One activity Chuck and I enjoy this time of year at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is driving the road in the evening, searching for snakes that have slithered out to take advantage of pavement that holds warmth from the day’s high temperatures. Although we hadn’t seen a snake for some time, tonight we went trolling for wildlife.
It’s three miles to paved surface from our refuge RV compound. Tiny mice scampered across the dirt road as we drove, barely escaping our wheels. Rabbits bounded to the safety of bursage and creosote bushes.
We slowed to allow two burros time to amble off the road. Chuck shined a brilliant light toward the roadside to watch them disappear into the desert. As we started off again, a raccoon lumbered in front of our car, daring us to pick a fight with it.
“So where are the snakes?” I chided.
“We have to wait until we get to the paved surface.”
We soon turned onto Martinez Lake Road where pavement begins, as well as rolling hills that mimic a kiddie roller coaster. Slowly we made our way in the dark, examining each ripple and defect along the road that at first glance appeared to be a sidewinder.
When our brights reflected on a vehicle ahead at the side of the road, Chuck dimmed the lights. We had now entered Yuma Proving Grounds where military night maneuvers are conducted regularly. Barely visible, a soldier in full camouflage, armed with a rifle, raised a hand in greeting as we drove slowly by. A black German shepherd stood by his side.
Another mile or two down the road, lights flickered in the distance. We pulled off and parked across from a flare lit near the parachute field. Although there were no signs of jumpers this evening, runway lights beckoned aircraft. But with no airplanes in sight, we turned back toward the Refuge and continued our search for reptiles.
“Even though we haven’t seen any snakes, it’s been a good night for wildlife viewing,” I said as a coyote entered our beams and led us down the road a bit before veering into darkness.
Chuck stopped and backed the car to examine roadkill, but the smashed remains revealed hair. Still no snakes, dead or alive.
Finally, what appeared to be a stick lying in the road turned into a small diamondback as we closed in enough to focus on it. Chuck pulled the car over and we both hopped out to check if the snake was still alive.
A placid young diamondback with barely more than a button on its tail, the snake did not object when Chuck slipped the snake hook under it and guided it off to the side of the road. It made no threats toward us, but merely glided away to continue its hunt.
When we discovered a larger diamondback in the headlights a half mile down the road, we once again left the car to investigate. This snake, however, was fresh roadkill. Chuck lifted it with the snake hook and held it out of harm’s way. Even dead rattlesnakes can inflict painful or deadly injuries through reflex death throes and nervous impulses. Residual venom in the channel of the fangs remains long after death, and grazing a finger on the fang of a dead rattlesnake may have the same effect as if it were alive.
“I’m surprised no one cut off its rattle,” I said.
“They probably didn’t even know they’d run over it.”
With the snake still dangling from the hook, Chuck laid it under a creosote bush away from the road. It could become food for a coyote here, but no one would disrespect this animal by pilfering its rattle.