Monday, May 7, 2012

Rattlesnake Valley

That's my name for this place.  It's somewhere in Zion National Park.  I call it Rattlesnake Valley because it's full of rattlesnakes.  I know because I came within inches of stepping on one of them while hiking along here.  Not only did I almost step on the snake but I knocked over my tripod and ruined my favorite lens.  It was a bad scene all around.  Zion is one of the coolest places I've ever been but something about this particular evening wasn't right.  I was struggling to find something interesting to shoot, running up the trail hoping to come to some open view down this valley that would be worthwhile but all I kept coming across was more and more narrow switchbacks into this box-like canyon right beside the shot I wanted.

I noticed all sorts of little lizards, geckos or whatever, running around as I walked.  It occurred to me they were out at this time of day because an hour earlier would have been too hot.  An hour or so later and it might be too cold.  So they were really active right when I was there.  Of course it didn't sink in enough for me to realize their larger biting cousins would also be just as active.

So, long story made short:  I keep hiking up this trail, realize I had no idea of where I'm going and just give in and try to shoot what I can and still make it back to the car close before it gets too dark.  I set up on a narrow ledge and start shooting long exposures on the tripod.  But I was impatient for one of the shots and didn't make sure the camera and tripod were secure and had one of those slow motion moments where something happens in front of you at half speed and there's nothing you can do but watch.  That was how it felt as the camera and tipod tipped over into some rocks, ruining the lens (Canon 10-22, a sweet landscape lens).

I took the lens off, popped on a kit lens and headed down the mountain knowing that someone or something really didn't want me here.  As I was headed down the trail in disgust, mad at myself, I ran into the fellow in the second photograph in this post.  He was hidden in a snake-sized mini cave right beside the trail.  See if you can picture this:  I was standing on a rocky trail a couple of feet wide and  was faced with a flat, nearly vertical cliff face uphill of the snake and a guaranteed-100-foot-slide-to-the-bottom down a similar rock face downhill of the snake.  The snake knew I was there, I could clearly see his face and rattle.  I was pretty sure if I walked past he could get to me without much trouble in a single strike.

As I stood there wondering what forces I had upset to cause the lens to break and the snake to have me (in my mind) trapped for the moment, I heard crying.  It was coming from up the trail behind me and was clearly a baby or young child.  It was another hiker party with a baby in a backpack-carrier.  They too were racing the failing light and moving pretty fast with a cranky kid.  I walked back up the trail and warned them about my little friend.  We walked back down together and by that time my little friend decided to show off just how big he really was and was moving across the trail.  That's the second photo.  I can't guess just how long he is, probably an average rattlesnake.

The only good thing that happened this evening was telling the other hiking group about the snake and giving him time to move on.  The lead person in their group was a 10 or 11 year old girl.  She would have been the first to step in front of the rattler had I not stumbled along in front of them.  Pure coincidence but it was an easy way for me to spin a little good into what was an otherwise not so good evening.

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