Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rattlesnakes: A Lifelong Interest

I have had an interest in rattlesnakes since I was a young boy. I grew up on the edge of City Creek Canyon in Salt Lake City. When perhaps 6 or 7, I encountered a rattlesnake that slithered under a large boulder near a new house being built across the street from my own home. I spent a long time trying to coax the snake out from under the rock with a stick and was devastated when I went back, several hours later to try again, when a workman told me he had killed it to prevent me from getting hurt. During summer school between fifth and sixth grades, my Lowell Elementary School class took field trips up City Creek Canyon with Howard Rogers. We caught and killed two rattlesnakes that summer. Steven Gould and I skinned the snakes and my mother cooked the first one for our class. Later that summer, while camping at Lake Powell, my brother Layne, and cousin, Scott Sorensen, killed a rattlesnake near our camp and we cooked it. I was looked to as the expert to skin it. In sixth grade, Steven Gould took me to Hogle Zoo where he knew someone who worked in the reptile house. This person let us hold one of the rattlesnakes that was tame. It was rattling while we held it, but it did not bite. I'm sure the zoo management had no idea this was going on!

As an adult in the outdoors, I have had many experiences with rattlesnakes. In July 1992, while on an early morning walk in our canyon, I discovered a 5 1/2 foot red diamond rattlesnake which I killed and brought home to eat and skin.
In March 1993, I caught a young red diamond rattlesnake up Whitewater Canyon with the kids and brought it home and put it in an acquarium (Judy happened to be visiting family in Utah for three days - otherwise this never would have happened). The kids were quite excited. We put the acquarium up on the kitchen counter so we could get a good view of it. Rachael named it White Fang.
At church the next day, the kids announced to their friends that we were having an open house for those who wanted to visit our house and see our snake. Rachael made a visitor sign-in sheet for those to sign who came over. Predictably, when Judy got home Sunday night, there was some incredulity expressed and the snake's presence in our home was cut short. We had a family home evening Monday night which consisted of driving back to Whitewater Canyon to let the snake go where I had caught it.
Later that year, in October 1993, Sam discovered a speckled rattlesnake at Joshua Tree National Park, in Hidden Valley, on a visit with our family and his grandmother Kenison, and her German friend, Ebbie.
Sam and I also rescued a young Great Basin rattlesnake on a sand bar in the middle of the Paria River in Southern Utah. We kept it safe through the cold night and let it go to safety in the warmth of the next day.

In the spring of 1999, Andrew and I caught a sidewinder rattlesnake near Snow Creek, outside of Palm Springs, one evening.

I put it in a plastic bucket in the trunk of the car and discovered, when I got home, that the lid had fallen off. The snake was loose in my car for a week. The discovery of that snake is a story for a later post.

In my offices, at work and home, I have several tacky rattlesnake trinkets. The first one I purchased in San Diego and it has been on my work desk for many years.
I purchased the one below from an artist in Hurricane, Utah. It also has been on my office desk for a number of years.
The one below is particularly tacky. I purchased it last year in Gila Bend, Arizona, on my way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It is in my home study. I think the round hole in the middle is for a drink cup or something, I'm not really sure.

I purchased this clay pot near Mata Ortiz, Mexico, several years ago, which has a rattlesnake design on it. It is in my home office.

Last summer, I discovered a small rattlesnake stretched out in our driveway on a Sunday afternoon, right next to the driver-side door of my car.
With the help of a neighbor, I picked it up and took it into the field near our home to let it go. This was the first rattlesnake I'd fully held since the one at Hogle Zoo many years ago (although I did not hold the one at Hogle Zoo behind the head, it could have bit me at any time).
About four years ago, I was snake hunting one evening with Jim Sullivan. We had a particularly productive night. We caught two sidewinder rattlesnakes in the Snow Creek area, and a lyre snake and a red diamond rattlesnake in Whitewater Canyon. I have always wanted a pet rattlesnake and this seemed like the right time (our kids had now left home) and the right snake (red diamond rattlesnakes have a mellow disposition). "Red," the red diamond rattlesnake, has grown from a small snake to a medium-sized snake, over three feet long. The pictures of Red, below, were taken in September 2007.

Red's home is an aquarium in our garage. He hibernates from about October to March or April each year. He sheds three or four times a year and last year lost most of his rattles after a shed. He initially ate small mice and now I feed him large rats. For Christmas, Rachael and my tolerant wife, purchased two "snake" sticks for me: to allow me to more safely deal with Red as he is getting larger. Red has just recently come out of hibernation and Saturday was the first day of this year I was going to feed him. So I pulled him out his aquarium and let him slither in the back yard for a short while. Then I held his head down...

and picked him up for the first time.

I bought him a large rat and I was not sure he would eat it, as it was the first feeding of the year and he'd had a traumatic afternoon. I was excited when I came home Saturday evening and found Red with a big lump in his body. We're off to a good start for this year.


  1. Please see my response at

  2. "This person let us hold one of the rattlesnakes that was tame." How does one tame a rattlesnake? You'll forgive me if I don't believe your answer. Chris

  3. This post brings a tear to my eye. I've been in AZ for 3 years and have yet to see a rattlesnake up close and personal.

  4. People are a lot like snakes. They are all God's creatures, and all have their "bad" sides but we love them anyway. They deserve our respect and fascinate us. We just have to be aware of, and stay away from the parts that can inflict pain, and handle with love and care.

  5. I have grown up in the desert area of Palm Springs and 40 years ago me and a friend use to catch and milk Diamond backs and Sidewinders and Eishenhower med ctr. would buy our venom for anti-venom but I stopped after I got careless one day and almost got bit by a sidewinder changing its water. Also your very lucky to have caught and actually seen the 'Rear Fanged Lyre' snake since they are so rare and hard to find and I'm glad you let it go. I've always frowned on hearing people who kill rattlesnakes just because its a rattlesnake rather then just walk away from them and leave them alone. And I too have eaten rattlesnake prepared by a local Indian but was too tough and stringy for my taste. And it does taste and look like chicken. LOL

  6. The more I see of people, the better I like rattlesnakes. Snakes are honest. All they want is to eat, sleep, be comfy, & now & then meet another rattlesnake. With people, you never know. We live in S.E. AZ, & have those red diamondbacks too. Sweet memoir, be careful with that snake.