were fine, but startled — she had almost stepped on the rattlesnake.
The woman told me that she often sees snakes on the trails. There are a lot of rattlesnakes along the foothills west of Denver. (Don’t Kill the Snake!) She just didn’t think about a snake on the concrete sidewalk.
While we were discussing the event, two other women came up. We told them about the snake, and they became very agitated — both of them were terrified of snakes. They discussed going back the way they had come, but that would have been a long way to go back.
The woman with the dogs had us hold one while she picked up the other dog and carefully walked along the far edge of the sidewalk six feet away from the snake. She came back for the other dog, picked it up and carried it past the snake (I was impressed — these were border collie sized dogs).
The two frightened women decided to follow the dog owner past the snake. They passed safely, and were shaken, but fine. I admired them for facing their fears.
After everybody went by, the snake retreated to under a trash can. Despite what the snake thought, this was not actually a good place to hide if somebody decided to be a good citizen and toss their trash.
I called the incident in to Jefferson County Open Space dispatch to get somebody to move the snake. They told me to call Jeffco Sheriff’s Department because this “was an active rattlesnake incident”. I called JSD, who switched me to Animal Control. Animal Control wondered if the snake’s exact location might be in the City of Golden. They advised me to “spray some water on the snake to encourage it to move along.” REALLY???
By the time everybody had finished passing the buck, the snake had wisely decided enough was enough, and moved on without any further interaction from people.
At no time did the snake do anything more threatening than flick out it’s tongue — no coiling, no rattling, just prudent retreat.
This incident points up a couple of things:
1. We often get so absorbed in our lives that we don’t see threats even when we are literally about to step on them. The woman who first found the snake had seen them before, and had a healthy respect for them, but had tuned that threat out of her head because she was on a concrete path, rather than on the trail. The snake was there anyway. So stay alert! This goes double if you like to put in the ear buds and zone out.
2. Snakes really don’t want to be around people. I mean, they can’t eat us, but they can be hurt by us. So what’s the point of being around us? This guy was sunning itself when we blundered onto it. Through the entire encounter, it stayed really still to see if we would just continue not seeing it. At the first possible moment, it slithered away.
3. We handled the situation reasonably well. We didn’t poke at it. We didn’t try to kill it. We kept the dogs away from it. We gave it plenty of space, and it left by itself. What could we have done better? Stayed alert and recognized it long before we got close. Backed off even more after we first encountered it and let it escape more quickly.
Here are some good websites that talk about how to avoid snakes, and what to do if you get bitten anyway. WikiHow: Avoid a Rattlesnake Attack https://runnerclick.com/how-to-handle-a-snake-encounter-on-the-run/
Enjoy the outdoors, but stay alert! It’s the critter’s home, we’re just visiting.